IDF chief of staff candidate calls for targeted killings of Iranian officials

"Iran must not, so to speak, be allowed to have its cake and eat it, too,” said Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir. 

 Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during the 33rd anniversary of the death of the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at Khomeini's shrine in southern Tehran, Iran June 4, 2022.  (photo credit:  OFFICE OF THE IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER/WANA (WEST ASIAN NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during the 33rd anniversary of the death of the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at Khomeini's shrine in southern Tehran, Iran June 4, 2022.
(photo credit: OFFICE OF THE IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER/WANA (WEST ASIAN NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, in the running for IDF chief of staff, has called for the assassination of leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in a new policy paper for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Zamir is a candidate to replace IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, along with Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi and former Ground Forces Commander Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick. He has spent the last year at the institute as a visiting military fellow.

“The IRGC is responsible for most covert activity, subversion of other governments, terrorist acts, and political assassinations in the Middle East and around the world, as well as maintaining contact with its regional and global partners,” Zamir wrote.

“The IRGC is responsible for most covert activity, subversion of other governments, terrorist acts, and political assassinations in the Middle East and around the world, as well as maintaining contact with its regional and global partners"

” Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir

Countering Iran

In the 74-page paper titled: “Countering Iran’s Regional Strategy: A Long-Term Comprehensive Approach,” Zamir said that the “IRGC is the backbone of the regime and the main means by which it seeks to dominate the region.”

The general said that the campaign to thwart Iran’s regional plans is taking place across the Middle East, with a “regional alliance” of the US, Israel, the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait), Egypt and Jordan, as well as Qatar, Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

“The Iranian regional threat is the central threat to the national security of these nations and is the glue – the shared interest – holding the Sunni-Israeli camp together,” he said.

Newly appointed IDF Southern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir (right) shakes hands with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. (credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)Newly appointed IDF Southern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir (right) shakes hands with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. (credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

In order to reduce Iran’s influence, Zamir called on the countries mentioned as part of the alliance to weaken the IRGC “in every dimension and use every means possible to exert pressure on it.”

Targeted killings

One of the means Zamir called for was to conduct targeted killings, referring to the assassination of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad by the United States.

Other ways to weaken the IRGC is to target the group’s leadership, commanders and key operatives responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks, as well as to issue international arrest warrants for designated individuals.

He also stressed that the Guard Corps’ long-range strike capabilities (drones, rockets and missiles), as well as the main operating and forward bases for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), should be destroyed by covert operations.

“The IRGC is responsible for most covert activity, subversion of other governments, terrorist acts and political assassinations in the Middle East and around the world, as well as maintaining contact with its regional and global partners,” Zamir wrote.

While Iran’s conventional military is far from capable of going up against the IDF or American forces in the region, the IRGC – one of the Islamic Republic’s eight military branches – and its Quds Force is not only the country’s most feared and advanced military branch, it’s also a powerful political and economic player, and answers directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He said that a “conservative force estimate” of Iranian militias in the Middle East – Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthis in Yemen and mobile Shia brigades – is around 200,000.

This force has “accrued combat experience in applying deadly capabilities in offensive and defensive actions,” and some of the Iranian militias in Syria “could conceivably fire missiles from deep within Syria at Israeli targets,” he said. “It would take relatively little time to move them to the Syria-Israel border to fight in the Golan Heights and pin down Israel Defense Forces, or to transfer them to Lebanon to fight alongside Hezbollah against the IDF.”

IRGC's lethal capabilities

According to Zamir, among the IRGC’s advanced lethal capabilities are precision ballistic missiles, UAVs, aerial defenses, surface-to-sea missiles, advanced anti-tank missiles, and radar systems.

Iran carries out its attacks far from its borders by using proxies and standoff capabilities like UAVs.

The former deputy chief of staff also warned that the Arabian Gulf “is the scene of another race for regional dominance between Iran and its regional foes – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iraq – given the access to the sea it provides.”

In addition to its regular Navy, the IRGC Navy uses the sea to send arms to proxies through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. 

Iran, which is also attempting to establish itself as a military sea power, built the IRGC Navy as a force that uses asymmetric warfare, and has adopted swarm attack tactics to sink enemy ships.

It uses small fast vessels like speedboats equipped with anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, naval artillery, machine guns, and unmanned-boat bombs. It also has commando units that can place limpet mines without being detected.

“It is precisely those small vessels – fast, highly maneuverable, easily concealed, elusive, capable of operating clandestinely or in swarms – that make it possible for Iran to exploit the weakness of its enemies and hit them in their Achilles’ heel,” he wrote.

Tehran has been striking targets across the Middle East with its arsenal of combat drones, killing civilians and destroying strategic infrastructures, like Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO oil refinery in a 2019 attack, and carrying out the drone attack against the Mercer Street tanker that killed two civilians in July of last year.

“Iranian naval threats and acts of terrorism that have harmed many innocents have yet to draw any international response, which only gives Iran an incentive to take similar steps in the future,” Zamir wrote, but “Iran is vulnerable to and seeks to avoid direct attacks on its own soil. Operating this way provides deniability and gives its leaders a feeling of immunity. This feeling of immunity must be shattered. To change the balance of deterrence, Iran must be made to pay dearly for its actions. Iran must not, so to speak, be allowed to have its cake and eat it, too.”

But, he said, “Iran is vulnerable to and seeks to avoid direct attacks on its own soil,” Zamir wrote. “Operating this way provides deniability and gives its leaders a feeling of immunity.”

And “this feeling of immunity must be shattered,” he said. “To change the balance of deterrence, Iran must be made to pay dearly for its actions. Iran must not, so to speak, be allowed to have its cake and eat it, too.”