Iran is waiting for the right moment to respond to Fakhrizadeh's death

SECURITY AND DEFENSE: Tehran blames Israel for his assassination, so what will be its response?

A VIEW shows the scene of the attack that killed Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh outside Tehran last Friday. (photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)
A VIEW shows the scene of the attack that killed Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh outside Tehran last Friday.
(photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)
It’s only a matter of time before Iran responds to the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, last week. It has placed the blame on Israel and vowed that “severe revenge” would come – at the right time and place.
Israel has remained mum on the matter, and other than telling embassies around the world to beef up their security and asking government officials to refrain from upcoming visits to Gulf countries, the defense establishment and military have not publicly raised their alert levels in anticipation of any form of retaliation against Israel itself.
Iran is already checking all its options, and quietly Israel’s military and defense establishment have increased intelligence collection relating to the Jewish state’s already tense northern borders out of concern that Iran might launch an attack against strategic sites or IDF soldiers.
In a direct warning to Iran on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned, during a visit to the border with Syria, that Israel is prepared for any attack against it.
“Our message is clear,” Kochavi said. “We will continue to act as vigorously as necessary against Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and we are fully prepared for any sort of aggression against us.
“I came here to emphasize the security situation, emphasizing the Iranian establishment in Syria,” he added.
Kochavi could have made the visit with no fanfare and no release to the media, but he chose to send the message to Tehran that the Israeli military is well aware of possible developments in the area.
Israel has repeatedly warned of Iran’s nuclear program and its aspirations of regional hegemony, and has admitted to carrying out countless strikes – as part of its “war between the wars” campaign, which has been going on for several years – to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria, where they could act against Israel.
Israel’s military has already been on high alert along its northern border with Lebanon, bracing for a possible attack by Hezbollah, after an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria on July 20 killed one of the organization’s members. Several improvised explosive devices have also been discovered along the border with Syria, leading Israel to conduct airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in the country.
In addition to the improvised explosive devices, Iran has in recent years attempted more serious attacks against Israel.
In January 2018, shortly after Kochavi began his term as Israel’s top military officer, a long-range surface-to-surface missile with a range of some 200 km. and a payload of hundreds of kilograms of explosives was fired from the outskirts of Damascus toward Israel’s Hermon ski resort. Hundreds of Israelis enjoying the slopes of the country’s only ski resort were witness to the interception of the incoming Iranian threat by an Iron Dome missile.
But that Iranian missile came as a response to daytime strikes carried out by Israel against Damascus International Airport and other targets in southern Syria.
Several months later, and after several other clashes with Iranian forces in Syria, Iran’s Quds Force fired 20 Fajr-5 and Grad missiles toward Israel’s front defensive line on the Golan Heights. Four were intercepted by the Iron Dome and others fell in open areas.
In response, Israel struck 50 mainly Iranian targets – including military bases, weapons depots, logistical centers, intelligence positions and missile launchers – in Syria in an operation called “House of Cards.”
But it’s not only rockets that can be fired toward Israel. Iran has amassed an arsenal of drones and has sent its technology to its proxies in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.
In September and November 2017 two Iranian-built drones operated by Hezbollah operatives were downed over northern Israel.
In a more serious incident, in February 2018, an Iranian drone took off from the T4 air base deep in the Syrian province of Homs and was intercepted near the Israeli town of Beit She’an by an Apache attack helicopter.
In response, Israeli jets took off to strike the launch site of the drone and were met by massive Syrian antiaircraft fire. Though the IAF successfully bombed the mobile command center in addition to dozens of Syrian and Iranian targets, an Israeli F-16 crashed in the lower Galilee after one missile locked onto the aircraft.
It was the first Israeli aircraft to have been downed in over a decade, and the incident was viewed as a significant event by the IDF, which warned that the Iranians and Syrians were “playing with fire.”
The Iranians tried to attack Israel with drones once again, when in August 2019 Israel struck an Iranian cell – which had recently arrived in Syria and had received direct orders from Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani – was preparing to launch several “killer” drones near Erneh in Syria’s Golan Heights.
The IDF later said that the drones were similar to the kind used by the Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia.
The head of the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heyman, said at the time that “the Quds Force is continuing its efforts to destabilize the region. We are continuing our effort to stop the Quds Force’s attempts to harm Israel and its citizens.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went one further, warning that “Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces are operating in every direction against Iranian aggression.
“If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first,” Netanyahu added, citing a passage from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 72a).
From past experience, Iran knows that any attack on Israel’s northern borders, be it by its own forces or proxies in Lebanon or Syria, will result in massive retaliation, which would likely cause Iran and its proxies more damage than they might be willing to incur.
Iran understands that Israel has superior intelligence, which would make it consider this option twice before giving the green light, because is a response to Fakhrizadeh’s assassination worth losing its entire military infrastructure that it has built up in recent years?
DR. RAZ ZIMMT, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies specializing in Iran, told The Jerusalem Post that one has to distinguish between revenge and reaction.
Iranian reactions, he explained, are what we should expect from the Islamic Republic regarding their nuclear program.
“They are at a very complicated decision crossroads, just weeks before [US President-elect Joe] Biden enters the White House. I don’t think they expect the current administration to react if they carry out an attack against an Israeli embassy, but they need to take into consideration what the American reaction would be if they accelerate their nuclear program.”
Meanwhile, revenge, he said, will be “an Iranian action that will focus on Israel. They definitely want to retaliate, and they have patience.”
But Zimmt said that he would not expect rocket attacks by Iran, because that would be more a response to Israel’s continued actions against its military activities in Syria. And while Iran has missiles that can reach Israel, “launching missiles directly from Iran to Israel would mean war, and they don’t want that.”
And Fakhrizadeh’s assassination has to be answered with a custom response. Rocket attacks or drone attacks just might not be the “severe revenge” Iran has promised. What would be more likely would be a terrorist attack against Israeli targets abroad, such as embassies or Israeli tourists in Dubai or Bahrain.
“I don’t know when it will happen, but a terrorist attack is more likely than a rocket attack from Syria; that’s more tailored-made,” Zimmt said. “The way of reacting to a possible Israeli assassination in Iran by launching rockets from Syria or western Iraq would not be considered a reasonable response,” he said.
According to Zimmt, Iranian reactions to assassinations of past nuclear scientists were attempted attacks against Israeli targets in Thailand and India. And, he said, because Fakhrizadeh was such a high-level scientist, Iran might want to attack high-value targets such as Israeli scientists or generals or politicians.
“It doesn’t take much to target a high-ranking Israeli official who is visiting Dubai, and there are lots of Iranians there,” he said. “If they could, they would try assassinating top Israeli scientists or generals; that would be an appropriate response. But if they don’t find the opportunity to respond the way they want to, they might launch rockets and say it’s revenge. But launching rockets from Syria hasn’t always been successful.”
While it’s a matter of watching and waiting, Iran will not allow Fakhrizadeh’s killing to go unanswered.
“In order to carry out revenge,” Zimmt said, “they only need to wait for an opportunity.”