Iran reads what Israeli officials say, and claims it is winning

When Iran wants a fact to be true, it waits to see if Israelis are also saying the same thing.

 Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran (photo credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS)
Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran
(photo credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS)

Iranian regime media is a constant consumer of Israeli media. Despite their claims of wanting to destroy Israel and complaining about the “Zionist” regime, they need Israeli media to confirm their own claims of vast operational abilities.

Iran recently tested missiles and drones in a military drill and it tends to eagerly await Israeli coverage of the tests so it can then launder the reports to make it appear that Iran has achieved what it claimed to have achieved. In a sense Iran’s media, and by extension, its leadership and IRGC analysts, use Israeli media and Israeli officials as their “fact-checkers.” When they want a fact to be true, they wait to see if Israelis are also saying the same thing.

In recent months, Iran has tended to think that it may be closer to achieving its stated goals. This isn’t just about bragging that it can destroy Israel; Iran routinely makes these kinds of comments. Tehran has warned Jerusalem of a “crushing response” to Israeli actions in November 2020. In May 2021 the head of the IRGC claimed the Jewish state could be destroyed in one operation. This coincided with the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas. The recent missile tests were reportedly a “warning” to Israel.

Iran’s Tasnim media reported today that an official gave a speech where he said that Tehran’s enemies now see the “power and capability of the Islamic Republic” and that these enemies “understand and consider in their calculations and know that the system of the Islamic Republic is a powerful system.” He went on to say that “the country's armed forces have become more powerful than ever… Iran's missile capability is at the first level of the world's missiles and we are very powerful on land, sea and air.”

Fars News noted that Israeli officials have also said that “there is currently no deterrent against Iran.”  The Islamic Republic based this on reading a recent New Yorker article called “The looming threat of a nuclear crisis.” In that article, Zohar Palti is quoted. Palti is director of the Policy and Political-Military Bureau in Israel's Defense Ministry. He recently informed Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he would end his tenure in the first half of 2022 following a five-year term.

He is also a former head of the Mossad's Intelligence Department. A biography published by the ministry noted that, “in 2014, Mr. Palti established the Intelligence Directorate of the Mossad, in times of turmoil in the Arab world and the Syrian civil war. In this capacity, Mr. Palti led the efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear program as well as counterterrorism operations.”

 PEOPLE PASS a mural of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran (credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA VIA REUTERS) PEOPLE PASS a mural of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran (credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA VIA REUTERS)

IRAN'S FARS News noted Palti’s quotes in the New Yorker article. “We don’t want to reach a point where we will have to ask ourselves how Iran was allowed to enrich to ninety percent,” Palti was quoted as saying in the New Yorker piece. “The problem with Iran's nuclear program is that, for the time being, there is no diplomatic mechanism to make them stop,” said Zohar Palti.

Iran’s media interprets this as an Israeli official saying that there is no deterrent against Iran. Fars News notes that “Iran is no longer afraid.” Its media then says that “Western countries, led by the United States and the Zionist regime, have in recent years accused Iran of pursuing military goals in its nuclear program. Iran has strongly denied these allegations.”

Iran’s report says that Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to derail the Iran deal of 2015 and that “[then-US President Donald] Trump and Netanyahu hoped that maximum pressure could persuade Iran to come to the negotiating table to discuss a new agreement….This policy failed.”

Fars says that “in recent days, a number of former Zionist officials have admitted that Netanyahu's decision to encourage Donald Trump [regarding this]… and his other policies against Iran were wrong.” The report goes on to claim that “the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had not stopped the progress of Tehran's nuclear program.”

Iran is laundering what it says are Israeli accounts to affirm its own progress. It quotes Israeli media as quoting an anonymous source who said that “the current situation is the most advanced situation that Iran's nuclear program has reached."

The report then uses foreign sources to argue that there were “gross failures” in Israel’s confrontation with Iran and that this has even led to an “accelerated” nuclear program. Tehran uses enrichment as a bargaining chip in the Vienna negotiations. Israel has made miscalculations about Iran and the Iranian media says that “[Prime Minister] Naftali Bennett was now following the same path.”

“The Zionist military official, who specializes in Iranian affairs, then told the Times of Israel that the best and only way to overcome what he called the Iranian threat now was for Washington to reach a major compromise and make the Vienna talks a success,” it said.

Iran’s media then quotes the New York Times,Thomas Friedman and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. This quote ostensibly relates to comments Ya’alon made back in November about how, although the Iran deal was a mistake, leaving it led Iran towards greater enrichment.

A search online for where these same sources appear leads to an article at Responsible Statecraft published on December 3. Apparently, Fars News merely read and quoted from this piece and republished part of it. This is clear because the Fars News piece also quotes Danny Cintrinowicz, a former head of Israeli Military Intelligence’s Research and Analysis branch. It seems they took this from a Responsible Statecraft piece on December 7.

NOW FARS News says that “the Zionist regime's army on Wednesday acknowledged the prominent military power of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” This claim is based on a piece from Sputnik, the report says. The claim asserts that Israel sees difficulty in “estimating the consequences of military action against Iran, in which case ‘there will be an avoidance of attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip’ against the [Israel] regime.”

Iran thus affirms its own claims about its long-range missile arsenal, which it claims “can easily hit any target in Israel.” The report then notes that “the Israeli army's continuation of this report states that the high missile power of Iran has forced the regime to increase the costs related to air defense systems.” Thus having affirmed its own bragging of its power, Iran’s media rests its case: “There is currently no deterrent against Iran.”

What to make of all this? There is always a circular relationship between Israeli and Iranian media. Iranian media boasts of new capabilities and these reports then end up in Israeli media – and then Iranian media reports on these reports, laundering them to show how the “Zionist regime” is afraid of Iran.

In fact, the reports that Tehran pushes could be entirely fictitious. They might be bragging of some new, long-range drone and wait for the report to be picked up abroad, so they can then say the region fears Iran’s “new long-range drone,” even if no such drone exists or it never achieved that range.

That could be seen as just Iranian media click bait. But a more reasonable explanation is that these reports are prepared at Fars and Tasnim in order to be fed into the feedback loop of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and top leadership which is linked to the IRGC.

This doesn’t mean that the Islamic Republic is merely playing mind games with its claims or that it needs to invent these reports to get them affirmed abroad. However, it is likely that Iran wants to report on these foreign reports of Israel’s concerns to show the leadership that Iran’s paucity of actions is actually achieving great success for relatively little investment.

In short: More bang for the buck. Iran is under sanctions and is short on cash. While its drones were recently used against US forces at Tanf, and a drone attacked a commercial tanker in July, Iran is also suffering setbacks.

IRAN WANTS to believe that Israel is concerned about deterrence because it wants to believe that its relatively small actions abroad, amounting to pinpricks, are achieving its goal. While the country has impressive abilities, it isn’t actually using them. Reports in 2018 and 2019 that Iran had moved ballistic missiles to Iraq, for instance, haven't resulted in those missiles showing up again.

Iran also built a base called Imam Ali near the Syrian border town of Albukamal. First reported in September 2019, the base was said to have grown in November and December, and new buildings were added in May 2020. Well, what became of that base? We haven’t heard much since then.

So Iran’s project in the region, from sending a Hezbollah “killer drone” toward the Golan in 2019, to sending drones to T-4 base in February and then the 3rd Khordad air defense system to T-4 in April 2018, has largely resulted in Iranian frustration. The systems have been destroyed or left unused. Now Iran is facing pressure on its shipments to Latakia Port. According to reports, two airstrikes hit Latakia in December 2021.

While Israeli media may say that Iran faces “no deterrence” to its nuclear program, Iran also isn’t responding to what Syrian regime media say are recent Israeli airstrikes. That means Iran and its proxies and Hezbollah have not appeared to respond recently. This is despite tough talk warning of a “crushing” response on December 20.  

There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic likes to put out threats via its media but it also tries to affirm that its threatening message got through by reporting what Israeli officials are saying, or twisting their words around a bit to make it seem that Iran is accomplishing something.

The interplay between Iran’s regime, Iranian regime media close to the IRGC, and Israeli media and messaging is important. For some in the regime, the appearance of accomplishing something against Israel and feeling they have struck a psychological blow may be more important than the movement of ballistic missiles or the establishment of bases in places like Albukamal.