Iranian pro-regime media is closely following developments in Israel, particularly reports about Israel-Iran tensions. On Tuesday Iran’s Fars News reported that “Israel does not have the ability to take military action against Iran.”
Iran ascribed this report to “Zionist media” and was ostensibly re-reporting based on other regional media, but the overall length of the Iranian report indicates that Iran wants to closely analyze the current tensions with Israel.
Iran’s media has highlighted claims that Israel’s “missile depot” has been “emptied” during recent conflicts with the “Palestinian resistance.” The report emphasized that “Israel is not ready to attack Iran.”
If Iran thinks that Israel is not in a position to attack, will that change the Tehran regime’s calculations and policies?
This is a key question and it is worth looking at what issues the regime is currently focused on.
First of all, Iran believes that current issues in Israel make it more complex for Israel to confront Iran.
Why does Iran think that Israel “does not have the ability to take military action,” according to the report? Reports in the last weeks have shed light on some of these issues. For instance, Breaking Defense wondered in November 2022, after the Israeli elections, whether a return to power by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would increase the chances of a “solo strike” on Iran. Iran International, a media organization that opposes Iran’s regime, also noted on February 22 that “Israel signals readiness for a military confrontation with Iran.”
On January 11, Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official, who is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America noted in The New York Post “Israel is ready to strike Iran’s nuclear program if necessary — America must prepare to work with it.” JINSA also recently praised US Senator Tom Cotton for legislation that would have Israeli pilots train on the KC-46A refueling tankers.
“America needs to provide our Israeli allies with the military capabilities they need to protect themselves from an increasingly dangerous Iran. Training these pilots now will send a message to Tehran and will ensure that Israel is able to use these planes the day they receive them,” said Cotton in a statement.
But Iran knows there are many issues involved. The tankers won’t be delivered to Israel soon. Iran’s Fars News noted that Israel “can continue cyber activities and destabilizing measures against Iran.” It is no coincidence that Iran also announced today that it is conducting an air defense drill and practicing with its own cyberdefense capabilities. Another focus of Iran has been attempting to analyze Israel’s 10-day war with Hamas in 2021. That was a war that Iran helped provoke, encouraging Hamas to confront Israel. Iran backs Hamas and it wanted to have Hamas attempt to fire large salvos of missiles in an attempt to try to overwhelm the Iron Dome system.
Iran’s analysis is that Israel doesn’t have enough interceptors to deal with a long war with Iran and its proxies. Its proxies include militias in Iraq and Syria, as well as Hezbollah, and groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran also works with the Houthis in Yemen and Hamas. Iran thinks that Israel does not currently have a clear policy alongside the US or European countries to deter Iran. That means Iran thinks the “military option is not on the table,” according to the Fars News report.
Iran is also closely watching how foreign countries react to Israel’s current right-wing government. The increasing attacks in the West Bank, and the controversy caused by settler attacks on Palestinians are of great interest to Iran. In the past Iran has tried to stoke tensions against Israel during Ramadan, which is approaching. Israel has tried to calm tensions and has met with the Jordanians. Iran’s media notes that while Israel is focused on the West Bank, Iran is ”conducting extensive air defense maneuvers” and some of Israel’s new government ministers are not meeting with their US or European counterparts. Iran is thus able to “prevent any aggressive action by America or Israel.”
In Iran’s view, which it bases on its own assessment of reports in Israeli and foreign media, Israel has dithered over the last years in terms of preparations to strike Iran. Meanwhile, Iran has built up its drone and missile force that it could use to fire large numbers of missiles. It’s not clear if this refers to missiles in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, or if it means actual Iranian missiles. In the past Iran has moved ballistic missiles to Iraq and also via Syria to Lebanon.
“The new statements of the Zionist circles [are] that there is no serious military option against Iran in the hands of Netanyahu.”
Iran views Israel as “crisis-stricken.”
Tehran has watched Israel’s protests closely. It refers now to media reports about the potential that Israeli reservists could refuse to serve as a form of protest. “100 officers from the special operations brigade of the Zionist regime announced that they will leave their military service if the movement towards reforms continues,” the Fars News report says.
Iran’s regime is watching Israel closely these days, amid the increased tensions that have come about due to Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran would still need to reach “breakout,” the period of time when Iran has enriched to 90% and then decides to build a bomb. Iran then needs to produce several dozen kilograms of weapon-grade uranium. While breakout time may be several months, the time to build a bomb takes many more months. This weaponization would require deterrence by Israel and other states.
The key point for Iran is that the regime thinks divisions in Israeli society, the current violence in the West Bank, Western opposition to the far-right parts of Netanyahu’s government, and lessons of the 2021 conflict in Gaza, all mean that a chance of a conflict has diminished. Iran could see this as giving it a window to do more work on weaponization. However, it could also prefer to move more slowly, bolstering air defenses, sending air defenses to Syria and cementing ties with Russia. These are the key changes that may be afoot as Tehran thinks the tensions in the region are mostly smoke, but not so much fire.