Making Sense of Iranian Threats to Attack Israeli Cities

September 21, 2022 | Amir Taheri
About the author: Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor (1972-79) of Iran’s main daily newspaper, is the author of twelve books and a columnist for the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

In a recent press conference, the commander of the Islamic Republic’s regular army, General Kioumars Heydari, announced the introduction of a new model of drone, which, he said, was developed with “attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa” in mind. Amir Taheri questions the prudence of such saber-rattling, examining both its unusual character and its possible causes:

To start with, the general made no mention of the “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei, who is supposed to be the ultimate decision-maker on all major issues, especially war and peace. Khamenei has always said he would love to see Israel “wiped from the face of existence.” But he has never said that his own Islamic Republic is going to launch a direct war to destroy the “Zionist entity.” Almost ten years ago, he prophesized that Israel would disappear within 25 years. In the meantime, however, his Islamic Republic won’t take any direct action against Israel, instead using Lebanese and Palestinian surrogates in a low-intensity proxy war.

For the past six years, Israel has been attacking Iranian positions in Syria and even hitting targets inside Iran without being attacked in response. The question now is simple: has the “grin and bear it” policy changed? Should we assume the Iranian military is now in the driver’s seat on such high-risk issues? Traditionally, the military in Iran was required to obey the “silence is golden” rule. Even after the mullahs seized power, that tradition was largely observed. The military did make boastful speeches but never threatened any country with any specific course of action.

The irresponsible boast also comes at a critical point in the dicey negotiations to revive Barack Obama’s nuclear deal and to recognize the Islamic Republic’s supposedly peaceful intentions.

Did part of the Khomeinist establishment write the Heydari puppet-show script to derail President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo Donald Trump’s policy on Iran? Is the same faction not aware of the fact that there is not, and will not be, Iranian popular support for any war waged on purely ideological grounds? Or is the beating of war drums a ploy to divert attention from the regime’s economic, diplomatic, and social failures?

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