A group of scientists are seen near the control room area at the Tehran Research Reactor in Tehran, in this still image taken from video on Feb.15. Photo by REUTERS/IRIB Iranian TV via Reuters TV
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for attacks on Israeli embassy staff in Georgia and India on Monday Feb. 13 that wounded at least two people. “Iran is behind these attacks. It is the biggest exporter of terror in the world,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland seemed much on the same wavelength two days later.
The Iranian regime has not to blame others for finger pointing it. In fact, since some time the most senior authorities in Iran have been threatening to retaliate against presumed Israeli covert operations targeting nuclear scientists in Iran.
Following the assassination in Iran on Jan. 11 of Mostapha Ahmadi Roshan, vice-president of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the country’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei blamed the “international terror network led by the CIA and the Mossad”, threatening that “we would never refrain from punishing the culprits and those behind them.”
Iran’s Intelligence Minister warned that “the British, the Americans and the Mossad would taste the firm and heavy response of the Islamic Republic.”
General Massoud Jazaeri, second in command of the Armed forces of the regime stressed that “capabilities stemming from the Islamic Revolution’s strategic depth – a term normally used for proxies in the Near East, notably the Hizballah - were being considered.”
Subsequently a Lebanese man arrested in Thailand and suspected of having relations with the Hizballah led the Thai police to a hideout containing bomb making facilities. An Iranian injured in an explosion in Bangkok on February 14 was detained by the police for further inquiries.
So Iran’s being behind the Monday embassy explosions is only logical conclusion. Retaliating against the assassination of nuclear scientists is however a mere pretext, rhetoric fit for internal use: the true issue is Iran’s covert nuclear. So regardless of who is really behind the assassination attempts, the clerics’ rhetoric is a political one first and foremost.
Two issues are at stakes: the nuclear impasse, and the internal dissent.
Engulfed in a deep internal crisis, the clerics see no way out except what they call a “life insurance” in the form of military nuclear might. At the same time, they have to keep opposition under control.
On the first issue, terrorist acts against Israeli embassies and other similar attempts are meant to send a “strong” message to the West. Not being able to step back from a strategic agenda for survival, the regime resorts to terrorism as “a legitimate foreign policy tool,” in terms used by Victoria Nuland.
The obvious message is: “Yes we can.” In other words, “do not underestimate our capability of nuisance, especially in an election year in the United States.” Iran’s ruling clique believes that the West might back off with a much feared wave of destabilizing terrorist acts in sight.
But the second issue, internal opposition, is also a source of concern. That is why the clerics try to make the most out of the assassinated scientists’ affair. In an interview with the NBC, Ali Larijani, advisor to the supreme leader, alleged that the main opposition, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) cooperated with the Mossad to assassinate the Iranian scientists. A shear lie meant only to send another hurried message to the US State Department, which under recommendations by the Appeal’s Court of DC is studying the removal of the MEK from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), an act considered a redline by the regime in power as it would send an encouraging message to a hostile population waiting for their turn at the regime.
Iran’s leaders resort to terror because the tool has proven its effectiveness in the past. An explosion perpetrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 US marines and 58 French paratroopers prompted the withdrawal of the International Peace Force from the country. A wave of bloody street bombings in Paris in 1986 and French nationals taken hostage by proxies in Lebanon made the French government muzzle Iranian dissidents and leave the Lebanese territory open to Iranian influence.
As of the FTO list, Hillary Clinton has been sitting on the decision to de-list the Iranian opposition since about two years, in spite of Justice’s recommendation, for the obviously political reason of not wanting to antagonize Iran.
So it is a logical conclusion for the clerics that terror pays. The best way to correct their impression is to stick to a principled approach:
Regardless of reasons, terrorist acts should be punished with extreme firmness. A few months ago the highest officials in the US affirmed that an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US had been defused, but no action was taken. Leaving terrorist acts unpunished for political considerations is a fatal negligence of principles.
On the Iranian opposition, whatever the nature of their struggle against the regime, the court has cleared them of terrorism. Keeping them on the FTO list is yet another negligence of principles. That is playing into the clerics hands.
Principles apart, from a political point of view there is no sense in kowtowing to a regime on the brink of internal chaos and unable to hold falling pieces together. It is losing a strategic ally in the region, the Syrian regime, and the increasing pressure of international sanctions is beyond the endurance limit of a population opposed to the regime it considers responsible for all the misery. Sources from inside Iranian ruling circles point to a state of extreme stress around the supreme leader, even from close aides, in dealing with crushing effects of recent sanctions adopted against the country because of its unlawful behavior in dealing with the nuclear issue.
So harsh words and saber rattling should deceive nobody.