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July 7, 2020 6:14 am

Following Intense Pressure, Tehran ‘Could Respond, Make Mistakes’

avatar by Yaakov Lappin / JNS.org

Opinion

An aerial map from 2004 showing Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities at the Parchin military complex near Tehran. Image: isis-online.org

JNS.orgThe Iranian regime is facing growing pressure on multiple fronts, which could, together with the latest series of mysterious blasts and fires, push it into responses and mistakes, a former Israeli defense official has said.

Col. (res.) Ehud (“Udi”) Evental, senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that it seems reasonable to believe that the July 2 blast at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility was a deliberate attack, and that the same could possibly be true regarding the June 26 fire near the Parchin military complex at a site linked by some reports to missile production.

Evental has served in a range of roles during his years in the defense establishment, including former head of the Strategic Planning Unit of the Political-Military and Policy Bureau of the Israeli Defense Ministry; Israel’s intelligence attaché in Washington, DC; and multiple positions in the Intelligence and Planning directorates of the Israel Defense Force.

In an assessment he published on Monday, Evental wrote, “Until today, the leading assessment was that Iran will not take extreme steps before the US presidential elections in November. Tehran hopes that the Democratic candidate, [former Vice President Joe] Biden, will win. He has declared his intention to return to the nuclear agreement. At the same time, the diplomatic pressure steps on Tehran — combined with the major distress of the Iranian regime due to the unprecedented economic and health crisis, and strikes in the cybernetic and covert domains — could push Tehran into response maneuvers and mistakes on pressure, and this could create surprises.”

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The diplomatic arena remains key to watch, said Evental, since it is there that the Iranians are most comfortable, and they could take steps to challenge the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “But, of course, they could also escalate kinetically [physical strikes] in the Gulf. They have a range of response options.”

Other options include cyber-attacks on Israel; disrupting the oil supply by US allies in the Persian Gulf; attacks on Israel or the United States from Syria or Iraq; or terror attacks overseas, he added. Iranian authorities have released accusatory statements regarding the incident at the Natanz site, where Iran was building faster, more advanced centrifuges. Meanwhile, The New York Times cited an unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official as saying that Israel was behind the July 2 explosion, describing it as a bomb blast.

But Iranian officials wrote off the fire near Parchin as an accidental gas explosion. Iran has seen several additional incidents in recent days, including fires at two power plants — one in Shiraz and the second in Ahvaz. Iranian authorities claimed that the Shiraz fire was caused by a transformer malfunction, while the Ahvaz fire is being investigated.

“All of the signs point to the blast in Natanz being a deliberate attack,” wrote Evental.

According to Evental, allowing Iran to develop advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges is one of the most severe failings of the 2015 nuclear deal. “The development and production of advanced centrifuges that have 40 to 50 times more output than those installed today will grant Iran an ability to produce enriched uranium at a fast pace and in big quantities, through a lower number of centrifuges, which will be easier to hide,” he cautioned.

Speaking to the 103 FM Israeli radio station, Professor Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the timing of the reported strikes on sites in Iran is linked to the fact that “Iran has recently increased the pace when it comes to advanced centrifuges, missile launch silos, and increased ranges for ballistic missiles.”

He added that “attempts by authorities in Iran to supply pinpoint explanations for every incident and to place it in a local context add up to nothing, and even regime officials in Iran are formulating a different explanation, which points an accusatory finger at Israel and its capabilities in the cyber domain.”

Rabi said, “When it comes to Iran, run by the ayatollahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, there is no other way to deal with it but through the sending of messages like these, produced by a penetrating hand that embarrasses the Iranian regime and exposes it. … In light of the existing information, we have no choice but to assume that this will be continued.”

Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.

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