Iran shows it is rattled by Israel

By Meir Javedanfar, September 7, 2010
Iranian clerics during a war game held south of Tehran in 2009

Iranian clerics during a war game held south of Tehran in 2009

"If Iran is attacked, with our fire we will turn the night into broad daylight over Israel. Our missiles will target all their cities, and the reactor at Dimona will be no exception," a commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards recently threatened in the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai Al Alam.

These are not mere words of bravado. They are also a clear sign that Iran's rulers are actually worried about the possibility of a military strike by Israel.

There have been other signs too. Details of two new missiles as well as a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called the "Ambassador of Death" were released soon after a widely noted article in The Atlantic in America suggested that chances of an Israeli attack next year are more than 50 per cent.

This is in addition to Iran's continued request for the delivery of the S-300 anti-missile and anti-aircraft system from Russia. The Russian government has been dragging its feet over the delivery for more than three years. The fact that Iran is adamant that the missiles are delivered as soon as possible shows that it is listening carefully to Israeli government claims that "all options remain on the table".

The Iranian government is also concerned about the Israeli government's ability to justify such an attack. Should Israel manage to get the world on its side, Iran's ability to get the international community to condemn an attack in the UN and justify its own retaliation will be become limited.

This would be a serious diplomatic blow in the aftermath of what is likely to be a massive military setback.

Until now, Iran's rulers have been encouraged by the way the Israeli government has made itself more isolated, without their help. The Gaza flotilla incident, as well as Mr Netanyahu's rocky relationship with Mr Obama, have been good news for Iran's rulers. They are particularly hoping that Israel ends its settlement construction freeze, significantly hurting Israel's standing in the region, while placing pressure on its relationship with its allies. In this case, should Israel attack, it will be easier for the Iranian government to rally regional support behind its retaliation.

However, should the opposite happen and the Israeli government makes progress in its talks with the Palestinians, alarm bells are going to ring in Tehran. The last thing Tehran wants is for the Israeli government to deprive it of its important anti-Israeli raison d'etre. Furthermore, with the Hariri investigation increasingly likely to blame Iran's ally Hizbollah, Iran risks further isolation in the region.

With the economic situation at home worsening, more people inside Iran are going to ask why the government is spending millions in Gaza, instead of in Iran.

The state of Israel has its defence forces to ensure its security. It should not forget that it also has the diplomatic option of significantly hurting the regime in Tehran.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli political analyst

Last updated: 10:23am, September 8 2010