Iran is playing a dangerous game with its terror proxies

The son of the last Iranian Shah's visit to Israel last week coincided with a rallying call from the current Tehran regime to Israel's enemies


Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi attends a military parade alongside high-ranking officials and commanders during a ceremony marking the country's annual army day in Tehran on April 18, 2023. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

April 20, 2023 11:44

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Iranian Shah, arrived in Israel on the eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. His attendance at the commemoration was in striking contrast to the boasts of the Iranian regime the next day, when Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to destroy Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Pahlavi’s visit was not the only remarkable one this week: US Senator Lindsey Graham also arrived in Israel after visiting Saudi Arabia and expressed hope that the kingdom might eventually normalise ties with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met him and agreed: “We want normalisation with Saudi Arabia.”

For Iran any kind of normalisation with Riyadh would be a setback to their current policy in the region. Iran is currently playing a dangerous game of threats against Israel. In early April it launched a drone from Syria that Israel downed over the Golan Heights.

Then Iran’s proxies moved into action. Hamas fired rockets from Gaza, claiming to be responding to Israel’s actions in Jerusalem during the Ramadan holy month.

Then Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh flew into Beirut, on the eve of Passover, and organised the firing of 34 more rockets from Lebanon.

The next day, another pro-Iranian group in Syria fired rockets towards the Golan. Tehran sees this as a “unity” of fronts against Israel, moving its pawns around the regional chessboard to threaten the Israeli king.

Iran doesn’t keep its plans secret. President Raisi gave a speech addressed to Gaza last week encouraging Palestinians to strike at Israel and seeking to undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Iran’s regime calls the third Friday of Ramadan “Quds Day” and used this event to push for more pressure on Israel. Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, praised the attacks from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.

A year of clashes in the West Bank between the IDF and Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus and Jericho illustrate that the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, which were trained with US support, are slowly losing their grip on key population centres. Iran is rushing to fill that vacuum.

Israel’s security services announced this week that they had foiled an attempt by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah to recruit Palestinians in the West Bank. The Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, said that it had detained two suspects after months of investigation.

The men were approached online and agreed to smuggle weapons and conduct other activity, according to Israeli media reports.

Tehran’s belief is that pressure on Israel will cause the country to collapse. It knows it can’t confront Israel militarily, but it can push its proxies to carry out smaller attacks on various fronts. Raisi’s message to Gaza was to create this pressure, while his message on Tuesday, during the Army Day parade, warned Israel against any attacks on Iran. He said retaliation would target Tel Aviv and Haifa.

In reality, Iran is focused on larger projects in the region. It has reconciled with Saudi Arabia and may reduce its support for the Houthis in Yemen, potentially shifting that to back proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. For instance, Palestinian Islamic Jihad recently sent a delegation to Baghdad.

In addition, US Pentagon leaks revealed documents posted online by Israel’s Ynet saying that the US believes Israel carried out a large exercise “probably to simulate a strike on Iran’s nuclear programme and possibly to demonstrate Jerusalem’s resolve to act”.

Another leaked intelligence report on the Middle East news website Al-Monitor noted that “Israel has regularly requested ... overflights to support strikes in Syria.” The two reports paint a picture of Israel’s continued attempts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria and preparations for conflict.

In Jerusalem Senator Graham met Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who said cooperation between Israel and the US was necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear drive. For Israel, the current phase of tensions with Iran has showcased how Tehran is able to heat up conflicts closer to Israel’s borders.

Iran conducts that policy while it reconciles with Saudi Arabia. Tehran would be surprised if its outreach to Riyadh also ended with a Saudi-Israel normalisation agreement.

At the same time Iran’s reconciliation with Saudi could slow down the Iranian nuclear programme, since it would seem strange for Iran to seek ties with Saudi, only to then advance its nuclear weapons programme, which Riyadh has opposed.

This is probably why Iran seeks to push this dangerous game of tensions in the West Bank, hoping to shift the balance of threats closer to Israel.

April 20, 2023 11:44

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