Thursday, February 16, 2012

Iran's itchy trigger finger

Iran's itchy trigger finger by Yoav Limor

The main, overriding conclusion from this week’s wave of terror attacks is that Iran is under severe stress. There is no other way to understand its callous, violent conduct -- which contradicts almost all diplomatic and operational logic -- other than to say that Iran’s decision makers are acting from the gut and not the head.

Initial reports by police in Bangkok regarding Tuesday’s thwarted terror attacks -- following closely the events in India and Georgia -- suggest that all three attacks bear the same fingerprint. Not in terms of the actual explosive devices, but of the methodology: magnetic bombs (“leeches”) attached to the sides or roof of a car and detonated remotely. It is how the diplomat’s wife in New Delhi was wounded on Monday, and was also the plan in Bangkok -- blowing up the vehicles of Israeli diplomats based on intelligence gathered about their daily routines.

The execution of the attacks was amateurish, uncharacteristic of the “Quds” force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. We witnessed terrorists lacking basic field skills, unfinished bombs, and the use of authentic Iranian passports rather than fake identities. This particular cell did everything that a professional organization takes pains not to do (for example, those professionals behind the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists).

Perhaps Iran was anxious to exact quick revenge, but the bottom line is very problematic for Tehran: arrested terrorists in Azerbaijan [a terror attack against Israeli embassy officials was thwarted there last year] and Thailand, and a severe diplomatic setback in India, a powerful country that until now had refrained from joining the international oil embargo on Iran but is now reconsidering its position.
Yet despite Iran’s failures, we must not underestimate them. In contrast with Hezbollah’s attempts over the years to carry out attacks to avenge the assassination of its military head Imad Mugniyeh, Israel had no prior intelligence regarding the current wave of terror attacks. Furthermore, while the attacks might have failed, their preparation was meticulous: Its perpetrators gathered an abundance of intelligence and knew exactly whom they were targeting, which vehicle to hit and in what lane to use.
Israeli security officials believe that similar preparations have been made in dozens of other countries across the globe. Based on the assumption that the current wave of terror attacks is not over, it isn’t surprising that Israelis serving in embassies and consulates abroad were ordered to use only public transportation and minimize their activities outside the embassy and its residential complex.

Israel hopes to leverage recent events (including additional testimonies coming out of Syria connecting Iran to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on civilians), into political capital that would tighten the sanctions screws on Iran even more.

It is likely that more sanctions would have been put in place anyway, due to growing international concern over an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations (which is why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to announce Wednesday the transfer of sensitive nuclear materials to the strongly fortified Fordo complex deep underground), but Iran’s eagerness to act despite the heavy cost of exposing itself on all fronts should certainly raise concern in Jerusalem.

If we are to be optimistic, it’s possible that on the one hand this pressure will lead Iran to postpone its nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, we have the more dangerous and volatile option which Iran has been experimenting with lately -- an experiment that could prove very costly.