Iran-Israel Shadow War Escalating Tensions

Iran-Israel Shadow War Escalating Tensions
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With the stalling of the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran in Vienna, the U.S. wants to punish Iran through Israel. At this point, low and medium-profile death cases, assassinations, explosions, fires and accidents at various locations in Iran, especially in Tehran, are the possible consequences of the strategy pursued by Israel within the "Octopus Doctrine." The Octopus doctrine is a security strategy that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett brought to security and military policy applications in 2018 when he was the defense minister.

According to this doctrine, instead of fighting Iran's regional proxy networks, Israel should directly target Tehran, which is defined as the head of the octopus leading the regional proxy networks positioned within the axis of resistance. By this doctrine, it is a priority to increase Israel's depth and degree of influence in Iran at the operational and tactical levels. The priority and concentration mentioned, which started in 2018, are emerging today with concrete examples within Iran. However, the political will and support of the U.S., especially for Israel to conduct such operations, is in a key place, from the point of view of Bennett-era foreign policy particularly.

With this reality, the U.S. tends to draw a profile that does not support Israel's high-tempo operations inside Iran. Although the U.S. does not support the actions, it is seen that a kind of good cop-bad cop game in which the negotiating side is the U.S., and the punishing side is Israel. All low and medium-profile assassinations, explosions, fires and sabotages are understood within Israel's current security concerns.

Two major events

The trend, which started with the assassination of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, especially in the last days of May, continues unabated in June. However, one of the important antecedent incident at the beginning of the trend was the air attack on the 4th armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Battalion of Kermanshah, in the Western Region, which is under the joint use of the IRGC and the Iranian Army (Artesh), on Feb. 14, 2022 There were allegations that Israel conducted the attack. Iran's reaction to this attack was seen when a compound belonging to Kar Group in Erbil was hit by 12 ballistic missiles by the IRGC.

These two major events are precursors to the start of the hostilities. When analyzing these incidents, it is seen that the actions took place consecutively, an environment of deliberate uncertainty and fear is being created through these, the targets meet in a common intersection set, and the actions have a hybrid and complex structure in terms of operation area. Accordingly, it is understood that the means and instruments used are of a hybrid structure.

Another important characteristic observed in the latest trend in Israel's covert operations against Iran is the nature of the targets. In this context, it is understood that the targets are somehow related to Iran's military aerospace capacity, and it is evaluated that the targets are mainly determined by ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and armed UAV/drone technologies.

Iran's reaction to these high-tempo actions of Israel in Iran mostly emerges in the context of cyberspace and tertiary countries. Thus, recently, the Iranian-backed hacker group called the "Moses Staff" announced that it had carried out cyber-attacks that could cause physical harm to Israeli energy companies, and simultaneously, news of the fire broke out in the Haifa Refinery.

In addition, vehicles allegedly carrying Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad officials in Erbil were targeted with kamikaze drones, and Iranian-backed militia groups assumed the responsibility.

Missile strikes on Tehran

Another notable event on June 18, 2022, was the explosions in Tehran. Social media users reported that explosion sounds and heavy gun fires were heard, but there were no official statements about the incident. After the incident, a Kuwait newspaper Al-Qabas claimed that the explosion in western Tehran was due to the explosive-laden drone attack on a strategic missile development base belonging to Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (the name "SHIG" associated with IRGC several times mentioned in the U.S. sanctions list). The newspaper also reported that the drones used in the attack were smuggled to Iran and reassembled there.

On June 19, 2022, leaked satellite images framing the missile development base were damaged. According to these satellite images, the roof of the missile development base was damaged. But it is not yet clear whether the allegations about the air attack are accurate or not. Recently there was also news about a false missile attack alarming in several neighborhoods in West Jerusalem and Eilat. Sirens were heard in the towns of Talpiot, Katamon, and Beit Hakerem in West Jerusalem and Eilat. At the beginning of the incident, the cause of the false alarms, which rang for roughly an hour, was unclear. But later, the Israeli Army Radio announced that the Israeli National Cyber Directorate (INCD) suspected a cyber-attack "behind a system malfunction." All updates regarding the cyber attack indicate the attack was carried out by an Iranian hacker group called Moses Staff because just three days before the Moses Staff shared on Twitter that "another surprise to Israel is coming." The group took responsibility immediately after the attack. Through this attack, Iran is trying to keep the tension low, which is why their reactions to Israel were in cyberspace. On the other hand, all these developments raise the critical question: "Would escalating tension between the two countries at the regional level evolve into a full-blown war?" The answer, however, will become more apparent in the coming days.

However, it is believed that the tensions will continue unless a compromise is reached in the Vienna negotiations. Recent regional developments indicate that the tensions may have severe consequences at different levels, depending on the tempo of Israel's operations inside Iran and the importance of the targets.

This article was first published in 09.08.2022 at Daily Sabah.