Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi appears to be sending strong signals to Israel and the US that he will take an aggressive posture in pursuing Iranian interests in the region and globally. I wrote about the alleged Iranian attack on the Israeli-managed, Mercer Street, which killed two crew members. This week Hezbollah launched the most intense missile barrage into northern Israel since the 2006 War.
In addition, the nuclear talks in Vienna have continued for months without agreement by Iran or the US to resume their participation. Despite on-again, off-again statements by the parties that a deal was likely or imminent, the current status appears stalled. The best news recently was a statement that the Iranians may be willing to resume talks in September.
Raisi knows that Pres. Biden promised as part of his election campaign to return to the JCPOA deal which Trump abandoned after he became president. The new Iranian leader isn’t about to give Biden a gift tied up in bows. And the American leader appears to have gotten questionable advice from his more hawkish advisors keen to prevent Republicans from accusing the President of caving to Iran. As a result, the nuclear talks are stalled.
The drone attack on a ship managed by the Israeli oligarch Ofer family, and the killing of two crew members marks a serious escalation over previous assaults in which Iran purportedly exploded mines on the hulls of several other Israeli ships, causing less serious damage. It parallels previous strikes using drones to destroy a Saudi Arabian oil refinery and attack US troops in Iraq in retaliation for Trump’s assassination of IRG commander, Qassem Soleimani. Similarly, in the case of the Mercer Street incident, it happened in the context of repeated Israeli attacks on Iranian shipping and personnel in Syria.
The outrage offered by Israel and G7 foreign ministers at Iran’s alleged attack on the Israeli-managed tanker contrasts with utter silence in the aftermath of repeated Israeli attacks inside Iran which murdered six nuclear scientists, and sabotaged the nation’s infrastructure. Apparently, when Israel is concerned what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.
Hezbollah’s missile barrage in southern Lebanon and Israel’s retaliatory response have brought ominous warnings and threats of war from Israel’s defense minister. It marks the highest level of tension on this frontier in years. But neither Iran nor Hezbollah will be intimidated, as these chest-thumping threats have been regular feature of Israel’s posture toward them.
Each of these Iranian episodes appears part of a concerted policy of confrontation by the new Raisi administration designed to show a more assertive posture toward Iran’s rivals and enemies. Whereas, former Pres. Rouhani hewed to a more pragmatic, forthcoming path, the new leader is telling the world that Iran will no longer bend over backwards to accommodate its negotiating partners. If they want agreements and quiet on fronts where there has been confrontation (Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, etc) Iran will demand respect and accommodation to its interests in return.
This hardline approach also puts the lie to claims by anti-Iran hawks in the US and Israel that the former is collapsing under the pressure of punitive western sanctions. Raisi is telling them that this path will lead nowhere. That Iranians can take everything the west can throw at them and more. And when they’ve done everything they can to hurt the country, the regime will remain steadfast and in control. This give-no-quarter approach means greater suffering for the Iranian people, who’ve endured much at the hands of Iran’s enemies and the clerical regime itself.
The response by Biden’s hawkish national security officials, threatening further sanctions if Iran continues to delay its return to JCPOA, are the continuation of decades-worth of failed US punitive policy and doomed to failure.
Any time a party to regional conflict introduces a new, more aggressive approach it risks provoking retaliation and full-scale war. When rivals play a game of chicken to see who will blink first, they run the risk of miscalculating an opponent’s intentions. All it takes a a lit match to ignite a conflagration. When generals and presidents let their testosterone go to their heads, it can have disastrous results. This is precisely what happened in 2006 when Hezbollah attacked the northern border and killed several IDF soldiers. Israel, in retaliation, launched a war that was catastrophic for both sides. The only good that came out of it was that both Hezbollah and Israel have realized for the past 15 years that they don’t want it to happen again. Let’s hope it doesn’t.
But not for lack of trying on the part of some blood-thirsty Israeli academics and think thanks like this one, which published what is essentially a call for genocide against Iran. The author, Mordechai Kedar, has previously advocated committing genocide against the Palestinian people. So at least he’s consistent! Kedar is the Shin Bet’s favored Arabist to teach its interrogators how to torture Palestinian suspects using proper Arabic.