Over the weekend, the Israeli Intelligence Agency carried out an attack on an Iranian missile facility located in Isfahan, Iran. Iranian officials allege that three drones were involved with the attack on their defense facilities, two of which were shot down and the third caused limited damage.
Details on the facility vary, which some sources claiming that this location is where mid-range missiles are being assembled and sent to Russia, while Iranian authorities classify the building as a “workshop.” According to Israeli sources, the drone strike had nothing to do with the conflict in Ukraine, and everything to do with their own state interests.
This is just the most recent escalation in nearly a half century of shadow wars and subversion. Although this operation is being called “unsuccessful,” this public display of Israel’s commitment to destroying Iranian nuclear capabilities and the potential repercussions demand attention.
Iran and Israel once had a strategic and cooperative relationship, but it ended abruptly in 1979. Iran’s Islamic Revolution ushered in a new administration with an explicit anti-West stance that severed any ties it had to America or Israel. Now, both sides periodically threaten to annihilate each other.
Israel has been implicated in numerous ‘suspicious’ incidents that have attempted to hinder Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Israel’s targeted attacks can be dated back to the 2010 cyber-attack on uranium facility Natanz, known popularly as ‘Stuxnet’. Sabotage is hardly a new phenomenon, but many scholars have expressed concern regarding the frequency. In 2021, Israel was blamed the April fire that broke out in Natanz and the October cyberattack that paralyzed petrol stations across Iran.
Iran has sought to leverage its religious connections across borders to finance, arm and train groups that “expand the scope of the Islamic Revolution” (AJC). In addition to strumming up instability in the region, Tehran has sponsored Hezbollah which has expressed anti-sematic and anti-Zionist motives. It has also attempted to undermine Israel’s control of Palestine by empowering Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is highly likely that Iran is pursuing other measures to subvert Israel, but they have remained tight lipped. Reuters recently quoted Iran’s Minister of Intelligence who claims that “Iranian security forces have successfully carried out a number of operations against Israel over the last few months, he said without specifying what they consisted of.” Iran has also continued to pursue its nuclear weapons program, despite claims that it has no ambition to do so.
According to many recent reports, American officials claim that the US was not involved and that they had no prior knowledge of Israel’s planned drone strike. It is still too soon to assess the accuracy of this statement, but a recent joint military exercise in the Mediterranean has emboldened skeptics.
Whether the US knew about this drone operation or not, the Biden administration might just be deemed guilty by association. A return to the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), better known as Iran Nuclear Deal, seems increasingly unlikely as Tehran has allegedly begun enriching uranium to the 60% threshold which would indicate that they are moving closer to making it weapons-grade. Increasingly brutal repression of anti-regime protests and strengthening of ties to Russia only seem to push Tehran and Washington further apart.
First of all, it is highly likely that Iran will seek to retaliate. The quadcopter drone, which was used in the strike, is a short distance drone. It is possible that the drones came from the Legion-X System. The commercial version of these drones, which can be stored in a backpack, boasts a flight time of approximately 50 minutes and an NVIDIA Jetson TX2 processor. Whether or not this is the model used, it is confirmed that these drones had to have been launched from within Iran. Atlantic Council Fellows, Holly Dagres and Daniel Shapiro, suspect that this ‘unsuccessful operation’ was aimed less at destruction and more at embarrassing the Iranian government. Beyond the continuation of operations against Israel, Iran is likely going to feel further emboldened to repress the ongoing domestic uprisings.
Secondly, this act could undermine the integrity of the Biden administration’s justifications for tightening export controls on China. The Commerce Department has sought to limit China’s access to advanced processing chips and the means to manufacture them; on the grounds that Beijing might use this technology to create weapons of mass destruction, commit human rights abuses, and to increase surveillance. It is highly likely that the chips used in the Israeli drones came from an American company. As Japan and the Netherlands have agreed to joining the export controls stipulated by America, China is unlikely to make headway with its economic arguments. However, an event such as this could open the door to moral and ethical appeals.
Since this operation is only days old, there is little to no grounded speculation on the potential repercussions. Naturally, the initial focus will be regional, but with intertwined debates and overlapping alliances this common ‘tit-for-tat’ antics has the potential to escalate beyond the Middle East.
[Photo: Screen capture, Twitter]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Lydia Brown is a recent graduate of American University’s School of International Service with a Master’s in International Relations. Her interests include American foreign policy, conflict & security studies, and soccer.