Iran’s weaknesses exposed by Israeli security infiltrations
Iran is facing a wave of assassination and shocking sabotage attacks on its top scientists, military commanders, strategic installations and critical infrastructure. Predictably, the Iranian regime blames Israel for these attacks, with Tel Avivi openly claiming responsibility for a number of them. In order to achieve a degree of balance and to deter further attacks, Tehran is mounting indirect counterattacks through proxy groups or intelligence agents and its security and intelligence services are carrying out extensive reviews to stymie prospective assassinations, but the results to date have been underwhelming.
The rising number of these highly organized, professional assassinations reflects a radical shift in Israel’s strategy, which is no longer limited to targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities and scientists, but has extended to include Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders. It has been observed that the attacks have become more like meticulously planned surgical strikes. These are no longer designed simply to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions, defense capabilities or hostile policies in the region, but rather to cause the greatest possible damage to the regime’s reputation and legitimacy at home by demonstrating its lack of capability and competence.
Iran is unable to counter this security challenge given Israel’s success in infiltrating its security, intelligence and military services, establishing a number of espionage networks and recruiting trained intelligence agents, including members of the IRGC and intelligence services, to carry out assassinations and sabotage attacks. These networks were involved in the 2020 murder of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the stealing and smuggling of Iran’s nuclear archive in 2016, last month’s assassination of IRGC officer Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, and other retaliatory attacks. As a result, there is growing speculation that Iran has become a haven for Mossad spies.
The shooting of Khodaei in the heart of Tehran, just a few kilometers away from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s house, the Foreign Ministry and other sensitive and heavily guarded locations, reflects the gravity of the threat posed by Israel to Iran’s leaders. Iran appears unable to defend its most senior leaders, not just in the peripheries but also in Tehran.
Were it not for the regime’s fragile security infrastructure and lack of expertise — which is particularly embarrassing at a time when it claims to be solid, powerful and capable — Israel could not have achieved this success. Dozens of Iranian security and intelligence units failed to prevent Israeli intelligence agents from infiltrating Tehran’s heart and targeting its most valuable sources of human and material strength. It appears that these security structures are rife with corruption, have reached excessive levels of complexity and overlap with one another, rendering them incapable of carrying out their responsibilities in protecting Iranian national security.
Furthermore, some of their personnel, including IRGC members and their affiliates, have fallen prey to and become tools of foreign intelligence agencies, with the regime fearing that these compromised insiders may have passed on the information that led to the recent spate of assassinations, tarnishing the IRGC’s invincible image and undermining its credibility among the Iranian people.
Iran’s domestic political climate is fertile for infiltration, with the country’s society gripped by paranoia, weakness and vulnerability. This is reflected in the regime’s hyperfocus on internal security — that is to say, on the security and the survival of the regime, rather than the Iranian people, whose well-being is of little interest to Iran’s leaders. The regime’s failure to fortify the state and society, to defend the vulnerable and to provide the public with justice and development, all of which it claims are its primary values and objectives, has created massive resentment and fertile grounds for subversion.
Iran’s leaders place no value on the people’s material or moral welfare and security, with the regime’s sole and driving concern being on ensuring the theocratic elite’s own survival and tightening their already obstructive grip on absolute power. While the regime uses religious language and attempts to disguise its pursuit of totalitarian power as a spiritual and ideological endeavor, in truth the only real objective is to maintain absolute power for its own sake to tighten its merciless grip on power and the wealth of the country, even as poverty spirals out of control and society crumbles.
As a result, the gap between the regime and the Iranian people has widened, a sense of public estrangement and resentment has inevitably grown, and the domestic climate has become vulnerable to infiltration, which explains Israel’s ability to easily gain access to the country.
Meanwhile, Iran’s regime has engaged in an extensive, antagonistic confrontation with the region’s peoples in an attempt to cement its influence, through deploying forces and fighters in several countries. In these arenas, they have become a target for intelligence services. Israel has even targeted several of them, including providing intelligence assistance to the Americans in the 2020 assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Thus, this audacious operation provided Israel with an opportunity to recruit more potential agents for its intelligence services, including the Mossad. This may explain how it was able to form the nucleus of the assassination and terror cells that are now infiltrating Iranian society and state. The irony is that, while the regime’s elements are deployed in several countries and are attempting to protect allied regimes and groups, it appears incapable of protecting itself domestically.
The Iranian regime is attempting to contain assassination and sabotage attacks, whether by concealing information or stepping up security efforts to expose insiders involved in collaboration with external entities. The regime has already had dozens of its own civilian and military staff, as well as personnel at critical facilities, arrested. Despite conducting indirect counterattacks inside and outside of Israel, it has yet to kidnap any Israeli intelligence agent. Furthermore, several of its plans to respond to Israeli assassinations, including last week’s foiled attack on Israelis in Turkey, have failed, demonstrating to everyone that, for all its bluster, the regime is very far from invulnerable — put simply, it is all bark, no bite.
As a result of this failure, the regime decided to sack Hossein Taeb, the IRGC’s intelligence chief. Brig. Gen. Mohammed Kazemi was appointed in his place. Given Iran’s failure to stop the Israeli operations, the reason for this change is definitely known.
Nonetheless, current developments point to the possibility of more mutual assassinations and sabotage attacks in the near future, particularly in open-ended and extensive regional conflicts, where either party sees a possibility of inflicting harm on the other. Iran’s leadership feels insulted and humiliated, with the regime under intense internal pressure to respond.
Iran appears unable to defend its most senior leaders, not just in the peripheries but also in Tehran.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
To conclude, under international law, retaliatory assassinations and attacks are unjustifiable illegal acts. However, due wholly to its own actions, Iran has few supporters on its side in this battle. Over the past four decades, the Iranian regime has pursued a hostile policy of interfering in neighboring countries’ affairs, disrespecting their sovereignty, infiltrating their societies and attempting to undermine their security and stability. Assassinations have also been used by the regime against its own citizens, targeting dissidents both abroad and at home. It has wreaked havoc in several Middle Eastern countries, plunging them into severe internal strife and unleashing humanitarian catastrophes unprecedented in the region.
This policy now appears to have backfired spectacularly, placing the regime in an awkward position, exposing its internal weaknesses and eroding its strength from within.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami