Exclusive High Quality Features from Israel and the Middle East

The Borderlines Are Breached

Israel, Ma'ariv

By Ofer Shelah

...the division of labor... is less about hierarchy as we know it from the Western armies, and more about the ties and infrastructure as to every target of an attack. Simply put, the one who has more capacity – he’s the one to get the keys.  


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler 


18 February 2012 


The Iranian fiasco hints on the possibility that sometimes, when the snake's head is smashed, there rises no substitute who knows how to do the job. It's no point in looking for the logic of the schemes throughout the world: there is not much there except lust for revenge. 


In the middle of the week, the Israeli intelligence community was busy with an effort to decipher the chain of terror attacks against the Israeli targets abroad: not who is standing behind it (Iran, in cooperation with Hezbollah, of course), and not the motivation for performing it (elimination of the Iranian nuclear scientists, vengeance for assassination of Imad Mughniyeh1 – you’re familiar with the list), but rather the poor level of performance. 

We’re talking the same machinery that in 1992 pulled a super-deadly bombing against Israeli targets in Buenos Aires – the Israeli Embassy over there – within a month since taking out the Secretary General of Hezbollah Abbas Musawi. And now, as of the moment, they’re getting tangled in their own legs – and sometimes, losing them in something which, if it wasn't related to terrorism, could have been almost comical… What’s going on here?

We’re also allowed to say that we just don’t know – and if someone knows, he is not telling. Israel and in the West are well acquainted with the acting personages, the three interconnected terror mechanisms: the Iranian intelligence, whose chief in those days Ali Fallahian had been personally in command of the terrorist activities in Argentina; the Quds [elite] unit of the Revolutionary Guards with Qassem Suleimani at the head; and Hezbollah’s front for external terror attacks headed by Talal Hamia, who was Mughniyeh’s deputy and succeeded him after the latter was liquidated in Damascus.  

A senior Israeli source explained this week that the division of labor between the three organizations is less about hierarchy as we know it from the Western armies, and more about the ties and infrastructure as to every target of an attack. Simply put, the one who has more capacity – he’s the one to get the keys.

Mughniyeh – said that official in an initial attempt to explain why to date (touch wood), they haven’t managed with a stratagem – had been a genuine focal point of knowledge. There are such cases, when liquidation of a person does not lead to his replacement with somebody else, who’d take over from the same place, but truly cuts off the operational head of the snake. 

The Iranians, – the source told, called for Mughniyeh’s help also in carrying out acts of terror that had nothing to do with Hezbollah’s interests – like, for example, assassinations of the exiled [opposition] leaders in the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin in 1992. It is possible that even four years after he died, there’s still no substitute for him as a head of operations?

Why vex the Indians? 

All this still does not explain what we’ve seen this week – not only the level of performance but also a weird choice of targets: India is one of the last countries Iran wants to drive mad, in the days when Europe is closing its end of the oil pipes.

The deadline for the implementation of the embargo on buying Iranian oil, announced by the European Union foreign ministers, is July 1. Simultaneously, Chinese businessmen are canceling deals in Iran one after another, and thus running ahead of their government, which has also greatly reduced the amount of oil it imports from Iran. What for – for the dubious “achievement” of hitting an Israeli diplomat, to anger exactly the Indians?

In this context, some recalled this week the half-baked shot at assassinating the Saudi ambassador in Washington, revealed by the American administration last October. There too, the thing looked so amateurish, to the point that some doubted how much the Iranians are behind it: an American citizen of Iranian origin, Mansour Arbabsiar, was then arrested and charged with running the assassination operation - exposed from the outset by the American intelligence agencies. Arbabsiar’s handler, the Americans claimed, was a Quds force higher-up Ghulam Shakuri who had not been captured.

In that case, too, questions arose not only about the level of performance but as well about the logic of the planned action.

A very senior official I spoke to then told that we might ascribe to the Iranians more central planning than there actually is: it’s not that the leaders are unaware of the blueprints for the terror attacks which may have a significant repercussion for Iran’s state of affairs – according to the authorities in Argentina and Germany, the supreme leader Khamenei himself approved the monstrous bombings against the Israeli Embassy and the building of the Jewish community [AMIA] in Buenos Aires, as well as the murders in Mykonos – but what’s happening from that moment on, is not necessarily similar  to the mission2 approval by the Defense Minister here [in Israel].

Could that have been a cognitive dissonance? 

What’s clear is that putting a hit on the Saudi ambassador caused the Iranians tremendous damage. It’s been a considerable factor for the shift in the position of the Obama administration and the growing activism it shows since then on the Iranian issue.

The Americans took such an attempt on their soil as a direct affront – and the United States does not like being affronted. It could be that what we’ve got here is simply a lack of cognizance. We attribute to the Iranian regime sagacity and patience, and this is usually true. But it might also be that we’re talking a bunch of people whose understanding of the West is limited.

The Iranian youth is educated and open to the Internet, but their leaders have been locked from the West for already more than 30 years, and see it in religious terms (in their interpretation of religion, naturally) and apparently, with no little arrogance of fanatics. Possibly, the way from there to mistakes in calculation, and not only in the matters of terror but the threat on the Strait of Hormuz either – a power game that has also cost the Iranians dearly – is shorter than what it seems to us.

And after all of that – you should also be lucky

There’s another side of the equation as well. The 1992 bombings, Mykonos and several terror successes of Mughniyeh or Osama bin Laden took place in the days before 11 September 2001 – the day whose impact on the world map is probably greater than of every other day in the past decade.

Since the collapse of the twin towers, the intelligence organizations in the West have been cooperating more than ever – aware that no consideration of the state or organizational prestige prevails against the need to join the hands in face of the threat targeting indiscriminately.

Al-Qaeda today is a persecuted organization whose leaders are hunted down one after one. Iran’s isolation and the restrictions on it and on its partner in Lebanon are evident not only in their limited performance capability, but also in their choice of targets: it’s obvious that the Iranians sought to send a message that they, too, CAN; that they are not going to sit quietly when their nuclear scientists leave their homes in the heart of Tehran and don’t make it to work, or the prominent ally like Mughniyeh loses his head in the heart of Damascus – but at least so far, their objectives haven’t been so spectacular as the Embassy building.

The Iranian regime, an Israeli high-ranking official said this week, is really worried about the possibility of an international offensive, and it tries as hard as it can to neutralize the effect of the harsh economic sanctions at least until next month’s parliamentary elections. The last thing he needs is to overstretch the rope.

And after all of this, one definitely needs some luck, too. What we’ve learned this week is that the Iranians want to avenge. This indicates that they are stressed, and also about the disturbance of the mind and loss of composure. But the terrorism works on the law of large numbers: who would remember numerous failures, if God forbid, one terror attack is a success? 


Original Hebrew article:



1. Senior member of Lebanon's Hezbollah, described as the head of its security section, a senior intelligence official and one of the founders of the organization; among other things – mastermind of the Beirut barracks bombing and US embassy bombings. Eliminated February 12, 2008 by a car bomb in the neighborhood of DamascusSyria

2. Originally in Hebrew: “Mission Operations” – refers to a special weekly forum with the executive branch – Army - as its first stage, and ultimately - discussion at the Defense Minister’s office, to approve all the plans of operations that the army plans to carry out in the week to come.

3. The Hebrew text on the picture says: [Erdogan] Get out! This is my place!