Could War With Iran Be an October Surprise?

Jul 19, 2020

Over the past few weeks, a series of suspicious fires and explosions have occurred at Iranian civilian and military facilities, including the country’s main missile-production and nuclear complexes. While a few of these incidents might have been accidental, the timing and specific targets suggest that at least some were the result of sabotage by Israel, and the provocations raise the possibility of a spiraling conflict in the Middle East just in time to become an issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Via anonymous leaks to major media outlets, Israeli intelligence sources have more or less copped to the country’s involvement in some of the incidents. After an explosion at the Natanz nuclear-fuel-enrichment complex in early July, which may have set back Iran’s progress toward a nuclear warhead by months or years, a “Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the episode” told the New York Times that Israel was behind the attack. Right-wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman implicitly accused Mossad chief Yossi Cohen of being the Times’ source, suggesting that the leak was part of Cohen’s campaign to succeed legally embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as head of the Likud Party.

If Cohen is leaking, though, he’s not the only one. A former Israeli defense official told Insider that it was common knowledge in Israeli intelligence circles that some of these events were Israeli intelligence operations. “I don’t know which ones exactly and wouldn’t tell you anyway because the entire point is for the Iranians to feel considerable stress trying to decide what might have been our work,” they said. A European Union intelligence official echoed that understanding, calling it part of a campaign of “maximum pressure, minimal strategy” to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

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Israel isn’t the only party anonymously taking credit for these attacks. A hitherto unknown Iranian dissident group calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs emailed the BBC shortly after the incident at Natanz occurred but before it became public, claiming to have attacked the plant as part of an ongoing campaign of sabotage against Iranian strategic sites. The email from the group, allegedly composed of dissidents within Iran’s military and security forces, contained details that aligned with what was soon reported, suggesting that the authors had foreknowledge of the attack. However, this could also have been an act of misdirection to sow doubts about who was responsible. It’s also not an either/or proposition: Israel has in the past carried out joint operations against Iran with domestic anti-regime elements like the Mujahideen-e Khalq.


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