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Is the Middle East Sitting on a Powder Keg?

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9 Jul 2020
Is the Middle East Sitting on a Powder Keg?

For at least a decade now, Israel has been conducting a shadow war with Iran in the region that is proving quite successful, maybe even a little too much so. The radical regime in Tehran is currently under mounting pressure to either account for a series of recent mishaps across the country or start exacting revenge on Israel for its suspected sabotage campaign. Given other developments in the region, even the Corona pandemic may be not be able to forestall a serious military flare-up in the region.

FOR THOSE keeping count, as of this Friday morning there have now been eight mysterious ‘incidents’ at various military and industrial facilities across Iran over the past two weeks. This includes explosions and/or fires at a ballistic missile factory, a missile storage facility, a medical clinic in Tehran, a power plant and a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, an automotive factory, a gas storage facility next to the Parchin military base, and a warehouse at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

These last two sites are especially noteworthy. The Parchin base was once linked to suspected nuclear trigger tests, and Iran has repeatedly denied UN atomic inspectors access to the site. Meantime, the Natanz blast apparently took out a building where new centrifuges were being “balanced” before they were put into operation. Recall that the Natanz plant was temporarily incapacitated ten years ago by the Stuxnet computer virus co-designed by the US and Israel. More recently, Iranian authorities doubled its enrichment capacity in violation of the 2015 international agreement meant to curb Iran’s atomic weapons drive. Analysts estimate last week’s blast could now shut Natanz down for up to two years.

The clerical regime has been attempting to explain away all these mishaps as leaky gas pipes and unconnected accidents, but it sure is starting to look like a series of deliberate sabotage attacks – even to the Iranian public. They are demanding answers, and there is even a move afoot in parliament to impeach President Hassan Rouhani over his apparent incompetence.

If these recent events are indeed part of the covert conflict between Israel and Iran, this would now bring the aggregate score in this contest to a decisive 180 goals to 0 in favor of the ‘Zionist’ side!

OVER RECENT YEARS, Israel has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes inside Syria against Iranian, Syrian and Hizbullah targets. Some of these bombing raids and missile strikes were devastating, lighting up the Damascus skyline and rattling the entire city, wiping out arms depots, crippling major air bases across the country, and killing dozens of fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its affiliated Shi’ite militias.

Israel also has reportedly struck at Iranian-backed militias and missile batteries operating in western Iraq.

In addition, there was that daring raid on a non-descript Tehran warehouse in 2018 when Israeli operatives whisked away a treasure trove of secret archives from Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.

Add in the IDF’s discovery and destruction last year of Hizbullah’s cross-border terror tunnels in southern Lebanon, thereby robbing Iran of a key secret strategy for attacking Israel.

Plus, after thwarting a cyber attack that would have poisoned much of its water supply, Israel sowed complete confusion at Iran’s main port through its own cyber hacking.

Finally, in January of this year the US army scored a dramatic hit on al-Quds Force commander Qasem Solemani at the Baghdad airport, which succeeded in large part due to the accurate tracking information provided by Israeli intelligence.

Strangely, the Iranians have rarely responded to these multiple Israeli blows, and the few counterpunches they have thrown were unusually feeble. There have been a handful of rockets fired from Syrian territory in the direction of the Golan, but most were shot down or fell short of the border. There also were a couple drone incursions into northern Israel that were easily detected and neutralized by Israeli air defenses.

So the Israeli military has dealt numerous upper cuts to the Iranian axis, while the Mossad picked the Ayatollah’s pockets and helped decapitate the main exporter of the Iranian revolution. Now with an apparent sabotage campaign going on inside Iran, the pressure is building on the ruling regime to either explain all these accidents or start taking revenge on Israel. The Iranian government is downplaying the rash of explosions and fires. But it is looking rather inept, especially when you also take into account the collapsing economy, the freefall of the rial, Corona’s true toll in the country, and its lies about the recently downed Ukrainian airliner.

THIS LEAVES one wondering why Iran has let the score get so lopsided. Tehran has shown it is quite capable of carrying out potent, sophisticated military operations in certain circumstances. For example, the surprise attack on the oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia last September involved numerous armed drones and low-flying guided missiles which successfully evaded advanced US-supplied air defense systems.

And Iranian officials indeed generate a lot of bluster and noise about getting back at Israel, and its American ally, every time they take a punch.

But the Iranians also invented chess, we are told, and they like to think more long-term, weigh the stakes, and anticipate several moves ahead. In this school of thought, it is more important for them to keep entrenching their forces in Syria and Iraq, tightening their grip on Lebanon, threatening Riyadh via their Houthi surrogates in Yemen, shipping oil to Venezuela, and developing their missile and nuclear capabilities at home.

In the meantime, if they can deliver the occasional and plausibly-deniable strike through some regional proxy militia, then so be it. And latest reports indicate they were just caught trying to resort to an old tactic of striking at Israeli diplomatic missions abroad.

Still, they do have extremely lethal assets at Israel’s doorstep which pose a real threat to the Jewish state, most notably in the form of Hizbullah’s arsenal of more than 150,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon. This now includes scores of longer-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, as well as improving “killer” drone capabilities that remain an unknown to the Israeli military.

Lebanon itself is in the throes of a severe economic crisis which could seriously destabilize the country along sectarian lines once more. The national currency has lost nearly 80% of its value, pushing many into poverty. People are bartering their goods and services on Facebook to find food for their families. The reeling government has started leaving crates of fruits and vegetables along the streets to help feed the desperate population – a drastic move not seen even in the darkest days of the nation’s 15-year civil war.

Drained of hope by the economic meltdown amid the Corona lockdowns, many courageous Lebanese citizens – Shi’ites included – have taken to openly confronting Hizbullah about its lead role in causing the national calamity. At the same time, recent reports out of Lebanon also indicate a growing sense that the radical terror militia may try to extricate itself by sparking a war with Israel. Every mysterious explosion over in distant Iran only fuels those fears.

The Lebanese may already know something the rest of us are just waking up to: the Middle East is sitting on a powder keg and the slightest ‘accident’ could set it off.


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