Iran File

The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk(*) for the reader's awareness.]

Forecast: The Iranian regime may attack or threaten Israeli interests in coming weeks to deter perceived Israeli aggression. Tel Aviv launched an air campaign against Iran in Iraq and will also participate in the US-led maritime security mission in the Persian Gulf, Operation Sentinel. Tehran considers both efforts significant security threats and will adjust its approach to rising tensions with the US and Israel accordingly. Recent meetings between the regime and Iranian-backed groups may indicate that Iran is planning a military response or contingencies to respond to future Israeli attacks.

Israel launched an air campaign against Iran in Iraq and will participate in the US-led military coalition in the Persian Gulf. Israel is targeting Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq to degrade their military capabilities and capacity to threaten Israel from Iraq with ballistic missiles. *Iranian, *Saudi, and *Israeli media attributed recent explosions at Iranian proxy bases in Iraq to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The explosions killed at least one Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) member.

Tel Aviv has not confirmed its role in the attacks, but the targets of the explosions — arms depots and weapons caches — are consistent with the IDF’s previous attacks against similar Iranian and Iranian-backed locations in Syria. Israeli media *reported on August 1 that the IRGC increased its transfer of ballistic missiles to its Iraqi proxies to avoid Israeli strikes in Syria. The IDF may conduct future strikes in Iraq if it continues to assess that Iran poses a security threat to Israel there. These attacks come as Israel *joins US-led Operation Sentinel to protect commercial traffic in the Persian Gulf from Iranian aggression. Israel is reportedly assisting “with intelligence and in other unspecified fields.”

The regime considers Israeli strikes in Iraq and participation in Operation Sentinel a national security threat and military aggression. Iran views Iraq and the Persian Gulf as key theaters for ensuring its national security and strategic depth. Former IRGC Commander and Supreme Leader Senior Military Adviser Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi *stated that the “defense of Baghdad is like the defense of Tehran” on August 4. The IRGC uses its forces and assets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf to establish deterrent power and pursue its regional objectives. Iran’s forces in the Persian Gulf and Iraq, for example, recently attacked international commercial traffic and Saudi oil infrastructure to increase oil prices and destabilize the global energy market.

Tehran may attack or threaten Israeli interests if Tel Aviv continues to escalate. The regime has thus far tempered its attacks against the US and its partners to avoid inciting a war. IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami *described this approach as a defensive strategy with offensive tactics. Iranian leaders may adjust this approach in response to perceived threats to the regime in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. IRGC Navy Commander RADM Alireza Tangsiri *warned on August 12 that an Israeli presence in the Persian Gulf would be illegal and could “create a war and conflict in the region.” The regime views Operation Sentinel as military aggression and an extension of the US maximum pressure campaign. Tehran seeks to deter perceived Israeli aggression and is likely contingency planning in case of further escalation.

Attacks into Israel from Hamas in the Gaza Strip or from Iranian and Iranian-backed forces near the Golan Heights are Iran’s two most likely courses of action if Israel’s air campaign in Iraq continues. Iranian and Iranian-backed forces could also attack Israeli or Jewish targets globally as they have done previously. The likelihood that Iran will pursue one or several of these options will increase with additional Israeli attacks in Iraq. Senior Iranian officials, including Safavi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, convened with their proxies and partners from *Iraq, *the Gaza Strip, and *Syria after the first Israeli strike on July 19. Such high-level meetings are unusual and indicate that they may have met to discuss responses to Israeli strikes in Iraq and contingencies in the event of further escalation.

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Aug '19