Its Deterrence Strategy Weakened, Iran Faces Pressure to Hit Israel

Israel launched its deadly offensive in Gaza after Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, attacked several communities in Israel on October 7 that killed nearly 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The Iran-led Axis of Resistance has been targeting Israel since it attacked the Palestinian enclave, and even tried to impose a naval blockade using Yemen’s Huthi rebels, which in recent months have targeted commercial ships heading to Israeli ports.

Israel has responded by hitting the proxy groups that make up the Axis of Resistance but has particularly ramped up its attacks on IRGC positions since December.

“The Israeli strike on the Iranian diplomatic facility in Syria…may have been an effort by Israel to impose a higher cost on Iran for the Axis of Resistance pressure campaign,” said Sabet.

Strategic Patience’ Not Cutting It
Despite losing more than a dozen officers of varying ranks since the Gaza war began, the Islamic republic has not directly gone after Israel — because a war with Israel would inevitably turn into a war with the United States.

Instead, Tehran has exercised what is widely dubbed as “strategic patience” — avoiding direct conflict in the hope that its allies were already sufficiently engaging Israel to ensure deterrence.

“The consulate attack demonstrated the fallacy of this calculation,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Azizi argued that by gradually escalating its attacks on the IRGC, Israel has forced Iran to a juncture where it must either “risk direct confrontation or continue to see its deterrence and regional credibility erode.”

Commenting on Khamenei’s threatening message, Azizi said, “It appears that there’s a realization among Iranian policymakers that the strategy of ‘strategic patience’ and sole reliance on proxy warfare has its limits.”

Calls For Reciprocal Action
The Islamic republic’s hard-line base of support has been demanding retaliation and has been critical of the lack of a firm response to previous deadly attacks on the IRGC.

“It will be very difficult this time for Iran to do nothing,” said Zimmt, a veteran Iran watcher with the Israel Defense Forces. “The question remains what exactly Iran can do in order to rehabilitate its deterrence but at the same time not drag itself into a direct military confrontation with Israel [that would be] supported by the United States.”

Sabet speculated that Iran would likely continue to respond indirectly, such as striking targets in Iraqi Kurdistan that it claims are used by Israeli operatives. But the devastating attack on the consulate could change things.

At the risk of damaging relations with host countries, Sabet said, Iran might go after Israeli diplomatic missions.

That certainly seems to be a popular option with hard-liners in Iran.

Hamid Rasaei, an ultraconservative cleric and lawmaker-elect from Tehran, has described the consulate strike as “an attack on our country’s soil” and demanded reciprocity.

But Zimmt said an attack on Israeli missions, though possible, might take a long time to plan.

He recalled Iran’s history of targeting dissidents abroad, including in Western countries, and argued that tarnishing relations with other countries is unlikely to deter the Islamic republic from hitting Israeli embassies or consulates.

Whether Iran opts for a direct or indirect response, “any retaliation is expected to be calibrated and limited to prevent unintended consequences,” Azizi said. “Though there is no guarantee for this.”

Kian Sharifi is feature writer Radio Free Europe. This articleis reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty(RFE/RL).