Spywar and Strategy: The Israel-Iran Contest in the Middle East

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 June 2021

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, at a memorial in Gaza, 31 January 2017. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib, Flash90.

The May 2021 round of fighting in Gaza brought with it the upending of the unspoken understanding between Israel and Hamas and a level of intercommunal violence within Israel that has not been seen in quite some time. The scale of the rocket attacks on the Jewish state must also be counted among the unusual elements of this latest flare-up, with Iran clearly identifiable as the enabling state behind Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the two primary factions behind these attacks.

Israel had dealt a series of embarrassing blows to Iran of late, essentially without reply, leading to a degree of complacency. The latest Gazan war is a warning flare that there are some dangerous trend-lines developing for the Israelis.

In January 2020, a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s de facto deputy leader and the man who, as head of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was responsible for exporting the Revolution abroad. Israel played a key role in locating Soleimani for the strike. Over the subsequent eighteen months, Israel has struck repeatedly at Iran, at the nuclear infrastructure and senior regime officials, while the Iranians’ attempted responses have been thwarted or fumbled, a repeat of what happened after Israel killed Hezbollah’s military leader in 2008.

So, Israel has rather good visibility within IRGC’s asymmetric apparatus, and seemingly decisive capacity to thwart its global terrorist operations. Where Israel shows signs of having miscalculated in its policies is closer to home, in dealing with Iran’s expanding strategic position in the region.

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