With Its Failed Attack on Israel, Iran Has Lost the Narrative

The Islamic Republic is a tinderbox that could, at any moment, be set alight with protests over inflation, human and women’s rights, and minority grievances.

AP/Vahid Salemi
Iran's president, Ebrahim Raisi, at Tehran, August 29, 2023. AP/Vahid Salemi

Iran will continue to spin its surreal and unprecedented missile and drone attack on Israel as a bold, fitting, and effective response to the killing of its senior foot soldiers in Damascus, but it has achieved the unintended.  It has taken the heat of criticism off Israel.  And that pressure on Israel actually served Iran’s purposes well, especially within the “Axis of Resistance.”  A former Iranian diplomat, Mehrdad Khonsari, tells the Sun that Tehran has just shot itself in the foot.

“Iran has lost the international narrative and brought Europeans, Americans, and some Arab governments together in defense of Israel,” Mr. Khonsari says. “It did not achieve anything significant from these attacks, but it has boosted support for Israel in a way Benjamin Netanyahu could never have done. Iran will be more vulnerable and certainly this does nothing to deter further attacks like the one in Damascus April 1st.”

The barrage of weapons, announced and tracked as they were launched, was a show of suspense and fear choreographed to sow panic in Israel in the overnight hours. Ultimately, practically all of the missiles and drones were intercepted with help from Israel’s allies. The damage was limited, but Israel says it’s not done.  What happens next will be defining for the region at a very critical crossroads of particularly violent outburst and shifting alliances.  

It is possible that any further escalation will be with Iran’s proxies, Hamas and its jewel in the crown, Hezbollah, as they are right there on the frontlines.  They are, as their name suggests, in proximity.   What happens to those groups matters greatly to the future of radical Islam in the region, according to Mr. Khonsari. He recently said that anything short of Hamas’ complete removal from control in Gaza would be tantamount to a victory for Tehran.   And he sees logic at this juncture in finally taking off the gloves with Hezbollah.

“Twenty years ago,” Mr. Khonsari says, “the Palestinians confronted the IDF with stones.  Today Israel’s attacked with precision-guided missiles. This in itself is reason for attacking Hezbollah now as opposed to five years from now.”

Defeat of Iran’s proxies would be a watershed moment, Mr. Khonsari says, the first time radical Islamist movements would be pushed aside in the region since Ayatollah Khomeini came blazing back to Iran in 1979, and that would have huge consequences for both Western and Arab countries threatened by fundamentalism.

Hamas and Hezbollah are the Islamic Republic’s reputational life blood. Mr. Khonsari says Tehran would spin their very survival after the current conflict eventually winds down as proof that the revolution, which is treated by the Islamic Republic’s ideologues as a living breathing thing, thrives despite having so many foes.   Iran’s proxy policy objectives alongside encircling and threatening Israel, are to deflect pressure away from its troubling domestic issues.

“If outside parties like the United States and Europe are no longer engaged with Iran outside Iran — in Iraq or Syria or Lebanon — then in order to exert pressure for Iran to change its behavior, these outside parties will likely start focusing more on funding and supporting  Iran’s domestic opposition and ethnic movements,” Mr. Khonsari says.

Iran’s hardline prime time line-up is what Mr. Khonsari refers to as the “deep state.”  All levers of power are now firmly in the hands of reactionaries.  Moderates have effectively been muzzled.  But the Islamic Republic is a tinderbox that could, at any moment, be set alight with protests over inflation that has run rampant, human and women’s rights and minority grievances.

Each time protests flare up, the regime takes a hit.  Its grip is iron.  But the iron is getting rusty.  And the grip could slip.  While images of Iranians celebrating the Islamic Republic’s attack on Israel flooded social media overnight, Mr. Khonsari says you can bet there were even more Iranians terrified by their regime’s “adventurism” which for sure will not help the average Iranian’s wallet nor his quality of life overall.  And Iran’s proxy armies with their bluster may ultimately not be pleased to have the heat turned up on them.   The stakes are higher than ever for Hamas and Hezbollah.

If Iran can boast its proxies withstood Israel’s ferocious response to the October 7th attacks, it will have a PR victory of sorts and this will likely perpetuate the cycle of conflict and the ability of Iran to keep playing violent spoiler in the neighborhood, according to Mr. Khonsari.  And he believes that all those with a hand in guiding negotiations toward peace know this well.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use