by Reese Erlich
During the past month, Iran has suffered a half-dozen explosions and fires at military and civilian sites. A bomb blew up near the Parchin missile base outside Tehran, Iran’s capital. Fires broke out at an electric power station and aboard seven ships in a southern port city.
Iranian government authorities say some of the incidents were accidents. But the most serious, it appears, was an act of sabotage.
On July 2, a blast ripped through the main assembly hall at Natanz, a facility that produces centrifuge parts essential for enriching uranium for Iran’s nuclear power program.
“Iranians are holding their fire, playing the long game,” Parsi says. “They fear it may be a trap to give Trump an excuse to go farther.”
No one officially took credit for the sabotage, but The New York Times reported that a “Middle East intelligence” source admitted that Israel was behind the bombing. An Israeli newspaper later identified the source as Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence agency.
Analysts say such a brazen attack, which constitutes an act of war, would need the approval of officials in Washington, D.C.
“If the U.S. did not participate in the attack directly, at the very least it gave Israel its consent,” Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California and Iran expert, says in an interview.
Washington and Tel Aviv think such attacks, along with the unilateral U.S. sanctions, are a low-risk means of pushing back on Iran. They are an escalation of Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign—which has notably failed and will likely be abandoned after the U.S. presidential election.
“There’s a sense that there’s a bit of desperation right now” in both capitals, says Trita Parsi, executive vice president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute, an anti-interventionist think tank in Washington, D.C. He likens the attempts to those of medieval archers fighting a losing battle: “Empty your quiver . . . shoot all your arrows.”
Some analysts speculate that the Trump Administration is seeking to provoke Iran into military retaliation. Trump could then launch a war, rally support at home, and win the election. It’s a classic “October Surprise” or even a “Wag the Dog” scenario.
But Foad Izadi does not agree with this analysis.
“Iran is not Iraq,” Izadi, an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Tehran, tells me by phone from Tehran. “Any overt war runs the danger of serious U.S. casualties. He should know, after being President for almost four years, [that] attacking Iran has consequences.”
Izadi does not think that “starting a new war with Iran a few months before the election” is in Trump’s interest. “Even a limited war is not useful for him.”
But that doesn’t preclude other forms of U.S. aggression.
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