FRESH AIR

Israel successfully neutralising Iran’s global terrorism apparatus

Jul 20, 2022 | Oved Lobel

Hezbollah's arch terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, assassinated by Israel and US in 2008
Hezbollah's arch terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, assassinated by Israel and US in 2008

On July 18, 1994, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Lebanese front group Hezbollah conducted the worst antisemitic terrorist attack since the Holocaust. On that day, a Hezbollah operative drove an explosive-laden van into the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), a Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and wounding hundreds more. The next day, the IRGC and Hezbollah allegedly blew up Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 over Panama, targeting the plane because most of its 19 passengers were Jews. These attacks occurred two years after the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was blown up in a similar attack.

Since then, however, the IRGC’s global terrorism apparatus, including Hezbollah, has become embarrassingly ineffective. July 18 is also the anniversary of Hezbollah’s bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012, the sole successful attack by the IRGC or Hezbollah against Jewish or Israeli targets outside of Israel since the 1990s. While Israel has demonstrated the capability to assassinate almost any IRGC and Hezbollah operative or Iranian nuclear scientist – or even  Al-Qaeda leaders working under the auspices of the IRGC – including in Iran itself, Iran is suffering an ever-expanding backlog of people it needs to avenge.

In 2008, an alleged joint CIA-Mossad operation killed Hezbollah’s terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh in Syria. In response, the IRGC attempted multiple attacks, both assassinations and bombings, across the world. All of them failed. As I covered in depth in 2019, planned and attempted attacks from Azerbaijan to Georgia to India to Thailand to Cyprus and across Africa, the Middle East and South America since 2006 were all foiled, while Hezbollah’s global stockpiling of ammonium nitrate for explosives was revealed by Israeli intelligence. In 2012 alone, the year of the Burgas bombing, there were reportedly at least nine IRGC plots against Jewish or Israeli targets across the world, including a previous attempt in Bulgaria.

Despite varying reports about an inside job, Israel also remains the most likely suspect behind the assassination of Hezbollah’s number two, Mustafa Badreddine, Imad Mughniyeh’s brother-in-law, in Syria in 2016. The top IRGC general in Syria was also killed by Israel the year before, alongside Imad Mughniyeh’s son Jihad.

When the notorious IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by the US in January 2020 alongside his Iraqi deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, allegedly with Israeli intelligence help, a new round of failed plots was launched against both US and Israeli targets to avenge their deaths. Later that year, Israel assassinated Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the nuclear scientist and purported IRGC official overseeing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In May this year, Israel assassinated IRGC Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei.

In 2011, Israel reportedly also assassinated senior IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who oversaw Iranian missile development, and a substantial number of his team. More recently, several ‘mysterious’ deaths of key IRGC and other military officials, as well as nuclear scientists, have been blamed on Israel.

In 2021, an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate  Israelis in Cyprus was foiled, while just last month at least three plots to kill or kidnap Israelis in Istanbul were thwarted. A previous plot to assassinate Israeli businessmen in Turkey in February also failed. A similar plot to assassinate an Israeli businessman and former intelligence operative in Colombia was also foiled.

It is not simply attacks against Israeli targets – Israel also helped thwart a planned IRGC attack against Maryam Rajavi, the leader of Iran’s bugbear Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), in Paris in 2018.

It appears the reason Israel is able to conduct such operations, including infrastructure sabotage against Iranian military and nuclear targets, is because of its comprehensive intelligence penetration of the IRGC and every other relevant organisation in Iran at every level, something obvious for several years and publicly acknowledged by multiple Iranian officials. As the New York Times reported in June in an article on the dismissal of IRGC intelligence chief Hossein Taeb over these failures:

Israel’s spy network has infiltrated deep into the rank and file of Iran’s security circles, Iranian officials have acknowledged, with Iran’s former minister of intelligence warning last year that officials should fear for their lives, according to Iranian media reports.

Although constant vigilance will remain necessary, Israel seems to have successfully neutralised Iran’s terrorism apparatus, with the IRGC and Hezbollah unable to carry out revenge attacks or even protect themselves. While Israel can’t bring back the AMIA or Burgas victims, it has effectively ensured for the time being that similar transnational attacks against Israelis and Jews remain extremely unlikely in the near future, with only one such successful attack in over two decades – all while striking blow after blow against this terrorist network.

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