With only four months left to the U.S. presidential elections, and the increasing likelihood of Donald Trump, the most pro-Israel President in history, losing, Israel has been trying to provoke Iran to start a war, so that it can drag the United State into it. This is not anything new. For over a decade Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to force the United States to go to war with Iran, and Israel itself almost attacked Iran three times between 2010 and 2011. But the with events of the last several months darkening the prospects of a second Trump term, Israel feels a new urgency for a war with Iran.
For over two years Israel tried to provoke Iran by attacking Iranian-backed Shiite forces in Syria, but Iran has opted not to retaliate. Since the attacks did not provoke Iran to retaliate, and also failed to dislodge Iran’s military advisers and the Shiite forces that it trained, armed, and dispatched to Syria, Israel has seemingly turned to attacking Iran directly within its borders.
The events of past two months in Iran are indicative of Israel’s new push for war. These events include large-scale infernos, explosions, and cyberattacks, all believed to have been carried out by Israel and its Iranian proxies, the "fake opposition" which is the part of the opposition that supports economic sanctions and military attacks against Iran, and has even allied itself with small secessionist groups that carry out terrorist attacks inside Iran.
On May 9 there was a cyberattack by Israel on Shahid Rajaee Port in southern Iran on the north shore of the Strait of Hormuz. The computer system of the port was brought down, disrupting the port’s work. There was also some damage, albeit relatively minor.
In late May there were several wildfires in forests in five provinces in western and southwestern Iran that burned for several days, before they were contained. What was suspicious about them was their timing and locations: they were essentially at the same time, and in the region where small secessionists groups have carried out terrorist attacks in the past. Many believe that the fires were set intentionally.
On June 3 there was a fire in a large power plant in Tabriz in northwestern Iran that shut down the plan for two days.
On June 4 there was a fire in Shahid Rajaee port, which the Israeli press called it retribution for Iran’s attempt to revenge Israel’s attacks on Iranian forces in Syria by trying to sabotage Israel’s water facilities.
Two large fires damaged power plants in southern Iran, one in Shiraz in the province of Fars, on June 26, and a second one in Ahvaz, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran on July 4. Both fires appear to be intentional and highly suspicious.
In early morning hours of June 26 there was a huge explosion near the Parchin military complex, 35 km southwest of Tehran. Since 1932 the complex has been producing ammunitions for Iran’s armed forces, as well as high explosives for both military and civilian applications. From 2004 to 2015 there were all sorts of rumors, exaggerations, and innuendoes about Parchin, and the allegations that before 2003 Iran had experimented with high explosives for triggering a nuclear reaction there. Nothing ever came out of it, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency visited there several times.
The Iranian government attributed the fire to an explosion in a gas storage tank, but almost no one believed it. Satellite photographs indicated that the explosion had occurred in Khojir near Parchin where there is presumably a missile production facility [although that has not been proven]. While US and Israeli officials denied any involvement by the two countries, there was a report that the facility may have been bombed by Israel’s new radar-evading F-35 bombers. In addition, US and Israel have a proven long history of collaboration for cyberattacks against Iran military and nuclear facilities and, therefore, their denial is simply not credible.
On June 30 there was a large fire in Sina medical center in Tehran. Nineteen people lost their lives. The fire was attributed to explosion of an oxygen tank, which is quite possible. But what mystified many people was the fact that several senior government officials spoke about it, and vowed to investigate it. If this was purely accidental, why was there a need to talk about so publicly?
On July 2 there was a large fire in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, Iran’s main center for manufacturing centrifuges and enriching uranium. Although, initially, Iranian officials claimed that the fire had occurred in an industrial shed, photos indicated that it is probably a building where the centrifuges are assembled. Iranian officials first stated that the fire was due to an explosion in a power station near the building that uses diesel fuel to produce electricity. This was consistent with a report that Israel had staged a cyberattack on the power station, causing a gas compressor to explode. Then, that explanation changed and a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council declared that they know what caused the fire, but "for security reasons" they will not disclose it for now, which added to the mystery. This is not, of course, the first time that Natanz is attacked. Back in 2010 Israel and the United States collaborated on planting the Stuxnet virus in the Natanz computer system that destroyed over 1,000 centrifuges.
Aside from what happened in Shahid Rajaee Port, Parchin, and Natanz, the rest could have been accidents. But the fact that they have occurred in a matter of a few weeks, and one after another, have made most Iranians, as well as many experts, believe or speculate that foreign hands, and in particular Israel’s, are behind them. The goal of such attacks and "incidents" is twofold. One is, first and foremost, creating a sense of insecurity in the population of a country that is already suffering from the most inhumane, as well as illegal, US sanctions, and the Coronavirus. The United States refused to relax its sanctions, so that Iran could import vital medicines and medical supplies and equipment. It also blocked Iran’s request to the International Monetary Fund for a $5 billion loan to fight the virus, while many other countries received such loans.
The second goal is to provoke Iran’s hardliners to retaliate by attacking Israel, either militarily against one of its bases near its borders with Lebanon or Syria, or through cyberattacks on Israel’s sensitive sites, ranging from facilities that produce drinking water, to the Dimona nuclear reactor.
In its efforts to push Iran into a war that it does not want, Israel has an ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has a long history of demonizing and vilifying Iran and its people, even during the Covid-19 pandemic, and trying to provoke a war with it. In May, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, Pompeo went to Israel to meet with Netanyahu. The goal, as Pompeo put it, was "countering two critical threats: Covid-19 and Iran. Israel and the United States will take on these challenges side-by-side." At a time when, more than any other time, the world needs peace, ending hostilities, and helping people who are suffering from Covid-19 pandemic, Pompeo’s priority is to go to Israel to help Netanyahu to provoke a war with Iran. He brazenly lies about Iran all the time. He has accused Iran of being "an accomplice" in the Coronavirus crisis; of echoing "Hitler’s call for genocide" against Jewish people – both utter nonsense and fabrication – and demands Iran’s complete capitulations.
The net result of Israel’s efforts to provoke a war with Iran is that the Iranian people must constantly wage battle in multiple fronts: against Iran’s hardliners; against the destructive effect of the US illegal sanctions and their effect on Iran’s economy and their daily lives, and against the threat of a war with Israel and/or the United States that no one in Iran, even the hardliners, want.
Muhammad Sahimi is a Professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.