Destabilizing speculation

Iran kills Israeli businessmen: what’s the game plan?

If Iran were behind this, the attempted assassination of Israelis in Cyprus would be part of a long and open account Iran has for Israel.

In the past 15 months, Iran has accused Israel of assassinating its chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, of helping the United States assassinate the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Qasem Soleimani and sabotaging at least three nuclear facilities, among other possible attacks.

Tehran responded by trying to use proxies at Israel’s borders to attack Israel, using proxies to attempt to attack Israeli diplomats in India in January, and with numerous attacks at sea against Israeli-owned ships.

All of these methods by which the Islamic Republic tries to retaliate against Israel may continue, but the Ayatollahs seem to have found another weak link where they can bleed Israel, or at least the Israelis.

In some ways, if Iran attempted to assassinate prominent Israeli businessmen in Cyprus, it might be seen as not that different from going after Israeli diplomats in India.

Cyprus vineyard. (credit: HADASSAH BRENNER)

Of course, there is a certain difference between going after private Israeli citizens abroad and official representatives of the state.

On the flip side, there has been speculation that some private Israelis who have been targeted, like Teddy Sagi, may also be part of Israeli clandestine contacts with Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia.

Nor would it be the first time that Iran, or its proxy Hezbollah, has attempted to attack or monitor the Israelis in Cyprus.

In 2012, Hossam Yaakoub, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese origin, was caught stalking Israelis in Cyprus. He was sentenced after confessing that he was a Hezbollah agent.

All of this happened around the same time that Iranian plots to target Israelis were uncovered in Thailand, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kenya.

Shortly after Yaakoub’s arrest, Iran and Hezbollah managed to kill five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.

There have been numerous previous rounds of Iranian-Hezbollah attacks on Jews abroad for decades.

Iran chooses these targets because it is too weak to confront the Jewish state directly.

Even in the cybersphere, when Iran launched a cyberattack on Israel’s water infrastructure in the spring of 2020, Jerusalem responded with a much more devastating cyberattack on a key Iranian port.

Thus, more isolated targeting of Israelis abroad in countries weaker than Iran not afraid to alienate diplomatically or isolated targeting of Israeli ships at sea is its best option to try to use asymmetric warfare. against Israel’s vulnerable belly.

Sending an Azerbaijani citizen with a Russian passport, which at first apparently succeeded in removing Cypriot officials from Iran and suspecting a Russian trade dispute, would be another level of clandestine planning for plausible deniability.

Besides retaliation, the big games revolve around how the US-Israel nuclear standoff against Iran will be resolved and to what extent the ayatollahs can continue to destabilize multiple states across the Middle East.

Without a doubt, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who is much closer to the IRGC than his somewhat more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, would like to establish his good faith as a force to be reckoned with.

The more suffering Iran can inflict on one of its adversaries, the more that targeted adversary, as well as the West in general, can be opposed to a larger conflict and more willing to make concessions on broad nuclear issues and regional – just to ensure calm and stability.

This time it appears that either the Iranian proxy, who was caught by Cypriot border guards with a gun and silencer in his car, has become reckless.

Alternatively, a mix of Sagi’s security team being former Israeli intelligence operatives and the Mossad and IDF intelligence services vigilantly following Iran and its proxies across the region have succeeded in a heroic campaign to save Israeli lives.

But the key to this incident is that Iran is still hunting Israelis abroad a lot, and it is unlikely to stop anytime soon.

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