Will Iran attack Israel?

Tehran appears to be heightening tensions with Israel. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), recently said: “Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles that are ready to hit Israel to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories if the Zionist regime repeats its past mistakes.”

He added: “Today, the grounds for the annihilation and collapse of the Zionist regime are [present] more than ever.” Salami warned that if Israel made the “wrong move,” it would come under attack.

A few weeks ago, a senior adviser to the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, Ahmad Karimpour, said Iran could destroy Israel “in less than eight minutes” if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave the order.


There are several reasons why Iran’s repeated anti-Israel statements may be pure rhetoric. They are most likely meant as a type of psychological warfare, because Iran cannot afford direct conflict with Israel. Although Iran is larger geographically and in terms of population, its military capacity is inferior. Even regarding missile capabilities, which Iranian generals boast about, Israel’s are greater in range and number.

What fundamentally changes the balance of power is Israel’s nuclear capacity. It is widely believed to have some 200 nuclear warheads that can be used with intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as nuclear-armed submarines.

Iran’s policy toward Israel is to not strike first, as doing so would be suicidal for the ruling political establishment, whose main objective is to maintain power.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

As such, Iran’s policy toward Israel is to not strike first, as doing so would be suicidal for the ruling political establishment, whose main objective is to maintain power. It would be more effective to fight Israel via its Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah.

Tehran’s repeated boasting about IRGC capabilities is aimed at invoking nationalist sentiment among the public, because Iranian leaders know that the overwhelming majority of Iranians are dissatisfied with the hardliners and the political establishment.

This method has been successful, as polls have repeatedly shown that many Iranians who oppose the political establishment still favor their country becoming a nuclear power or being more powerful than any other country in the region.

Khamenei and IRGC generals are recalibrating the domestic balance of power, making it clear that they are the final decision-makers. They are appealing to their hardline social base by showing it that they continue to prioritize the values of the 1979 revolution over other issues, including national interests.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Last Update: 06:28 KSA 09:28 - GMT 06:28
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