Iran's Ayatollahs Are Down but Far From Out | Opinion

Iran has now named Ershad Karimi as the perpetrator of the blast at the Natanz nuclear facility. The fact that his whereabouts is yet to be reported is significant. But the ongoing series of blasts, fires and power failures taking place throughout Iran, including in Tehran, in other locations of strategic significance and at the advanced centrifuge development site in Natanz—as well as the nature of those operations—indicate a state entity at work, with highly advanced attack capabilities. The responsible entity certainly has leading capabilities in the realm of cyber and, in the context of the reported explosions, is possibly working with personnel located inside Iran.

While it is possible to generate explosions through cyber capabilities, when blasts are involved, operational teams on the ground are a more likely source of attack.

While Iran's regime continues to investigate who is responsible, its relative silence on the issue speaks to its helplessness. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who was expected by some to threaten Israel as a result of the blasts, made no mention of the attacks during a recent speech. Instead, he focused his message upon issues such as the "agricultural jihad" in Lebanon, a country suffering from a severe economic and political crisis. Iran and its proxies are cultivating a sphere of deniability.

But their silence cannot hide the fact that the Iranian regime has failed to protect its most strategically important assets. Naturally, Iran's suspicion will be trained on Israel, and though this could be the latest phase in Israel's shadow war with Iran, other possible operatives cannot be ruled out. The United States, Arab adversaries of the Islamic Republic, such as Saudi Arabia, and elements of the Iranian opposition must also be considered.

The continuing nature of the incidents, and the fact that they include power blackouts is also significant. More extensive than a temporary power outage, the blackouts are disruptive to city infrastructure and are potentially harmful to the Iranian nuclear program.

The entity responsible for these incidents has also timed them so as to ensure that they have maximum effect upon, and bring maximum strain to, an Iranian regime already battling a confluence of challenges. Biting U.S. sanctions and falling oil prices have worsened Iran's economic crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on Iran, though the extent of that toll is being concealed by its government—and a crisis of confidence in the government's leadership is emerging among the Iranian people.

Iran's Army Day parade
Iran's Army Day parade BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images

These mysterious attacks appear to have damaged Iran's ability to produce advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges and have likely caused significant setbacks to the country's nuclear capabilities.

The repeated, continuing attacks on Iran's electrical infrastructure also indicate that the entity behind these incidents now possesses the ability to launch attacks of this type as, and when, they wish to do so.

The image of the Iranian regime, having been caught off-guard, has weakened at home as a result of the attacks—and the morale of the Iranian opposition has been buoyed as a result. That opposition no longer feels alone and isolated.

And yet, despite all of these setbacks, Iran isn't going anywhere as a Shi'ite revolutionary regime.

It will seek to expose the attackers, and it will choose how it responds from a menu of revenge options—ranging from kinetic strikes to cyber attacks, such as those that struck the Israeli water treatment plant.

Whichever option Iran selects, its response will be calculated to fall short of the threshold of war. Iran has no interest in full-scale conflict against Israel or the U.S., and while its nuclear program has been damaged, the regime will seek to repair that damage, learn relevant lessons and continue its long-term conflict with Israel.

Despite their efforts to downplay the attacks, Iran will be compelled to respond, if only to salvage the image of the regime.

As we await Iran's next move, the regime is looking considerably more vulnerable than it would like the Iranian people to know. While the challenges it faces are greater than any one man could have caused, the regime is down, but it's far from out.

Yaakov Peri is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute, a former head of the Shin Bet and a former Israeli minister of space & technology.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.