Israel Crisis Update: The Changing Threat from Iran

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Israel Crisis Update: The Changing Threat from Iran

DATE: 18 April, 4:00 – 5:00 pm

VENUE: Online

SPEAKER: Dr Michael Rubin, Norman T. Roule, Sima Shine

EVENT CHAIR: Barak Seener


Barak Seener 0:03

Hi, good afternoon. Welcome to the Henry Jackson society, his latest event on Iran, which is a timely one, especially in the aftermath of the unprecedented direct strikes from Iranian territory to Israel that took place on Saturday. We have a fantastic panel of speakers here. We have Dr. Michael Rubin, who’s a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. And he was also at the Middle East forum. We have Norman Roule, who is a Senior Advisor for transnational threats project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and former National Intelligence manager for Iran. And we’re lucky to have as well, Sima Shine, who’s the head of the Iran programme at the Institute for National Security Studies, and who headed the research and evaluation Division at the Mossad. Before I pass it on to the panellists. I just thought I would begin with the fact that my opening comments that not only was the neat, the unprecedented nature of the Iranian strikes, was really an extension of the fact that Iran is inching towards the nuclear status. And as a result of that, it perceives the nuclear states. This is critical for the regime survival. Similarly, it’s become more emboldened and ambitious, in its strategy to recover and serve as a disrupter across the region. And its strategy of unification of the arena’s aims to increase its defensive lines, increasing distance away from its borders, and expanding the territory from which it can encircle and attack Israel from multiple fronts, whether it be from Syria and Lebanon, the North, the West Bank, and Jordan, Gaza, from the south Iraq and Yemen. And what it is doing that and, you know, the proxies from Yemen, the Hutu proxies are destabilising shipping lanes and averting the attention of the international community towards various local crisis, such as in Gaza, as opposed to the real issue, which is Iran being on the brink of becoming a nuclear state. So, one thing naturally feeds into the other. Its regional strategy of seeking to encircle Israel is an extension of Iran inching towards the nuclear status. And ultimately, deterrence has increasingly eroded, and it really lies in tatters. And as it lies in tatters, I think, not only do we need to consider what are Israel’s options, feasible options that it would consider for the future? But we also do need to consider why deterrence eroded? Why what led to this point? And what are the evolving strategies, whether it be the US, whether it be of the Gulf, or whether it be of Israel, each one of these entities are going to be evolving their strategies towards Iran and the evolving nature of the Iranian threat? So, to kick this off, I would perhaps start with Sima Shine, if that’s possible.

Sima Shine 4:03

Good afternoon, thank you for inviting me. I’ll start with your last question. What happened, why Iran decided to do what he decided and why deterrence doesn’t work anymore. And this is the nature of deterrence. It works as long as it works. And the minute somebody changes it, we understand there is no more deterrence. And it’s only the only possible way to evaluate it is looking for retrospect, in retrospect. So let me say what I think brought Iran to the decision, which is a very unprecedented decision to attack Israel, not only to attack from the Iranian territory on Israel, but also with this amount of different types of flying things and more than 300 A, I want from the beginning to put aside a sum A speculation that I see on the internationally media is if it was only a small attack, it was designed not to kill people. And so, everything of that is not correct. Iran couldn’t know how effective the interception will be, Iran, a launched more than 300 drones, ballistic missiles in the enclosed missiles in order to hit two big bases and in order to kill people and to make a lot of damage. But the fact that it didn’t walk doesn’t play into the favour of Iran. It is in favour of others probably will mention it later. So, the first the first reason why I think Iran a came to this decision, and they, one has to remember that it’s not it’s not only unprecedented, it’s all also against the common evaluation of most of most of researchers, and I also think intelligence communities, dealing with the Iranian with the leader in the last three decades. Looking on the Iranian leader harmony is someone who is cautious and is calculating these steps in, in in a way that balanced, balanced others. So, whatever. Now the Iranians are saying it’s because of the event in Damascus, because of the I would say because of what they say is a part of the Embassy of Iran. Israel doesn’t accept it is a says it’s a place where the IRGC officers were gathering but it’s not the embassy. But that that’s not important. From your own point of view. It’s the embassy or the consulate. And they I think, in this specific event, also the high-ranking general that was assassinated there, who is not only that he is a high ranking, but he was also the head of the A IRGC Air Force he was is part of the elder god of the of the IRGC people, very connected. Some will say that he is only second to Soleimani. I don’t know if it’s correct. But is it an important person? The second the second element, and of course, it is accumulating, I call it be open build that Iran has visa vie Israel for many years, especially in Syria, attacks that were happening in Syria and elsewhere, as well as in Iran, what is perceived to be done by Israel, that didn’t take any responsibility for that? The second, the second reason, I think, is what Iran perceived to be the weakness of Israel in the eyes of Iran. It started before the 17th of October, but it is it probably was encouraged, they probably were encouraged by the fact that half a year we are involved in a war, it’s not finished here. But in the fact that Israel is in a situation where a population is we have deported people from Maine from themselves and from the West, all around the situation that everybody knows about Israel, the fact that we see so many demonstrations in on the international arena against these words, with the context of the Palestinian situation, and the internal debate in Israel in the Israeli society. All this together probably has encouraged the Iranians that Israel is weaker than it was a year ago was five years ago. The third point is what they perceive to be difficulties in the relations between Israel and the US. A one has to say, the only deterrent enemy of Iran is the US. If there is anyone who can deter Iran, it’s the US they always perceived that Israel cannot harm them in such a way as the US and therefore Israel was always believed to be a less, they believe, to be less concerned with Israel. And what they saw in the last day in the last several months was that there are frictions between Israel and the US. What they don’t understand is of course, that frictions can be, but close security relations can be at the same time, but that was the, the understanding. And they of course, I would add to that also the fact that after the attack in Damascus, the US immediately came out and said it’s not us and then the to say that we are not going to be involved in any war. I understand it differently. But the Iranians have stood the day that actually the US is saying, we are side, it’s you and the Israeli Israelis. And the false point is the internal political situation in Iran. I think this is a development that many people did not pay too much attention. And we’ve been, I’m not sure that we have also understood how to translate it. But we understood for years, for the last four years since the election, the selection, I would call it of the Minister of ICT, as the President and then many others, nominees that we saw that the leader was doing in the last elections to Parliament to the Majlis, we saw that what is happening in Iran is that it’s a very monolithic, political system. There are no different voices, most of the voices are a conservative, radical voices. And I think the IRGC has a very important a say in this in these circles, and I think that this became to be a because there are no other ideas, there are no ideas, not that the people like Ohanian, Zarif, were moderate. Not at all, but they had different way of looking on developments and different in a different way of handling issues, to get to the same to the same conclusion, but differently. And today, we don’t have it in Iran. And I think the leader that is getting older and older is surrounded by people, extreme people. And I think the influence was very, very important. And I think that the same way, is a and I will conclude here the reasons I think that the same miscalculation that we’re in is way ahead, as to the capability of Iran or the deceit of the of the or the will of Iran to conduct such a such an attack. I think I think the same miscalculation is now into Iran, they believe Israel will not retaliate. I don’t think they are right and correct. And I think this is the very best recipe for a miscalculation of both sides, deteriorating the situation. So, this is as to the reasons why I think Iran has gone on this very unprecedented step. I think I exhausted my time.

Barak Seener 12:56

Before you do exhaust your time, how do you see Israel’s strategy towards Iran, having evolved as Iran’s strategy has evolved to become much more muscular, much more belligerent, much more ambitious? How do you see Israel strategy having evolved?

Sima Shine 13:18

So, it’s a compliment to say that it’s a strategy, but it’s a policy? I think what, let me say, let me say differently is well, has found Iranian fingerprints everywhere around our borders, if it’s in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in the West Bank, in the last years and in Gaza. And from our point of view, Iran was doing everything it could in order to jeopardise our security and our regional situation. So, from Israel’s point of view, it’s not a battle, it’s a bilateral, a fight a struggle. It’s not a shooting from Iran to Israel-to-Israel territory, but it is between Iran and Israel. on the Israeli side, the decision was to try and do two things to delay as much as possible the probe the nuclear programme, I think we should at the end, talk about that, because this is the big a big issue on the Iranian programme, it was to delay is where a for the time being didn’t do anything in order to prevent or to stop this programme, but only to delay. And in the other aspect, the regional aspect is where he was trying to fight Iran wherever it could, if it’s in, if it’s in Gaza, if it’s in Lebanon, less and less, but more and more in Syria, because Syria became a focal point from the Iranian point of view of transition of arms on one hand to his Balah and on the other hand, in order to establish a kind of, of a millet to rebase a for Iran and for the militias that you run brought to Syria, in Syria itself. And therefore, we will find these were trying to what we call the campaign between the wars, is where it was conducting in the last years. We succeeded, partially is always in this kind of, of policies. We’ll see Iran, well established militarily in Syria, with a lot of forces, a lot of arms and the Israelis said, we will not allow Syria to become Lebanon. And that was the that was the background for Israel’s policy in Syria. I just will finish by saying that the people that were assassinating the last time in Damascus, the head of the head of the of the group and the Mahadevi, he was the one who conducted and who organised the whole war against Israel in the last half a year. He was talking to the Houthis, to Hezbollah, to the Iraqi militias, and II was not only supporting them with arms that were transferred, but also with policies and work with recommendations. And also, the three Americans that were killed in Jordan’s two months ago, were part of what he organised in the region in order to put pressure on the US. So, these people are not innocent people that is well decided to attack them in an Iranian consulate in Damascus.

Barak Seener 16:35

Sorry, Sima, just before we move on to the next speaker, you’re saying the Israel strategy was focused on targeting Iran, wherever its fingerprints were, whether it be in Syria or anywhere else? Did it evolve from there into something else? Or has it just remained that claim?

Sima Shine 17:21

I think it will remain at that point. We just we don’t know. We don’t go just after Iranians, wherever. And of course, not in any international arena, and etc, we are concentrating on what is happening on our borders that affect immediately our security.

Barak Seener 17:38

Okay, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate this. Norman, would you like to speak next?

Norman T. Roule 17:46

Good afternoon, thank you for including me with such extraordinary individuals as the legendary Sima Shine and Michael Rubin. It’s a real pleasure to see you, Brock and to see them. I think maybe I’ll take this in a slightly different directions so that I don’t overlap on any of Siemens superb comments with which I have I’m in full agreement. And I think I’m going to touch briefly on how my Tehran be looking at the moment. And what does what do the last six months in October tell us about broader strategy in the region and in the world? So first, I think if I were in Tehran, I’m going to be worried about an Israeli strike. But absent that strike, I think Iran believes its leadership probably feels it’s achieved the following goals at no cost. They’ve satisfied hard-line desire for action against Israel for the many attacks that have taken place against IRGC personnel and equities in Syria as so eloquently described by Sima. So, they in essence, have said to their own people, look, we’ve done something to try and deter Israel from further attacks. They’ve punished Israel directly from Iranian territory without igniting a conventional war, particularly a war involving the United States, which would mean regime overthrow. They’ve demonstrated they could conduct such a strike without producing any significant new international pressure or isolation. And indeed, they the attacks allowed Iran to engage multiple world leaders who reached out to Tehran before and after to sort of talk about containment. So, in some ways Iran’s international exposure has been in has been maintained. They conducted they achieved very little damage against Israel, given Israel superb military air defences, aided by the United States, Britain, France, and other partners, but they were able to launch something from Iranian territory and strike Israeli territory. Maybe it’s just a hole on the runway at NASA team. I saw a press report don’t know if it’s true or not that it was a minor damage to a C 130. But whatever they’ve done, they have touched Israeli territory directly. The president the United States that don’t, they did, not only did they do it. But they launched an unprecedented attack against Israel involving what I would some have described as the world’s largest single drone attack. They tested their technology against us and Israeli technology and tactics in the lessons, maybe bruising. Many of their missiles proved to have lousy technology, not a surprise, Iran’s industries aren’t known for their efficiency and shaker like qualities. But nonetheless, they have acquired some lessons which they can incorporate in their own world or past the proxies. They’ve also achieved this without having any pressure or any reason right now to change their existing proxy activities. That is all not insignificant for Iran. But let’s pull out a little bit farther. And I’ll try to get through this quickly. What does this conflict tell us about how we ourselves have worked through the years, and how that led maybe through to October 13. We have a situation in the world where we now have islands of power projection by revisionist actors. Now it’s easy to see this in in the Pacific. We’re a small group of rocks, somebody puts an air defence object on it, and we say who wants to start a launch at Pacific war over that small rock. And suddenly the rocks are expanded, and there are many of them, and it’s a large body of water. And China is now exerting itself in the western Philippines, telling Vietnam, Philippines and others what belongs to China with not that could turn into a control of international ceilings in the Middle East. Iran has created islands of power projection in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, that not only have conducted multiple attacks against Israel, often in the same week. And I think this is overlooked that Israel endures proxy attacks with an unprecedented array of weapons from Katyusha rockets to ballistic missiles and drones from four separate countries in the Middle East, often at the same time, that is extraordinary. Iran’s proxies, also in the middle east through Yemen, are touching the global economy. So, you’ve had shortages of tea at Sainsbury, you’ve had shipping costs go up between Shanghai and Los Angeles, you’ve had a be delayed to Sudan and Egypt losing its costs, etc. It’s a long list, and Iran has been able to achieve theirs to these islands of power projection. And last, of course, you have Russia and Africa to the Wagner group. And now it’s Africa Corp embedding itself in a series of autocratic, autocratic military led governments, in geographies, rich in natural resources, rare earths to include uranium and some indications even Iran is talking to these people about uranium. My second point is we have watched the death of deterrence. If you put a list together and you said, I want to know what Iran that might do would provoke Western military action against Iran, or Israeli military action against Iran. How about taking hostages? How about seizing ships? How about damaging the world economy touching the world economy? How about firing missiles against US military vessels? How about firing missiles and drones, hundreds against Saudi Arabia and Yemen? How about accreting the halving of the production of 60% enriched uranium normalised 60% of your enriched uranium has no civilian use of I just said Iran has a military nuclear programme at present, stiffing the IAEA conducting limited metallurgy with its nuclear programme, and enabling Hamas to conduct this horrific October 7 attack, just another horrific attack such as the Houthis attacked Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, with missiles, just different tools and different players. And finally, October 13, I have to say that if tomorrow Iran conducted a cold test of its nuclear programme, do we believe with this record of non-response to all every other red line that the international community would respond with military action? Can you name an action unlike conduct, that is indeed what it did cross the red line. And the current leader of Osama is in their country. We also have Iran now touching with its proxies, the globe. It’s not just the Red Sea issue, which again, touching the economy of the world. It’s not just pulling in various actors that deal politically on this issue. But it’s doing this with a with a frequency and a pace that, frankly, it’s almost a monthly issue of some sort from Iran throughout this event. But there are also some other there’s some good points from this some reasons for hope. The United States has proven itself to be the indispensable nation, the United States Brought a number of things, maybe self-restraining itself, its capacity. But only the United States put two aircraft carrier task forces in the region. Only the United States was capable of pulling together, whatever you think about it the ad hoc coalitions in the Red Sea, the ad hoc coalition around Israel, pulling in world leaders perhaps to constrain Israel, perhaps to constrain Iran. But that’s Washington pulling levers with its various partners saying, let’s do this. And I think that touches the last point, which is China and Russia are irrelevant to this conflict. For many years, we’ve had China replacing the United States in the Middle East. And that’s preposterous. China is absolutely the dominant geo economic and commercial actor in the Gulf. It has been since 2014. That’s a natural organic progression. They sell things and buy things we don’t in the West, the Saudis, the Emiratis. Others sell and buy those things. And that’s that, but China has not played any significant role or even sought to play a role in managing this. And of course, Russia remains a malign albeit vindictive actor, which must be treated accordingly. But it’s been able to conduct no pressure on this event as well. I will pause there. Thank you.

Barak Seener 26:13

Just one final thing, how do you see Gulf strategy evolving towards an Iran that keeps creating new norms? And, as you said, leading to the death of deterrence?

Norman T. Roule 26:32

I think it’s maybe the way to ask that question is how they see the US leadership and Western leadership not responding to Iran’s actions. And that has caused them to do a couple of things. First, they certainly do not seek rapprochement with Iran, but they do seek detente. And that’s a reality. And that’s not unwise. Next, they’re not going to engage in robust opposition to Iran, unless they know they have some significant cover. I think we’ll see that dynamic play out in how the Saudis and the Americans continue to evolve the negotiations for the ongoing strategic agreement discussions. I think you’re also seeing Iran having sent a message to the Gulf states see what we did Israel. Maybe it took a while to get Israel, how long will it take for us to get to Dubai? How long will it take for us to get to the Dhahran? Maybe you want to think about what you do with the West. And I think that’s going to compel them to look for a different type of American presence. I could imagine the Gulf states saying to the United States Look, just having a small presence of aircraft in our country, from which you launch attacks on proxies in Iran. That’s not good enough. Because if you’re not going to be with us the next day, you launch those aircraft, proxies attack us the next day, and what we’re going to wait for 22 days, as we did after Abu Dhabi and Dubai was struck. No, no, no, no, we need some other kinds of security relationship that allows us to, to be sure that even having an American or Western presence in manana or etc, etc, is not going to invite a catastrophic response against which the West is not prepared to stand with them over.

Barak Seener 28:17

Thank you. And, Michael, I’d like you to please speak from your perspective on US’s evolving strategy, how you see the future of deterrence, if there is any, anymore, and just your take on Israel’s potential response?

Dr Michael Rubin 28:36

Well, first of all, Barack, you’re very, very generous to suggest even that the United States has a coherent strategy at this point. That said, I do want to say how much I learned from listening to Sima. I always learned from listening to Norman, and I will address your question directly. First of all, the Americans live in a cloud of self-delusion of wishful thinking, look, we can look at the fact that the overwhelming number of drones and missiles were down before they approach their target. But if seven ballistic missiles got through, what if those missiles were tipped with nuclear warheads, chemical warheads, or biological warheads? We may be patting ourselves on the back in Washington, where I’m sitting right now, and suggesting this shows that we have real deterrence. But I’m not sure whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and those circling the Supreme Leader are taking the same lessons home. The other issue I think we constantly get wrong, is we want to rationalise that even if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, that they are not suicidal. But that that’s based on a straw man question and a straw man assumption. The problem from the United States perspectives perspective or especially from the Israeli perspective is never whether the Iranian regime is suicidal. The question is what happens if they are terminally ill. And after all, when we talk about Iran and its nuclear programme, or even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its nuclear programme, were being woefully imprecise. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, it’s not only going to be the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the most elite units within the most ideologically pure units within the Revolutionary Guard that have command control and custody of those weapons. Now, let’s look at recent Iranian history. I was there during the 1999 student uprising, after having previously been there under Rafsanjani. Then you had the 2001 Soccer unrest when Iran lost three to one and a World Cup qualifier and the Aspera television convinced Iranians and perception means more than reality, that the team threw the match. In order to prevent men and women from dancing in the streets. You had the 2009 post-election unrest. More recently, we’ve had environmental protests, we have had economic protests, we’ve had the woman like freedom protests, the fact that matter is Iran is a zombie regime. But it’s the guys with the guns that matter. However, with increasing frequency, there are sparks and then the question becomes, what happens if some of the security forces or join in and we have a situation like in 1989, Romania, where you see the new slowly tightening, you know that there is going to be someone in front of the firing squad within 24 hours? What’s to stop those units, the ideologically pure units of the Revolutionary Guard from launching as they want to try to fill fulfil their ideological prerogative. You know, too often in America we project we look at multiculturalism as walking into a sushi restaurant and ordering a mojito. Fundamentally, however, we need to recognise that different peoples think in different ways. And it’s possible to go in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard bubble when you’re eight years old, because they run the equivalent of evil Boy Scouts programmes. And then you can go in through Revolutionary Guard run universities, the point of this is some people are true believers, even though I’ll be the first to admit that the Revolutionary Guard isn’t homogenous. And I say this, I think is the only American who’s both met is Mount Pawnee, and Abraham dry, you see now. So, we have that problem. If you have inevitable regime change from the Iranian from the base, what’s to stop a nuclear Iran from actually launching deterrence is simply out the window at that point. I also think and this isn’t taken to account in Washington nearly enough. We have to consider the psychology of Ali Khamenei. Tomorrow is his 85th birthday. He’s had cancer at least once. Many people believe twice. He’s partially paralysed from a 1981 assassination attempt. And whatever you think of the Iranian regime, I think it’s safe to say from the progressives to the ultra conservatives in the West, we can all agree that cancer stricken octogenarian supreme leaders, I have told us to not to have a long life. He has dedicated his whole career to the eradication of the State of Israel. He may want on a psychological level to see it fulfilled. Before his time on this earth is up. And remember, and I hear this all the time from Iranian regime officials. There has never been a Jewish state of Jewish governance that has lasted for more than 75 years or so. It’s a nonsense historical argument. But they truly believe it. And they believe that Israel is on its last legs. Again, we can’t project our own mentality onto them. And that’s where Sima’s answer was front and centre. Absolutely a 100. Correct. Now, other issues we have why now? We have wishful thinking about reform. How many reformists actually resigned in protest of the treatment of the women like freedom movement. We have wishful thinking about the past on not controlling the economy. But we all know they control about 40% of the economy when I teach if you want to understand the role of the Revolutionary Guard in the economy, take KBR Bechtel Halliburton merger with the Army Corps of Engineers, Northrop Grumman, Grumman, Boeing, Exxon Mobile, and Shell and Walmart there you have the Revolutionary Guard in the economy. And therefore, if we’re giving money to the Iranians, it’s actually pumping directly into the Revolutionary Guards economy. We have wishful thinking about responsibility. Iranian command and control aren’t like us, Iran is a dictatorship, but it’s a dictatorship by omission. And that means when in the United States, we want to assign responsibility. Is there a smoking gun, we go back to the SIGINT. The signals intelligence, you’re never going to find a smoking gun, because that’s not the way Iranian command and control works. But we’re too busy navel gazing to recognise that, look, I want diplomacy just like the next guy. But as you know, I spent about a year at sea with the Navy after I left the Pentagon. I didn’t serve in the Navy, but I was teaching on board the ships. And whenever I would ask admirals, what posture should the US Navy take, if we want the Iranians to take our diplomacy or determine seriously to a man and a woman, they said, take our carriers out of the Persian Gulf. And that may seem counterintuitive, but the Persian Gulf is narrow. The Persian Gulf is shallow, our ships are vulnerable to drones, to mines, to anti-aircraft, to anti-ship missiles. But if we’re parked 600 kilometres off in the northern Indian Ocean, we can strike at Iran, they cannot strike back at us with any accuracy. And that’s when the Iranian leadership begins to take notice that we actually mean something when we say our diplomacy is the last best offer. The Americans and I’m quoting here, oftentimes self-deter, and that doesn’t bring peace projecting that sort of weakness only encourages people to push the envelope further, whether it’s Putin, whether it’s China, or whether it’s the Revolutionary Guard. We can’t confuse the perfect for the good. I mean, we might say and too many American analysts define an Iran nuclear weapon as 20 kilogrammes of high 90% highly enriched uranium. But I’m sorry, wasn’t the bomb dropped in Hiroshima about 75% enriched? And do we need a perfect fissile bomb? If we have a dirty bomb? What economic damage would that do? At any rate, let me just by conclude by saying what great work that Henry Jackson society has been doing. About nine months ago, I was on a call to talk about the reports on the pasta on that Elizabeth, Elizabeth Sampson had done, and they remain core reports for anyone who wants to work on these issues of the Revolutionary Guard and so forth. So, I want to congratulate you guys, Barak, on your work and on your team. And let me throw the floor back to you.


Barak Seener 37:34

Thank you so much for that it was really robust. Something that you said that really stuck out was about her money being an 85-year-old up to her octogenarian who’s had cancer for many, many years. And it reminds me of The Godfather movie when Michael Corleone speaks about Hyman Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last 20 years. But when that happens there and somebody is zealous and they’re fully committed to the eradication of Israel, they know they’re getting older, they know they’ve beaten the odds until now. There’s a great prospect for overreach or you know, on one hand, Iran is testing boundaries of what they can get away with. And they’re establishing new norms, but at the same time overreaching can also be part of that calculus. It may not be a design to one, but it may be one as a result of just merely miscalculation and overreach.

Dr Michael Rubin 38:51

Well, first of all, I agree with you look, despite what’s trendy in academic discussions, war in the Middle East isn’t caused by oil. And it’s not caused by water. It’s fundamentally caused by overconfidence. And arguably, the United States is as guilty of that as anyone else. The difference is we have a democracy. We have a free press, we have political accountability, that does not exist in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranians are so afraid right now that Iranian diplomats to whom I speak say that no one no former official, let alone current official can leave Iran without getting the permission now of the intelligence department of the pasta Dawn of the Revolutionary Guard, because they’re so afraid that people might talk about where the money is hidden or get insights into decision making or so forth. You’re absolutely right. The other thing, which is looming, of course, is the transition. And this is where I also think the West is wrong because we tend to look at things in the here and now. When Sultan Caboose in Oman die for reasons which we don’t need to discuss in the Washington Post constantly got wrong. He didn’t tell have any children. And in the transition Sultan Caboose of Oman had to have I mean, when he died, the Omanis needed to choose a successor within 48 hours, if they couldn’t do so within 24, he would leave a letter behind when I talked to folks, Iranians and people in the Gulf, and I spent most of my time in Iraq, when I’m in the region, they point out that even though in theory, there is a process in Iran, that there’s no timeline associated with that process. And therefore, you might have a situation in which the Revolutionary Guard for example, which I do believe is not simply an equivalent of up to Fatah CC’s military dictatorship in Egypt, but is truly ideological at its top, that they might block anyone who doesn’t mirror their own ideological predilections. At the same time, there’s nothing that says that a new Supreme Leader has to be a single person. I mean, there’s the debates and David Monastery, at Tel Aviv University used to go into this a great deal back in the 1980s, or Eagle brawny, as well as the I’m at the bone that you had a situation where you could have a council of leadership. And if you have a council of leadership, remember when it was Osama Bin Laden was killed, he appointed Zawahiri. But then you had a spectacular series of attempted terrorist attacks, as every for lack of a better term, franchise leader in different geographical departments, tried to show that they were the true leadership of the movement. So, what would the dynamics be of that factional struggle? Should we have that in place in Tehran? Unfortunately, I think the United States and other countries in the West are calibrating our strategy towards Iran, towards the here and now, if not wishful thinking about the past, rather than recognising just what might happen in the future.

Barak Seener 41:52

Now, I appreciate that. I would welcome. Thank you so much, Michael, I would welcome the audience to actually chip in with questions. In the meantime, before questions come in, if we can consider options that Israel may be considering countering the recent attacks on one hand, I mean, I would take the position personally that as deterrence has failed, Israel can’t afford to take the win, as President Biden said, and I think that would be highly provocative. But I would also think that if Israel decides to simply focus on countering an Iranian proxy, like having been given the green light by the US to enter, refer that actually these plays into Iran strategy of the ring of fire or uniting the arenas whereby it engulfs Israel enhances its own regime survivability. It enhances its own strategic depth, hides behind its proxies, and is not going to be held accountable. It’s like, I would use a crude metaphor. If somebody has a disease, you don’t address the symptoms, you address the source. And I think that it would be strategic error to just focus on the proxies, as opposed to the source itself. But I’m going to open it up, Michael, as you just spoke last, if you want to speak first, and then we’ll pass it on what are the options that Israel’s disposal and hopefully, questions in the meantime, will may come in.

Dr Michael Rubin 43:52

Barak, if I may, let me put this question to Sima because I would feel silly expounding on this and theorising on this one, I suspect that Sima might be much closer to the centre of that debate.

Sima Shine 44:06

Okay, just to say to remind everyone, I’m not in any way in the government. I don’t know, what are the decisions made? There is one decision that was explicit publicly, that is that Israel will retaliate. And how it will be? Of course, there are the diversity of options is well having the possibility to do in a way what Iran is done to send a lot of rockets different on different IRGC bases in Iran. An open on the open sky I call it the open sky scenario. It has its pros and cons. I don’t want to mention but one of the I think one of the A They have the first thing the list on the side of these values is to retaliate in the same way, proportionally, meaning perhaps the same numbers or same two sides or something like that. And to show, I’m sure, once is, well, we’ll do it, it will be much more effective than what Iran has done. So, this is one possibility. The other one is, I hope it will happen. It’s not written. It’s not an any response. But it is part of the ongoing struggle between Iran and Israel. And that is whenever we have information of arms delivered through Iraq to Syria, we should hit it if it’s in in the Arab in area International Airport, Damascus. Oh, it’s it is on the border with Iraq. We said, and this is this is a strategy, Iran, a will not be allowed to, to establish a military base on our border with Syria. And I just want to mention that, to remind us that Bashar Assad didn’t do anything in this in this half year of war, because he understands better than any other player, how fragile is his situation? And the team might find himself out of the game if he does something and therefore is not there. So, I believe is what will continue to do everything is here that it has done before, I assume is where it can do a major cyber-attack is well can have a major a clandestine activity in Iran, we have done it in the in the past, according to foreign reports, and I am sure it could be done also. Is it a compared to the attack? I’m not sure we have to compare always. Because at the end of the day, we everybody knows we can do it. And if we decide to do something else, it might embarrass the regime much more if tomorrow to two IRGC bases are attacked somehow from inside, it is much more embarrassing than aeroplanes coming to Iran. I don’t know if his wife can do it. But if it can do it, it would be very interesting. I think there should be a should be also it’s not an alternative, but it should be also encouraged a comprehensive international campaign against Iran, isolating Iran not calling every second day the foreign minister, but the closing the phone and saying we don’t want to hear you anymore. You know, what is? What is a? For me a big question now is how does the European foreign ministers and others talk to the Iranians when the Iran is supporting Russia to continue this morning or crane? And if tomorrow it put in will decide to attack Poland and then Europe will be in NATO will be in a war with Russia. So, I don’t understand why you are talking to the Iranians and why and why people are the way the way to handle this situation is to isolate politically, economically, to take Iran out of all the international organisations. This is something that will make you run understand that they are they stay with Russia and China, and that’s their world, not more than that, which Iran, I know, doesn’t want an even the current regime doesn’t want not to talk about other groups in the region. And of course, the less than nothing, not instead of I think Israel should take the opportunity of the coalition that was created and was expressed in the last interception of the of the attack and make the Middle East different Middle East. There are prices, Israel has to pay for that. But that is the ultimate failure of Senate on one hand, and of the Iran on the other hand, a new architecture in the Middle East with Israel integrated in the Middle East, and normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia and all of that under the umbrella of the US is something that is really frightening Iran.

Barak Seener 49:26

Thank you. Thank you, Sima. Michael, do you want to go next? What options you think are is?

Dr Michael Rubin 49:35

Absolutely. First of all, I think Rafah is of the utmost importance. You don’t put out 80% of a fire you put out the fire. I think honestly, one of the things that’s holding us back from the United States standpoint is widespread recognition behind the scenes that there are a number of tunnels coming from Egypt that the Egyptians didn’t declare that this is going to lead to a serious crime. Since in the in the Camp David Accords, especially if Hamas weaponry Iranian weaponry went through those tunnels for reasons which the Egyptians have trouble explaining. When talking about the Egyptians, it’s natural to talk about incompetence. But perhaps for some reason the Egyptians were trying to play it both ways. Maybe I mean, what oftentimes happens in the region, people try to cut deals in order to buy themselves immunity from a direct threat, and only to realise that eventually they also will experience blowback. But look, the Israeli Navy drives more German submarines than the German navy does. One of the problems with airstrikes, and I’m borrowing this from former retired Air Force General Chuck Wald, who led the initial US air campaign on Afghanistan, is you can fly in with surprise. And remember, Iran is four times the size of Iraq six times the size of Great Britain, but you can’t drop your ordinance and then fly out with surprise. And so, you have to go after enemy airfields command and control anti-aircraft batteries. The only silver lining if you want to go after the nuclear programme is when it comes to these facilities which are buried under mountains. You don’t need to destroy those facilities, you only need to destroy the entrances to them, which too often are commentary out forgets that said, look, when the Israelis hit the building, adjacent to the consulate and the embassy and seems absolutely correct. It’s not an embassy. It’s not a consulate. Let I mean, even though the Iranians would be the last country on Earth, the last regime on Earth to complain about the sanctity of diplomatic property. The fact of matter is, Israel showed its great precision. They weren’t just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. I mean, the Iranians also need to be questioning how it was that Israelis knew this in advance. I mean, what sort of penetration do the Israelis have inside the IRGC? I mean, the fact of matter is the Iranians could be very surprised, and I would fully support hitting a pasta on bass with great precision to show the is the Iranians what they can do and at the same time to show the Iranian people that they clearly differentiate between the regime and the public look if I were Israeli and I’m not, I would even go after the guard towers of Evin Prison with precision to drive home that point, but I mean, bottom line up front, Rafah here, even though I agree that you go after the head of the octopus, you don’t go after the tentacles. Rafah needs to be addressed.

Barak Seener 52:47

Thank you, Michael. Norman, what are your thoughts?

Norman T Roule 52:52

Israel needs a sort of a Goldilocks response that sufficient to reset deterrence to maintain Western air defence support, to continue to allow it to defend itself as effectively as it did on October 13. It has, it wants to avoid a conventional war, because a conventional war would fracture some of the relationships with a gulf and would complicate an environment where it needs to focus on as Michael correctly stated, Rafah first and worry about how best it can return the 80,000 members of its population and the economy that they maintain to Northern Israel. This is a consultative process, they’re thinking it through, they don’t appear to be rushing, that appears to be sober. Their capacities are numerous. And Sima alluded to a number of them and is Iran can’t defend against the number of these capacities. And we’ll have to worry about that. The United States and the Europeans will continue to push for restraint. They have their own logic, but it’s just part of a long line of every red line can be broken. But you know, the next one will hold to that one, et cetera, et cetera. And Iran. I don’t think I don’t think sees this. I do you think that if you’re in Israel, you do have to look at the nuclear programme different differently if every other red line is passed, and a country is making 60% enriched uranium, it has multiple underground facilities and the potential to create covert or alternative facilities and more underground sites, which are mushroomed around the country. That does require a thought and approach. But these are hugely complicated resource intensive, intelligence-based operations that can’t be rushed. And I think I think this is a sober conversation that’s happening. I have not thought there would be a day after response by Israel, I thought it would be at least a week or two before they could pull this together with our things. pass over intelligence, resources, logistics, cetera, et cetera. I do think there’s also a taking this to a different level. And that is, as the United States and Europeans and others call to press Israel or restraint. I think it’s a bad word in this situation.

Barak Seener 55:33

Thank you. I just want to ask a couple of questions from the audience. Jonathan Campbell, James asks a diplomacy-based question. Really good for Sima. Has the Israeli leadership use the recent Iranian attack to rebuild a wider anti Iranian coalition? Very little appears to be happening, you know, UN resolution, apart from Western leaders telling Israel to be restrained. That’s a second question. By Christian have us based on his first time, what would a potential Trump presidency mean for deterrence? Would he be able to establish it? Can you turn the clock back? You know, if all these red lines have been passed, can you actually go back? I don’t know if the dynamics of reality work in that way. So those are two questions. If similar, you could answer your question and the Trump question to both Norman and Michael.

Sima Shine 56:41

I think I ever referred to that slightly before. It’s correct. The I do think that the international community should, as the US the US tried to do to do something. There is today probably a new sanction on Iran, there is there was a gathering of the G7. And there is a and of course, there was the coalition with the Brits and the French, intercepting the Iranian attack. So, there is a kind of a kind of an organising the western front against Iran. But I think it’s not enough. As I said, I think there should be a complete political isolation. I think we, we there is a legitimate demand of Israel to the Europeans to put the IRGC on the terror list. As a terror organisation there is no question that they are tolerated organisation. The problem is that what we see in Europe, and I am sorry, I have to mention it, but the runners are stabbing the journalist in London, and then they are conducting they didn’t succeed, but they are trying to conduct a thorough activity in Paris against opposition group. And they are a supporting Russia in for a war in Europe. And I remember what happened when there was a tour activity in Mykonos against the opposition people in Germany, all European countries brought their ambassadors back home. And there was a of course it was a different period of time it was but there was an activity, something happened. And now nothing happens. The runners are our A making it wide a cyber-attack on Albania, nothing happens. They are sending the agents so Europe for a for intercepted, fortunately. So, in order to take it to a create some interactivity, nothing happens. So, I don’t know what I can do. You know, we are talking so many years about the problem of Iran. I remember myself though talking to so many a government official in Europe in the US basically explaining how much Iran is putting emphasis on the on the original proxies. Nothing happened.

Barak Seener 59:26

Okay, thank you. On a personal note, when red lines have been crossed, and you’re seeing Iran on the brink of becoming a nuclear state and new norms being established, I personally don’t think that diplomacy really, the diplomatic route is really one to place emphasis on. But regarding the Trump as a potential Trump administration Donald Trump in the administration re-established the tyrants. Opening it to you, Norman, and Michael.

Norman T. Roule 1:00:10

I’d like to just add a comment to Sima statements. We do know that multilateral diplomatic and economic isolation applied over time does shape Iranian decision making, they test that process to test our fortitude. This is a time-consuming process. And it requires stiffness from Europe, that is very difficult to obtain. The Biden administration shows very little interest in this process. And the fact that Iran produced a record amount of export a record amount of oil last month 1.8 million barrels that’s the highest in five years, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about sanctions pressure, I don’t think the sanctions pressure coming out as a result of this process is October 13, will be significant. And on the United Nations. Frankly, I understand why people didn’t try for a resolution of the UN Security Council Russia and China would have vetoed it they protected everything Iran has done in the region for almost 12 years. It’s still deserved to be pushed. Since Israel is so often and wrongly attacked over and over in the General Assembly and elsewhere, it should have been a process of our diplomacy might still be doubted. On the Trump administration. The Trump administration in the Obama Biden administration have different perspectives in the region. There’s no sense that Donald Trump wants to involve himself in a conventional war in the Middle East. There is no sense that Donald Trump wants to involve himself in a process that would fracture economic zones or induce new pressures into the global economy. However, the Trump administration has proven itself to be something that is tested would respond if original conditions merited, and if partners wished, and the killing of Qasem Soleimani did have a deterrent effect on Iran. Iran did not significantly expand its nuclear programme under the Trump administration. It’s a simple fact, whether you agree or disagree about pulling out of JCPOA. It did not significantly expand its nuclear programme until the Biden administration was elected. That’s that. And I think you would see Iran at least have a sense that they can’t predict what the Trump administration will do. And I’ll close by saying that the fact that we have such strategic predictability from the United States and tactical predictability, I think works against us and in the favour of Iran and its proxies. They know how we’re going to respond and know what we’re going to do. But with Donald Trump, there’s a lot less of that. Now. He may not always work against them, as much as some might wish. But I don’t think they saw Donald Trump is predictable. The first of two, Michael to amplify agree or disagree over.

Dr Michael Rubin 1:02:56

Well, I actually agree with Norman, though the issue of unpredictability is actually the key. Let’s be frank, we could have a computer algorithm. Right Biden’s response and his calls for more diplomacy and restraint. It takes little imagination to figure out what the Biden administration is going to how it is going to react, the statements that will come out of the White House, especially in the lead up to the election, given the pressures they face in some local communities and some swing states. The second term differ, and I agree, Trump is unpredictable, although that can go both ways. So, I agree with Nora Norman there to the one issue I just want to highlight is the difference between a first term Trump administration and a potential second term Trump administration is that the Trump team will much better understand how the levers of power work, there’s going to be much less learning on the fly. And therefore, for better or worse, the second term Trump team is likely going to be much more effective in doing whatever it wishes to do. And I say this, as someone who doesn’t have a foot in either of the camps. I’m not particularly enamoured with either of the leading candidates. The only thing I want to add to Sima when she talks about Europe, and I absolutely agree with her is I have it on very good authority, that there was Austin and also an attempt to launch Iranian drones from Northern Cyprus, which was shut down when the intelligence was made clear to the Iranians that they couldn’t do this. Without accountability. The point of this is we have a no man’s land. I mean, what 160 kilometres off the coast of Israel, which Europe has allowed and the United States for that matter to persist for almost 50 years. 50 years come July, that is no longer a tenable situation. If you talk to schoolteachers from the northern from the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the size is Have their classes have grown to more than 40 kids per class, most of whom speak Arabic or Farsi, instead of speaking Turkish or Greek. And that’s because of the numbers of people coming in from Iran and Syria into the zone. And again, when you have a vacuum, it’s seldom the forces of altruism, which are going to fix it. The Sixth Fleet area of operations is no longer someplace that the United States Navy simply sails through. It’s becoming the centre of gravity, and we’ve got to start acting like it.

Barak Seener 1:05:36

From John Wilkin, he asks would an attack on a plant which manufactures Shaheed drones be an option? Could it discourage the regime from continuing supplying them to the Houthis and Russia?

Dr Michael Rubin 1:06:03

Can I jump on this? Yes, one of the problems I mean, I one of my side jobs as I work as a Persian language on the analyst at the foreign military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, which is where for us Training and Doctrine Command, and one of the things to understand about the Iranian drone programme is number one, they’ve been using drones since 1985. This isn’t some, this isn’t their usual substance lists, announced announcement, they have the real capability. And we’ve seen that but when it comes to drones, part of what they do is not only export the weapon itself, but they also export the ability to manufacture that weapon. So, we have a drone factory, for example, in Tajikistan. I’m not sure whether the drones which Iran is selling to Ukraine, come directly from Iran, or they go through third countries, the same thing is true with Lebanon and Syria. And the same thing could just as easily be true with the Houthi. So, should Israel go after drone factories? Absolutely. But it would be wrong to assume that that means that there is only a single drone factory, and it is only located in Iran. And the reason why Iran does the strategy of exporting the capability to manufacture is because it fits within their general doctrine of plausible deniability, which we should no longer allow them to get away with.

Barak Seener 1:07:27

I’d add to that, but possible deniability is also now there’s a nexus between that, and its expansiveness, whether it be territorially strategically that there’s an expansiveness taking place there. So similarly, developing drone factories outside of Iran fits that same model of how it wants to expand its territory for its proxies, as well as a consistency that. Norman, do you have any insights on this?

Norman T. Roule 1:07:58

Iran’s drone industry is federated, its broad, it exists throughout the country, as well as in locations outside of country. It is conceivable and would be proportionately appropriate for Israeli military officials to look at striking a Revolutionary Guard facility associated with drone and missile production, development, command, and control perhaps, but I think it’s going to be difficult to isolate any single drone facility in Iran that would have a substantive impact on what Iran is doing with the Houthis. In addition, the Houthis maintain a domestic capacity trained and developed by Iran, perhaps even sustained by Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah personnel who currently operate from within Yemen, under the aegis of the Iranian embassy and their existing training programme. I’m not sure that’s an issue. However, in the long term. What is a significant issue is if peace breaks out in Gaza tomorrow between Israel and Iran tomorrow, it’s nothing but peace, Iran will replenish Houthi stockpiles of missiles drones, introduced likely some other weapons to offset the advantages they saw from Western defences and provide training and guidance to enable them to once again touch the globe’s economy, the next time Iran feels that’s necessary to do so.

Barak Seener 1:09:28

Thank you, Sima, final word.

Sima Shine 1:09:32

I think that what is proved to be effective in Iran is a real threat, a real military threat. That doesn’t. The only way to prevent the military spirit and military option in the future would be if Iran understands that there are limits for the US and the Europeans. And as long as they understand that no one wants to be involved in any war. Nothing will, nothing will be it. You know, if even if he’s well, it takes one or two plants of free, you know, for drones. That’s not that’s not the issue Iran is has it’s spread all over Iran, it’s underground. In many cases, this is not the way the way is to make the regime understand that the stability of regime is under could be under pressure or repression. As long as they believe that this is not the case. Anything that will be done, you know, they can overcome, as was mentioned before, it’s a huge country doesn’t have a huge resource, of course, in very economic, very difficult economic situation. But three to six times more than Britain were quite big.

Barak Seener 1:10:50

I mean, I have to interject some and say that what you just said, Now isn’t evolution on Israel’s part, because Israel never ever spoke about regime change or threatening the survivability of the regime. It was all it was kind of about countering Iran’s growing sphere of influence the threats that Iran posed Israel, but is it possible to save it? Israel is now going to consider strikes, that would perhaps send a message, your regime survivability is at threat.


Sima Shine 1:11:30

I don’t think I would separate from what you say do is while did not talk about regime change, because I don’t think is well, or anyone from the outside can make a regime change. It’s only the Iranian people. But Israel have been having been saying what not once or twice, that only a threat to the stability of the regime from the stability for the gym, not from the point of view of changing the regime. But if there is tomorrow, an attack on the nuclear side of Iran, this is a threat to the stability of the regime. And I think as long as long as the regime doesn’t feel that there will be something like that, for anything that they are doing. They will continue doing what they’re doing.

Barak Seener 1:12:14

I want to thank you, Sima. I want to thank Michael Rubin, Norman Roule, Sima Shine. It’s been a really high-level conversation. It’s actually been stellar. In order to consider what options are available for Israel, one needs to naturally understand the current reality and the history that led to the current reality. So, I think that this session, really shed light on that, and I would like to thank you all. Thank you so much.


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