And just like that, Iran’s mullahs are back in the game

Special to

By John J. Metzler, October 13, 2023

In an extraordinary and fast paced series of events, the Islamic Republic of Iran was thrust back into the headlines.

The Middle East again emotionally whipsawed in our 24/7 news cycle, both in a fleetingly positive and also tragically negative way.

The Setting

First, in a clear rebuff to the oppressive theocratic regime, an Iranian woman political prisoner won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.

The mullahs ruling Iran were furious. Imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi (51), was honored “for her fight against the systematic oppression of women in Iran.”

Iran’s clerical leaders were reportedly not pleased that a woman’s rights activist imprisoned in Teheran won the Nobel Peace Prize, but even that could not dampen their spirits amid the $6 billion gift from Joe Biden.

In awarding Narges Mohammadi the prize, the head of the Nobel committee Ms. Reiss-Andersen began her address with the words “woman — life — freedom” a clear reference to the motto of recent mass protests sweeping Iran. Mohammadi, currently serving a ten-year jail term in Teheran’s notorious Evin prison, acts as a rallying point for human rights activists.

The Nobel Chair said, the prize was in recognition of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have demonstrated against the “theocratic regime’s policies of discrimination and oppression targeting women.”

Importantly this mass movement which was sparked by the killing of Mahsa Amini (22) by Iran’s “morality police” has been given new life and renewed hope. Protests in 2022 continued for months and at least 500 women were killed and 20,000 demonstrators arrested.

The Nobel for an Iranian dissident sheds light into the darkness of the Islamic Republic.

Then came a lightning bolt out of the blue.

The Shock

Secondly, but not connected, the Iranian-backed and -supported Palestinian Hamas terrorist group in Gaza carried out a massive and deadly surprise attack on Israel, almost fifty years to the day after Arab armies, notably Egypt and Syria attacked the State of Israel setting off the Yom Kippur war.

Well-coordinated Hamas rocket attacks, cross border onslaughts and kidnappings of Israeli civilians brutally underscored the ferocity of evil. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exclaimed, “We are at War.” He vowed “mighty vengeance” on Palestinian terrorists for what he called a “black day.” More than 1,000 Israelis have been killed thus far, and 100 kidnapped.

Significantly a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed support for the Hamas surprise attack; “We support the proud operation of Al-Aqsa Flood.” Lawmakers in the regime’s Teheran Parliament shouted “Death to Israel!”

The Stark Symbolism

On the 50th anniversary of the 1973 war and the day on which Egyptian peacemaker President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, and the decisive 1571 Battle of Lepanto, Hamas struck. Uncanny but very intentional symbolism.

The Screwup

USA and Israel suffered massive intelligence failures on the scale of September 11, 2001.

Israel’s vaunted intelligence and security services missed the ball. So apparently did the U.S. whose intelligence gathering and sharing with Israel was found wanting.

What lessons does the USA learn beyond the rote rationalization, “It can’t happen here?”

Also let’s face it, Israel’s divided political climate where toxic opposition to Netanyahu has become commonplace, has gnawed into the fabric of Israel’s democracy. The old image of Israel of tiny, tough and united is about as current as photos of the 6 Day War with the heroic Moshe Dayan leading tank columns across Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

A senior Israeli contact told this writer the surprise attack was, “A terrible failure of Israeli and U.S. intelligence. Heads will roll.”

“A colossal failure as Gaza’s Hamas terrorists infiltrate, catch Israel unprepared,” opined David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel.

I vividly recall the 1973 war and the ensuing Arab Oil Embargo. Now the aggressors are not Arab states but non-state actors, terrorist proxies such as Hamas and Hizbullah.

Teheran wishes to derail political rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as scuttle the wider implications of the Abraham Accords peace plan crafted during the Trump Administration.

The Strategic Objective

Teheran wishes to derail political rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as scuttle the wider implications of the Abraham Accords peace plan crafted during the Trump Administration. The bloody chaos of the Gaza/Israel war is certain to create destabilizing regional ramifications for any Arab/Israeli accord.

The world is not at peace. So, in the midst of the Ukraine war in Central Europe, Azerbaijan’s “ethnic cleansing” of an Armenian territory in the Caucuses, a Mideast war explodes.

A month ago the Biden Administration sent $6 billion of previously frozen assets to Iran in exchange for five prisoners. What could possibly go wrong?

Israel is fighting for its survival. The United States will give military and diplomatic assistance to our friend and partner in the Middle East. We owe it to our ally Israel, and to ourselves.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]