by Neville Teller

The massive armada of 350 drones, ballistic and cruise missiles, launched by Iran toward Israel in the early hours of April 14, marked a sea-change in the anti-Israel approach the Iranian regime has pursued since its foundation in 1979.  Its anti-Israel policy was embedded in the broad strategy known originally as the Shia Crescent, and later – when Sunni Hamas was embraced as an effective ally – as the Axis of Resistance, and now dubbed the Ring of Fire.  The objective has been to acquire as much power and influence as possible across the Middle East in pursuit of its aim to become dominant, both politically and spiritually, in the region. 

Its purpose is not to achieve power for power’s sake.  Its intention was expressed by the regime’s original Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

He affirmed repeatedly that the foundation stone of his philosophy, the very purpose of his revolution, was to destroy Western-style democracy and its way of life, and to impose Shia Islam on the whole world.  He identified the United States and Israel as his prime targets, but included what was then the USSR.

“We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world,” said Khomeini.  “We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”  By this he meant his strict Shia interpretation of Islam, for elsewhere he had declared that the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, situated in the heart of Sunni Saudi Arabia, were in the hands of “a band of heretics”.

Over the past 45 years the regime has gone about its mission by funding, arming and supporting organizations, groups and militias prepared to take military action against Iran’s primary enemy, Israel.  On April 14 Iran’s Supreme Leader decided that the moment had arrived to change tack.  Intense analysis and calculation must have gone into the determination to break the principle that has guided Iran’s foreign policy strategy for 45 years and, for the very first time, to launch a direct attack on Israel.

“Israel has never been weaker,” the figuring must have gone. “It is mired in its war in Gaza. It hasn’t succeeded in eliminating Hamas or recovering its remaining hostages.  It’s being condemned on all sides for vast numbers of civilian deaths.  It is the subject of an investigation by the International Court of Justice on a charge of plausible genocide.  Imagine the effect on the Arab world, and indeed on the West, of Israel succumbing to a direct Iranian attack.  Think of bombs falling on Israeli cities.  Think of Israelis slaughtered and injured.  Israel will be humbled, the Abraham Accords will disintegrate, and any hope of their extension will be snuffed out.”  The thinking must have been something along those lines.

As for the appropriate strategy to launch his historic change of direction, the assumption must have been that an unprecedently massive fleet of kamikaze UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) would overwhelm Israel’s defenses, and at least some 50% of the missiles would get through.  Of course they didn’t, and Iran’s military strategists could surely never have foreseen the total and humiliating failure of the enterprise.  What they perhaps did not reckon on was Iran’s own unpopularity in the Arab world, nor the united support of Israel’s allies.  They surely did not count on Jordan and Saudi Arabia helping to block Iran’s UAVs from reaching Israel, nor that the UK and France would join the US in backing Israel’s Iron Dome in shooting down the Iranian missiles. 

          In the event only 1% reached Israel.  So, far from the triumph that the ayatollahs anticipated, they have ended up with egg on their faces.  Perhaps direct armed attack on targets 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) away is not such a good idea.

For 45 years world leaders have been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to acknowledge the fundamental purposes that motivated the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, or to appreciate that these same objectives have driven the regime ever since and continue to be its raison d’être.

 Ever since 1979 the world could have recognized, if it had had a mind to, that the Iranian regime was engaged in a focused pursuit of these objectives, quite impervious to any other considerations – and, indeed, that it is still doing so.  If post-revolution Iranian actions had been interpreted in the light of religious zeal on the one hand, and realpolitik on the other, the threat that Iran now poses to the Middle East could have been averted.  Instead wishful thinking has governed the approach of many of the world’s leaders to Iran, and continues to do so.

“We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” declared Khomeini. “Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”

Iran’s leaders want to destroy the world as we know it.  They want to achieve political dominance in the Middle East, overthrow Western-style democracy of which America is the prime exponent, wipe out the state of Israel, and impose Shia Islam first on the Muslim world, and then on the world entire.

For some time the Sunni Arab world has recognized who its main enemy was.  The Abraham Accords are one outcome, perhaps to be expanded.  Some Western leaders still want to believe in an accommodation with the regime.  A clear-eyed look at the facts shows that this is simply not possible. This Iranian regime is not, and has no intention of ever becoming, one of the comity of civilized nations. That would be to negate the fundamental purposes underlying the revolution, purposes to which the ayatollahs and its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) remain unshakably committed. 

As for their primary aim, the annihilation of Israel, the plan until April 14 had been to surround it with hostile entities and sponsor military skirmishes, but never to engage direct, thus triggering a direct armed response from Israel.  Not, at least, until Iran had acquired a nuclear arsenal.  They jumped the gun – and failed.  

 The perhaps unpalatable truth is that, short of the civilized world combining to constrain it, the Iranian regime is intent on pursuing what it conceives as its God-given mission, set out by Ayatollah Khomeini as the rationale for his Islamic revolution.  Is there sufficient will in the West to prevent the regime reaching its destination?

By Neville Teller

Neville Teller’s latest book is “"Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."