As Operation Protective Edge confirmed, Israel faces an increasingly dangerous enemy in Hamas. Hamas’ power, to a large extent, relies on its relationship with Iran – historically, Hamas’ main benefactor. Israel and the West should engage in a robust diplomatic campaign to expose the plight of persecuted minority groups inside Iran to the international community. This de-legitimization effort should be complemented by a more clandestine strategy of arming and funding Iranian minority groups with valid claims in order to further undermine the Iranian regime. Such an endeavor requires identifying and collaborating with existing insurrectionist movements inside Iran. Cooperation in this regard will enable Israel to strike Hamas’ patron state on its own soil, destabilizing Iran and weakening the terrorist supply chain that begins in Tehran and ends in Gaza.
The Reestablishment of the Axis-Hamas Alliance
When Hamas turned its back on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in early 2012 in favor of the Sunni uprising in Syria, it betrayed Iran, its primary sponsor in the region and head of the “Resistance Axis” – an alliance that includes the Assad regime in Syria and the Lebanese-based militia Hezbollah. The Axis had heretofore been providing Hamas with millions of dollars in annual funding, weapons, military training, and technical expertise in order to bring war to Israel’s southern border. Iran was infuriated at Hamas’ disloyalty in Syria and cut off most, if not all, ties with its former client in Gaza. Iran instead focused on bolstering the capabilities of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization in Gaza that unlike its rival Hamas, is dangerously unaccountable to the Palestinian public. Many experts predicted that the chill in relations between Hamas, which is Sunni, and the Axis, which is Shi’a/Alawite, could quite possibly prove irreversible given the sectarian turmoil spreading throughout the region. It is now evident that these predictions were wrong.
Axis-Hamas relations, while still strained to an extent (especially on the Syrian front), are warming as Hamas proved its mettle and gained credibility as a well-functioning army in the latest war with Israel. This rapprochement is apparent from recent statements and gestures coming from the highest echelons of the Iranian government, its military establishment, and from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself – who is now calling for arming the West Bank in a fashion similar to that of Gaza. Such declarations of renewed contacts were echoed by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who personally reached out via telephone to Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, pledging to provide “all means of support” to Hezbollah’s comrades-in-arms in Gaza. Notably, Hezbollah never shut down Hamas’ political offices nor expelled its representatives in Lebanon as Syria did. While contacts remained low-profile until Operation Protective Edge, on August 4th, a Hamas political official in Lebanon went on Hezbollah’s TV station, al-Manar, to discuss the Gaza situation with a Hezbollah representative.
It is becoming clear that Hezbollah and Hamas’ military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, have maintained military ties despite their political fallout thanks to the outreach efforts of Hamas officials such as Mahmoud al-Zahar and Muhammad al-Fadl. The al-Qassam Brigades, led by Mohammed Deif, unexpectedly bypassed Hamas’ exiled political wing during Operation Protective Edge. Deif made decisions on his own, most likely with Iran and Hezbollah as his advisors, throughout the war. That Hezbollah and representatives from the al-Qassam Brigades met numerous times earlier this year suggest a more robust effort at reconciliation is underway. Reliable sources now claim Tehran is finally ready to formally receive Mashaal, whose prior attempt to visit Iran in late 2013 was embarrassingly postponed by Iran due to the “preoccupation of Iranian officials in other matters.”
Israel can begrudgingly tolerate Qatari financial support in Gaza and Turkish rhetorical support to the otherwise isolated Hamas regime, given both Qatar and Turkey must leverage their support against their interests in maintaining ties to the West. However, Israel cannot suffer a renewal of Hamas relations with the Axis. Such a rejuvenation of ties would breathe new life into Hamas, and would provide the Axis with a second military footprint in Gaza (the first being Islamic Jihad), thereby rendering Iran the main power broker on Israel’s southern border. Furthermore, as was revealed this week, Hamas’ aspirations extend to the West Bank. Though thwarted by the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), Hamas was preparing a coup against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which would have enabled it to launch attacks not only from Israel’s south but from the east as well.
Iran’s Israel strategy is clear: Iran seeks to fund and arm terrorist militias located along Israel’s perimeter to fight proxy wars in its name. As Iran and Israel do not share a border, it is the only way, aside from a nuclear bomb, that Iran can vigorously pursue its agenda of eradicating the Jewish State and establishing hegemony in the heart of the Middle East. Considering that Hezbollah, a militia that fought the IDF to a standstill in 2006, is now operating in Syria as well as Lebanon, Iran is now poised to have another front from which to deploy its proxy armies. Tellingly, during Operation Protective Edge, Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, asked Nasrallah to open a new front of the war on Israel’s northern borders.
Over the last month during Operation Protective Edge, we tragically bore witness to the residual benefits of Hamas’ prior relationship with the Axis. The technical know-how needed to make IEDs, booby-traps, and homemade rockets, to build complex tunnel systems, and the tactical expertise required to successfully ambush IDF ground forces, all stem from Axis military training and guidance. Moreover, Hamas’ reserves of mortars and anti-tank weapons – such as the RPG-29, the Kornet, and the 9M113 Konkurs – that were responsible for many IDF casualties, bear the markings of Axis involvement as they were the armor-piercing weapons of choice for Hezbollah during its war with Israel in 2006.
Hamas’ vastly improved command structure and operational capability does not yet pose an existential threat to Israel. However, were Hamas-Axis relations allowed to flourish once again, the next round of fighting could pose a great danger to the Jewish State, especially if other Axis members were to intervene directly. If the Axis wins in Syria and Iraq, where it is currently bogged down in the fight against The Islamic State and other Sunni groups, its battle hardened forces will be emboldened to attack Israel in the event of another military confrontation in Gaza. The tunnels of Gaza were lethal indeed, but those are nothing compared to Hezbollah’s intricate tunnel network in Southern Lebanon, which now likely extends into Israel proper. Nasrallah, who carefully watched and learned from Hamas’ successes and failures during Operation Protective Edge, stated that his goal is to conquer and hold positions within Israel in the next war, and thus the citizens of the Galilee will be in a vulnerable position if Israel does not act soon.
While critics claim Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his eye off the ball by focusing on Iran instead of the “near enemy” in Hamas, they misunderstand the sine qua non of Iran. Unlike Turkey and Qatar, Iran’s foreign policy is overtly predicated upon the annihilation of Israel – be it through Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or a nuclear strike. Israel, and its newfound partners in Egypt and in the Gulf, are all that stands in the way of Iran’s exportation of the 1979 revolution and its goal of creating a Shi’a crescent that would expand Iran’s sphere of influence westward through Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and “Palestine,” and into the Gulf via Yemen and Bahrain. That Israel and its Arab allies stand alone is further evidenced by the United States’ unclear Middle East strategy, one that seems to alienate traditional allies – like Israel and Saudi Arabia – in favor of cooperation with their sworn enemy Iran.
Attacking the Far Enemy
Israel must prevent the Axis’ reentry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict vis a vis Hamas, as such a scenario would heighten the potential for the Axis to hit Israel hard on 3 flanks. This is a matter of vital national security that necessitates a revised Israeli military doctrine vis a vis Iran, the principal member of the Axis. This doctrine is loosely based on the Iranian playbook and that of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during his long war with Iran in the 1980s. In short, Israel should bring the fight away from Israel and to Iran by exploring potential alliances with legitimate separatist movements inside Iran’s borders. Such a strategy would destabilize Iran, bleed it of valuable resources and manpower, and hopefully, eventually disintegrate the Persian state into several weak states that pose no credible threat to Israel. In addition, Israel’s pursuit of such a strategy could serve to strengthen the West’s hand in the extended negotiations with Iran over its nuclear file, adding much needed pressure as the West loosens sanctions in accordance with the interim deal with Iran.
It is at this moment in time, when Middle Eastern borders are becoming blurred if not erased entirely (e.g. Iraq and Syria), and increasingly restive separatist movements are gaining traction without any serious intervention by the international community (e.g. Eastern Ukraine/Crimea, Iraqi Kurdistan), that Israel must act. The sanctions regime imposed by the West on Iran has made minorities within the state more agitated than before. Israel must capitalize on the present conditions that favor revanchist and irredentist claims, sooner rather than later, in order to destroy, or at the very least severely weaken, the Iranian regime.
There are at least four minorities within Iran that have organized liberation movements capable of bringing this vision to fruition: (1) The Iranian Kurds; (2) the Iranian Azeris; (3) the Ahwazi Arabs; and (4) the Iranian Balochs. A breakdown of each minority can be found below, identifying each group’s legitimate gripes against Iran’s central government and identifying any armed factions that could assist in toppling Iran’s “mullahcracy.”
1. Iranian Kurds:
Kurds, generally speaking, make a great ally for Israel. They are, for the most part, a moderate, secularly-minded minority nation in the Middle East that has historic ties to the Jewish State and to the Jewish people. They are primarily Sunni yet interestingly believe that they are descended from Abraham. Israel was, of course, the first country to support Kurdish independence in Iraq, something the U.S. refused to do in order to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity.
The Kurds of Iran are a population of approximately 12 million people, most of whom live in the Kurdistan Province in Northwest Iran. They are oppressed in Iran more than anywhere else in the Middle East. The Kurdish province inside Iran is terribly poor, many Kurds face torture, extended prison terms, and execution without due process from the Iranian regime. Private discrimination is also rampant. Two prominent Kurdish political figures were hanged in 2013. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on reforms, but according to Iranian Kurdish sources, nothing has changed. Hardliners within Iran cracked down on the Iranian Kurdish community after Rouhani’s election.
The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PEJAK) is currently fighting Iranian forces and inflicting casualties along the Iran-Iraq border. Just last October, PEJAK killed five members of the prestigious Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the division of the Iranian Armed Forces specializing in countering internal and border threats to the regime. PEJAK could possibly be enticed into an alliance with Israel given that Israel has proven experience in training Kurdish forces that have created a de-facto state inside Iraq. Israel trained and equipped the Kurdish “peshmerga” forces in Iraq, an army that has proven itself to be highly capable, as it seized Kirkuk earlier this year, and which has become the army of choice for the supply of United States armaments aimed at defending against the onslaught of IS. PEJAK is most certainly aware of Israeli assistance to their brethren in Iraq. With the help of Israeli military expertise, and a healthy supply of Israeli weaponry and other types of aid, PEJAK’s strength as a fighting force would be dramatically increased. An Israeli-PEJAK alliance would wreak havoc on the IRGC. In exchange for Israeli aid (and perhaps aid from other Axis enemies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), PEJAK would, in turn, assist Israel in espionage and sabotage efforts from within Iran, and would provide intelligence related to Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, PEJAK could host and hide Israeli operatives on Iranian soil, who could use the territory as a forwarding operating base.
Aside from PEJAK, there are no large-scale Kurdish movements dedicated to an armed struggle at this time against the Iranian regime. One group, Komala, has decided to engage in a civil struggle, but it has left the door open to armed rebellion in the future. It is unlikely that Iranian Kurdish movements will find tangible support from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, led by Massoud Barzani. While the KRG hosts PEJAK on its territory in Iraq, it also maintains ties with Iran, both in trade and now militarily as it sees the advance of IS as a common threat. Given that Iranian Kurdish groups aren’t that influential within the KRG, and considering the push-back it would get from Pro-Iran Kurdish parties such the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), it is highly improbable PEJAK would find more than a modicum of support from Iraqi Kurds, especially given their more pressing concerns with IS.
2. Iranian Azeris:
Iran’s Azeri population is the largest of all minorities at approximately 22 million people, which is around 25% of the entire Iranian population. They are a Shi’a, Turkic-speaking nation who live primarily in several provinces in Northwest Iran. This minority suffers from linguistic, cultural, and ethnic discrimination, and its region’s natural resources are essentially looted by the central government. There is rampant unemployment and poverty in the Azeri regions, and there has been an effort by the government to “Persianize” the Azeri provinces. Admittedly, a large number of Azeris have overcome discrimination to become elite members of Iranian society. Grand Ayatollah Khamanei says he is an ethnic Azeri, though few believe this claim.
The government in Tehran arbitrarily arrests and tortures Azeri political prisoners calling for Azeri independence and clamps down hard on Azeri student demonstrations at the University of Tabriz. The South Azerbaijan National Liberation Front (GAMAC) states that Azeris don’t have access to the Iranian political system or educational system in their mother tongue. In late 2013, 5 Azeri political prisoners went on a hunger strike after Rouhani failed to implement his campaign promises. Iran has undertaken efforts, quite successfully, to create friction between Azeris and Kurds, as each are battling to create new provinces in Iran and bills of rights that protect their own minority interests. Having said that, in the spring of 2009 explosions at a police barracks in Western Azerbaijan province were said to be carried out by Azeri and Kurdish separatists purportedly working together.
Groups like GAMAC and the Azerbaijan Liberation Front (ANRO) seem more committed to a non-violent struggle at the present time, though an armed rebellion could occur given ample external support and a rise in the current trend towards nationalist separatism – a trend that Iran now sees as a threat to its national security. Even if armed struggle is not the current course for Iranian Azeri groups, Azeris have their own country to the north of Iran that is already aiding Israel in pursuing an agenda of Iranian destabilization. Such an effort on the part of Azerbaijan is based not just on the unresolved Iranian Azeri issue, which it has historically tried to stay away from, but also because of other bilateral points of contention with Iran.
Azerbaijan has recently undertaken an effort to ramp up support for Iranian Azeri liberation. In 2013, it hosted a conference on the issue of “Southern Azerbaijan,” a term banned in Iran that implicitly yet provocatively refers to the Iranian Azeri provinces as part of Azerbaijan. This conference led Iranian lawmakers to discuss proposals for the annexation of Azerbaijan into Iran based on the premise that it ceded Azerbaijan to the Russian Empire in the 19th century, and thus in actuality, it is a Persian territory. Similar to the rhetoric it espouses with respect to the the Palestinian territories, Iran has called for a referendum in Azerbaijan on this issue. This obviously caused a diplomatic row with the leadership in Baku that played out at the ambassadorial level.
Fortunately, Israel maintains good, if not excellent relations with Azerbaijan, a moderate and largely secular country loosely based on the Turkish model that declared independence following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, is pro-Western and pro-Israel. Azerbaijan has a history of little to no anti-Semitism and has a population of numerous “mountain Jews” as well as a thriving Ashkenazi population. The foreign minister of Azerbaijan visited Israel in 2013. Israel receives 1/6th of its oil from Azerbaijan. More importantly, Israel currently assists Azerbaijan militarily, bulking up its arsenal with increasingly modern weaponry and coordinating closely with Turkish and Azeri advisors on how to increase their operational effectiveness. In 2012, Israel and Azerbaijan signed a weapons deal worth $1.6 billion. Ground zero for Israeli intel on Iran already runs through Baku, demonstrating the intimacy of their collaboration.
The military relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan has enraged the Iranian leadership, who upon learning of the 2012 deal planned a terrorist attack in Baku targeting Jewish and Israeli interests – an attack that may have been foiled by Israel’s Mossad. The mullahs are worried Israel may use Azerbaijan as a base from which to conduct reconnaissance operations and/or attack Iranian nuclear installations even though Azerbaijan officially rejects this claim. Iran has threatened to attack vital Azeri energy infrastructure if Iran goes to war with the West. In September 2013, Iran publicly warned Azerbaijan against its purchase of Israeli Gabriel 5 missiles. While there have been recent attempts at strengthening Azeri-Iranian ties due to skirmishes along the border, there is no love lost between Azerbaijan and Iran. Azerbaijan regularly deals with Iranian agitators who believe Azerbaijan should be annexed by Iran. The Aliyev government suspects Iran’s hand in this campaign and in the spreading of “Iranianism” in Azeri mosques.
Azerbaijan would like to challenge Iranian hegemony in the Caspian Sea to protect its energy interest offshore. Israel can help in this regard, as it now has experience in defending its natural gas reserves found in the Leviathan and Tamar fields off the coast of Haifa. It can also provide help to Azerbaijan with respect to its ongoing conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Such efforts would amplify Israel’s already significant level of influence in Baku – influence that could be leveraged to foment armed Azeri struggles within Iran’s borders.
Notably, because Azeris are a Turkic people, they are naturally aligned with Turkey and Turkish culture, perhaps even more so than with their Azeri brethren to the north. The ruling elite in Turkey want independence for Azeris in Iran. Therefore, Israel should explore cooperation with Turkey on this issue, though Turkey’s back-and-forth relationship with Israel, its border issues with Syria, its support of Hamas, and its reliance on sanctions-busting Iranian energy all present significant obstacles.
Another option for Israel is to attempt to revive U.S. support for the Azeri independence movement, support that flatlined in the early 2000s before many Iranian Azeris became nationally self-aware. There are already signs of such a revival without the help of an Israeli diplomatic initiative. In 2012, Congresswoman Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for Azeri independence. While the State Dept. responded by giving its usual talking points on the importance of “territorial integrity,” Israel would be wise to explore U.S. help, be it covert or overt, in supporting Azeri independence now that there is more widespread support among Iranian Azeris to liberate their territory from Iranian rule.
Because there are so many Azeri Iranians, and because they have infiltrated the highest levels of Iranian society, their struggle, with the support of Israel, could eventually be the most powerful of all irredentist groups inside Iran. It could serve as a model for other Turkic minorities (e.g. Turkmen) in Iran as well, awakening their sense of nationalism and collective self-determination. That the Iranian Azeri independence movement has yet to become an identifiable armed struggle, and that it is still in its infancy stage, should not deter Israel from reaching out to groups willing to take up arms against Iranian regime forces.
3. Ahwazi Arabs of Khuzestan:
Iran is home to almost 2 million Arabs, many of whom live in the Khuzestan province, located in West Iran. Khuzestan is known by some Arab separatists as Arabistan or al-Ahwaz, though technically, al-Ahwaz is the capital of the Khuzeston province. “Ahwazi Arabs,” who are by-and-large a Shi’a population comprised of many refugees from the Iran-Iraq War, face racial and linguistic discrimination in Iran. Other grievances include: violence against Arab demonstrators by security forces, land confiscation, poverty, the “Persianiztion” of their land, and exclusion from the political realm. Unlike Azeri Iranians, there is a long history of separatist movements in al-Ahwaz based on a strong Arab identity. Notably, Ahwazi Arab armed groups have coordinated attacks with Kurdish and Baloch groups. It is also worth mentioning that many Iraqi Sunni Arabs want to “save” their brothers in al-Ahwaz, and that Ahwazi groups are purportedly helping rebel groups inside Syria.
Al-Ahwaz is home to almost 90% of Iran’s natural resources and sits in a strategic position bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Vast oil reserves make stability in this region a priority for the Iranian regime. However, stability has not consistently been the case. Tehran already blames Israel for the unrest in this region, but Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States would also like to see Ahwaz as an independent state and as a 7th member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As Israel and Saudi have a forged a tacit alliance against the Axis and Tehran in particular, cooperation in al-Ahwaz seems almost natural.
Wide-scale unrest and a series of terrorist-style bombings occurred in 2005, resulting in scores of Iranian civilian deaths. Iran’s subsequent crackdown led to led to as many as 50 casualties, and was followed by wide-scale arrests and executions. The 2005 riots were duplicated in 2011 on its 6th anniversary, and twelve more Ahwazi Arabs were killed by Iranian forces. Armed Ahwazi Arab organizations have disrupted the flow of energy in Khuzestan as recently as 2013 when the Mohiuddin Al Nasser Martyrs Brigade used an IED to blow up a pipeline in Iran ostensibly because of Iran’s Syrian policy. Also, the Arab Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz hit a petro-chemical plant in al-Ahwaz in August 2013. Many Ahwazi groups do not want to see Iran go nuclear and at least one group, the al-Ahwaz Arab Popular Democratic Front, has gone on record to state that it would use arms if need be to prevent such a scenario.Such an interest is aligned with Israel’s, and thus Israel should exploit the potential for an organic alliance with groups such as these. Others include: (1) the Islamic Reconciliation Party, (2) Ahwaz Arab Renaissance Party, and (3) the Ahwaz Liberation Organization – an offshoot of a movement sponsored by the late Saddam Hussein.
Out of the main four main minorities in Iran, the Arabs of al-Ahwaz present Israel and its Gulf supporters with the most immediate impact in terms of destabilizing a strategically invaluable region within Iran. The Ahwazi Arabs have longstanding aspirations for independence and have proven their willingness to fight to obtain their national rights. Nonetheless, there are groups whose methods are rooted in terrorism. Israel should vet any groups with whom it makes contact to ensure it is not aiding in the killing of innocent Iranian civilians. Once alliances with legitimate resistance groups are formed, Iran will be forced to divert much of its military resources, e.g. intelligence/counter-intelligence resources, financial resources and manpower, to fend off Israeli-Gulf backed movements whose goal is the secession of al-Ahwaz from Iran.
4. Iranian Balochs:
Iranian Balochs hail from Eastern Iran, primarily within the Sistan-Balochistan Province (“Sistan” was added so as to Persianize the name), with a population around 1.5 million. The Balochs of Iran are Sunni and speak their own language. The community is brutally subjugated in Iran. Iranian Balochs, like minorities previously mentioned herein (with the exception of some Azeris who, as stated, have reached the highest levels of Iranian society), are a very poor community within Iran, and disagree with the central government’s policies in Syria. Their political leaders languish in Iranian jails without due process and are usually eventually hanged. Some reports suggest 60% of crane hanging victims inside Iran are ethnic Balochs. The Baloch movement for independence is not new and is an aspiration ingrained by a large segment of the Iranian Baloch populace. The leader-in-exile, Kalat Mir Suleman Daud Ahmadzai, supports Israel outright and has gained backing from within the American Tea Party and from some Gulf states. Significantly, this group has expressed their sympathy for the plight of the Ahwazi Arabs, so there could be potential for collaboration between these two minorities given the presence of Israeli leadership, arms, and training.
There are several Iranian Baloch groups already engaged with the Iranian military. In late 2013, Jaish al-Adl, an offshoot of Jundallah (explained in more detail below) killed 14 Iranian border guards along the Sistan-Balochistan/Pakistan border. As recently as April 2014, Jaish al-Adl kidnapped 4 Iranian border guards and brought them into Pakistan, which strained Iran-Pakistan relations. The Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a leftist Baloch organization now based in France, is credited with revealing Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, alerting Americans to Iranian advancements in nuclear technology. U.S. officials confirmed that MEK was financed, trained, and armed by Israel to kill Iranian nuclear scientists. It is no longer considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. after a prolonged lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, a renunciation of terror, and the acceptance of its core members to relocate to Camp Liberty inside Iraq. This group had been given refuge inside Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, and mounted attacks on Iran from within Iraqi territory.
Jundallah is a terrorist group that needs mentioning as it also has a history of working with Israel and with the Mossad in particular – though possibly under false pretenses. It was reported that in 2012 Mossad agents posing as CIA officers approached Jundallah to coordinate attacks and assassinations of prominent Iranian officials. This caused a diplomatic uproar between Washington and Jerusalem, and gave Israel a nightmare in terms of public relations as Jundallah is definitely in the business of killing innocent Iranian civilians. It would be wise for Israel to avoid groups like this in the future, not only for image reasons, but because Jundallah also operates in Pakistan. Historical Balochistan stretches from Eastern Iran into Pakistan (and Afghanistan), and thus any attempt to assist insurrectionist groups in Iranian Balochistan must be planned so as not to anger Pakistan, a nuclear power that is perhaps the most anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic in the entire world, and possibly bring it into the fray. Not being careful with respect to the Pakistani issue would only cause problems for Israel, problems not outweighed by any tangible benefits.
One possible way for Israel to sow strife in the Baloch region would be to disrupt the proposed Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, which will run through Iranian Sistan-Balochistan Province. This pipeline, which will provide Pakistan with Iranian energy, is worth billions to Iran. The local Balochs had no say in this project and will likely see no proceeds or employment related to its construction, so there could be opportunities for Israel to hit the pipeline with local assistance. Any operation aimed at sabotaging the pipeline in Iran runs into the same “Pakistan issue” mentioned above. However, there are some key differences. First, the Iran-Pakistan pipeline currently violates the sanctions regime against Iran. Therefore an attack on it has some legal justification. Second, the U.S. may not be overly upset if Balochs disrupt this deal, as America prefers the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline that would completely circumvent Iran.
Israel is, in some ways, implementing the strategy advised in the present document by forming alliances with Baloch separatist movements inside Iran. While it has perhaps negligently dealt with some unsavory characters and groups in the Baloch movement, it is clear that Israel’s engagement with the Balochs has created instability and discord inside Iran, and has wreaked havoc upon Iran’s nuclear program. Israel should modify its Baloch policy to ensure it is solely working with legitimate resistance movements who operate within the laws and norms of war, yet also expand the policy to include other minority populations under the same umbrella of resistance – so as to maximize the potential for Iran’s death from within.
Iran is not as united or as naturally integrated as some Westerners presume. While Persia has ancient roots, modern Iran is an artificial state in that it is not comprised of mainly one nation. It is rather an amalgam of many ethnic groups (and religious groups like the Bahai’i), most of which suffer from harsh repression from the central government and which have responded to such aggression by resisting through armed struggle. Supplying weapons, training, and other types of military and humanitarian aid to these minorities will pave the way for Israel to have multiple military and intelligence footprints within Iran’s borders, and increase its ability to disrupt the machinations of the mullahs until the theocratic regime is severely weakened or toppled. Israel (and its newfound Arab allies) should explore potential strategic and tactical advantages in dealing with these movements, though not at the cost of compromising its moral superiority by aiding terrorist militias. Arming terrorists is not only unethical, but would surely result in severe blowback from the international community and could threaten Israel’s national security down the road – just as the American policy of arming and funding the Afghanistan Taliban came back to bite the U.S. on 9/11. Israel is already confronting this dilemma as it provides humanitarian aid to wounded Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
The question is rightly raised: Would these separatist groups even accept Israeli aid and provide reciprocal support given the rampant anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism inside Iran? Applying recent Middle Eastern history as precedent, the answer is a resounding yes, especially if instances of collaboration were hidden through subterfuge. Many marriages of convenience are made in the region, especially during times of strife and war, between groups whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one another. One revealing example, and perhaps ironical in this context, is Iran’s purchase of Israeli arms during its war with Iraq in the 1980s or Israel’s alliance with Lebanese Christians during the same period.
Confronting Iran through proxy militias within its borders will have a domino effect on the other members of the “Axis,” thus weakening the weapons supply chain to Palestinian terrorist groups (e.g. the advanced weaponry found on the Klos-C ship intercepted by Israel in the Red Sea earlier this year, which set sail from Iran on a circuitous trip through Sudan to Gaza) and impeding the Axis’ ability to wage a multiple-front war when the next conflagration in Gaza occurs. An optimal scenario would result in the breakup of the Axis and the true end of Iranian support of Hamas. As is manifest from Operation Protective Edge, a breakup of this alliance is perhaps the only way Hamas will disarm save for a full-scale, long-term Israeli ground invasion that will probably take the lives of hundreds of IDF troops and thousands of innocent Gazans.
Israel and its allies should thus bring the war to Iran proper by engaging the aforementioned Iranian minorities, preferably simultaneously, and have them act in unison under Israel’s tutelage against the Iranian government – a sort of “Axis” if you will.