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How A Drone Strike Inside Iran Exposes The Regime's Vulnerability — On All Fronts

It is still not clear what was the exact target of an attack by three armed drones Saturday night on an arms factory in central Iran. But it comes as Tehran authorities appear increasingly vulnerable to both its foreign and domestic enemies, with more attacks increasingly likely.

Screenshot of one of the Saturday drone attacks arms factory in Isfahan, central Iran

One of the Saturday drone attacks arms factory in Isfahan, central Iran

Pierre Haski


PARIS — It's the kind of incident that momentarily reveals the shadow wars that are part of the Middle East. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack by three armed drones Saturday night on an arms factory complex north of Isfahan in central Iran.

But the explosion was so strong that it set off a small earthquake. Iranian authorities have played down the damage, as we might expect, and claim to have shot down the drones.

Nevertheless, three armed drones reaching the center of Iran, buzzing right up to weapons factories, is anything but ordinary in light of recent events. Iran is at the crossroads of several crises: from the war in Ukraine where it's been supplying drones to Russia to its nuclear development arriving at the moment of truth; from regional wars of influence to the anti-government uprising of Iranian youth.

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That leaves us spoiled for choice when it comes to possible interpretations of this act of war against Iran, which likely is a precursor to plenty of others to follow.

Iranian authorities, in their comments, blame the United States and Israel for the aggression. These are the two usual suspects for Tehran, and it is not surprising that they are at the top of the list.

The U.S. press reports that Israel was responsible for this attack, the first against Iran since Benjamin Netanyahu's return to office with a far-right coalition. According to the The New York Times, it was the Mossad, Israel's secret service, that carried out the operation.

Nevertheless, a key question remains: what exactly was the target? Was it related to arms supplies to Russia? Or the Iranian nuclear program? Both scenarios are possible.

Did the drone strike nuclear weapons' operations?

The West has condemned the supply of Iranian drones to Russia, which is used to target Ukrainian infrastructure. At the end of December, The New York Timesreported that the Biden administration was considering limiting Iran's ability to assist the Russian war effort.

The Iranian nuclear program is another explosive possibility.

But Israel, sensitive to its relations with Russia, has no reason to take such risks for a conflict in which the Jewish state has refused to get involved.

The Iranian nuclear program is the other explosive possibility. European and American efforts to revive the nuclear deal that was broken during Donald Trump's administration have failed. For months now, there have been no real negotiations, and Iran's centrifuges have been running at full speed, bringing Iran closer every day to its ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Israel is vehemently opposed to this program as it is to other Iranian weapon programs, such as missile production, which it believes is a direct threat to its security.

Photo of protesters flying Iranian flags with some bearing the words "Freedom for Iran" as part of a protest against Iranian authorities in London on Jan. 28

Anti Iranian government protests in London on Jan. 28

Loredana Sangiuliano/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Tehran's domestic repression

Yet the disparate issues, ever more, blend into one. Iran is increasingly seen as a kind of besieged fortress, with a regime that has hardened ideologically as its legitimacy grows weaker.

The scale of the uprising led by Iranian women has seriously worried the leaders of the Islamic Republic: they have opted for repression, with hundreds of deaths that have reduced the number of demonstrations but not the popular discontent.

This internal hardening is also noticeable on the outside. And now, we see that the alternative is the risk of direct confrontation. The drones in Isfahan are arguably only a foretaste of what’s to come.

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