August 27, 2020

Analysis: Did the Long Arm of Iran Reach the Dead Sea Highway?


The revelations of possible Iranian involvement in the attack on Israeli diplomats earlier this month in Jordan appear to offer the latest evidence of direct engagement by Teheran in subversion and paramilitary activity across national borders.

The Jordanian investigation is still in its early stages. But the suggestion by sources close to the well-respected Jordanian General Intelligence Department that the explosives used for the attack may have been brought into the kingdom by Iranian diplomats is certainly plausible. It would conform to similar incidents on which the fingerprints of Iran were later unmistakably identified. It would also fit the current pattern of Iranian support for destabilizing its regional enemies.

The Quds Force - the wing of the Revolutionary Guard which deals with activities outside of Iran - is known to maintain a presence in all Iranian delegations abroad. Representatives of this force have been identified with a number of high-profile attacks on Israeli, Jewish and US targets.

Most famously, the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was found by Argentinean investigators to have been carried out under the direction of then-commander of the Quds Force’s Special Operations unit Ahmed Vahidi, and with the knowledge of then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The attack killed 85 people and wounded 151.

On October 25, 2006, Argentina’s state prosecutor issued arrest warrants for Rafsanjani, Vahidi, Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai and a number of other officials in connection with the bombing.

The issuing of the warrants has done little to harm the careers of those concerned. In a testimony to the growing strength of the Revolutionary Guards within the regime, Ahmed Vahidi, director of the AMIA attack, is now the Iranian Defense Minister.

The 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia offers further proof of the Iranian track record in this area. The bombing, in which 19 American servicemen were killed, was “sanctioned, funded and directed” by the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, according to then-FBI director Louis Freeh.

The discovery last year of a large Hizbullah-led and Revolutionary Guard-directed network planning acts of terror in Egypt indicates that this Iranian pattern of behavior has not changed. It is noteworthy that the latest revelations regarding the attack in Jordan suggest that the operatives on the ground were Sunni Arabs, supporters of al-Qaida type ideology. In Egypt, too, the 100-person network led by Revolutionary Guard-trained Hizbullah official Muhammad Mansour consisted of Sunni Arabs - Palestinians and Egyptian Beduin. It has even been suggested that the men in question initially believed they were working for a Palestinian organization.

The Shi’ite-Sunni divide has never prevented Iran from making use of Sunni proxies against the common enemy.

But while the latest evidence from Jordan contains few surprises, it nevertheless carries serious implications from the Jordanian point of view. Jordan is particularly vulnerable to Iranian subversion.

The small and fragile kingdom is separated from Iran only by Iraq - a particular focus of interest for the Revolutionary Guard.

According to Iranian opposition sources, the staff at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad includes at least five senior Revolutionary Guard officers. The embassy is considered to constitute an important center for coordinating intelligence and military activity against coalition forces in Iraq.

The US will, of course, soon be withdrawing from Iraq. A weak, chaotic, Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, heavily penetrated by the Revolutionary Guard, would be a nightmare scenario for Jordan. It would bring Iran, its influence, its ambitions and its methods right up to the borders of the kingdom.

The means used for last week’s attack - a roadside bomb - carried disturbing echoes of Iraq.

Against this background, King Abdullah has been among the regional leaders most vociferously seeking to warn the world of the dangers of Iran’s drive for regional hegemony.

The king has spoken of the possibility of a “terrible conflict” within Islam - between a “Shi’ite crescent” and the Sunni Arab states. He identified Iran, an Iran-influenced Iraq, Syria and Hizbullah as the core components of a future “political-strategic alliance,” which may foment a larger confrontation in the Middle East.

The signs of an Iranian hand behind the bombing last week suggest that the scenario envisaged by the king is already coming to pass.

A cold war is on in the region - pitting Islamist Iran and its allies against pro-Western states. Like other such phenomena in the past, this cold war has a number of fronts, and a number of faces.

There is an overt military aspect, visible for example in Israel’s fight against Hamas and Hizbullah, and in the recent clashes between Saudi forces and Shi’ite rebels in north Yemen.

There is a political-diplomatic and propaganda front. Iran and its allies invest vast resources and efforts in disseminating their message, and seeking to ignite regional and world public opinion against their enemies.

There is also a clandestine-warfare aspect, in which the Revolutionary Guard and its many regional clients seek to destabilize and subvert rival states and regimes. This is a side of the conflict which only occasionally and fleetingly reveals itself to the public eye.

The latest revelations suggest that the roadside bombing on January 14 on the Dead Sea Highway from Amman may well have formed an engagement on this front of the ongoing regional contest.


About Jonathan Spyer

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2010) and a columnist at the Jerusalem Post newspaper. Spyer holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Masters' Degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His blog can be followed at: