Consequences of the assassination of Iran's nuclear program director 

Commentary: Among the various ways that the adversary could attack, and without blunting the readiness for any of them, it is worth emphasizing the use of a car bomb, explains former senior ISA official Meir Gershuni 

By Meir Gershuni    

The assassination of the head of the Iranian covert nuclear weapons program, Mohsin Pekrizadeh, on the outskirts of Tehran last Friday almost naturally led the Iranian government to point the finger of blame at Israel, accompanied by threats of retaliation.

The struggle to thwart terrorist attacks perpetrated by Iran and its proxies, with an emphasis on Hezbollah, continues unceasingly for years, and the harder the blow suffered by the opponent, from time to time, the more the level of threat increases. Past experience and our acquaintance with the opponent show that at this time long-term preparation and dealing with various ways of attack will be required. While the opponent is targeting an attack against selected sites and at certain points in time, the security system must be set up and ready everywhere - at all times. Not a simple challenge.

Two painful car bombing attacks were carried out in the past, under the pretext of revenge against Israeli and Jewish targets, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in cooperation with Hezbollah operatives. The attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, a month after the assassination of Abbas Mousavi, then secretary of Hezbollah, and the attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires - "Beit Amiya" - on July 18, 1994, for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility in retaliation following the Israeli Air Force bombing of its training base in Ein Dardera, in which 50 of the organization's terrorists were killed.

Between the above-mentioned events, two more significant attacks took place: About three weeks after the assassination of Mousavi, the late Ehud Sadan, the security officer of the Israeli embassy in Ankara, was killed by an explosive device placed under his vehicle. But Iran had additional intentions, and apparently the killing of Sadan was only a preliminary step on the way to the main revenge that came in the form of the attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. On the same timeline, between the attack in Ein Dardera and the response attack on Beit Amia on July 18, 1994, even before the car bomb attack in Beit Amia, another significant event occurred, when on March 13, 1994, Hezbollah's attempt to blow up a truck loaded with hundreds of kilograms of explosives, against the embassy of Israel in Bangkok, failed.

In looking at this modus operandi of the opponent, a comparison is required between the assassination of the Iranian covert nuclear weapons program director and the terrorist attacks in Argentina. It is worth noting that shortly after the assassination of Pakrizedah we are witnessing explicit statements by the Iranians regarding "proper" revenge that will follow the assassination of the senior Iranian official.

Without referring to the targeted intelligence required to direct security preparations for a possible attack, in assessing Hezbollah/Iran's options for attack against Israeli targets abroad, it is appropriate to prepare for a wide range of possible courses of action that the adversary may take to strike an Israeli target, as symbolic as possible, which will be a “appropriate” target for revenge - for them.

Among the various ways that the adversary could attack, and without blunting the readiness for any of them, it is worth emphasizing the use of a car bomb as a means of attack which is one of the most prevalent among global terrorist organizations, given the many benefits - for terrorist organizations - inherent in this means. Both physical and communicative effects, using a "weapon" that is ostensibly "conventional." 

Security forces are required to carry out a special security deployment that includes components of doctrine, procedures and technological means, designed and developed over the years of struggle with the terrorists. The security response was developed in view of the challenge posed to the Israeli security system as well as other Western countries which also constituted targets for such bloody attacks. The examples include, among others, the car bomb attack on the Twin Towers in February 1993; the attack on US soldiers' residences in Dahran, Saudi Arabia in June 1996; the pair of attacks in August 1998 against the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, directed by the "brain" behind them, Abdullah Ahmad, No. 2 in al Qaeda, who was assassinated last August in Iran; the attack on the Australian embassy in Indonesia in September 2004; and many other bombing attacks.

These and other attacks have led to lessons learned in various aspects and to a fairly effective response to car bomb threats. However, the opponent, on his part, is closely following developments in security and is looking for new ways to attack in order to achieve maximum damage.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have in the past launched weaponized airborne platforms - from cruise missiles to UAVs and drones against the US embassy in Iraq, oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and other destinations. Weaponized drones were also launched at targets in Israel, but they were intercepted by the Israeli Air Force. The significant development of such systems in the world, drones and gliders of all kinds that are also available as civilian technologies for terrorist organizations wherever they are, constitute a significant threat that requires the attention of security forces around the world. This was illustrated by drones that crashed in 2013 and 2015 respectively, one at the feet of the German Chancellor, and the other that crashed on the White House lawn. To these cases should be added the exposure and thwarting of terrorist attacks planned around the world in a similar way, such as an attempted attack planned in Spain by an ISIS operative last May, during which he intended to blow up a weaponized drone during a football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as many other attacks.

In the absence of targeted intelligence (and even when it exists), comprehensive security preparations are required to prevent and thwart terrorist attacks of various kinds and against various targets, with an emphasis on Israeli dignitaries and emissaries abroad, infrastructure and facilities, and of course cyberattacks (although it can be estimated that in the present case the Iranians aim to carry out a kinetic attack). What is primarily needed is proactive action to prevent the possible attack. In other words, prevention at the tactical level is essential both to save lives and to enable strategic breathing space to prevent escalation of the conflict.

Against the background of the reports and statements by senior government officials regarding intent for revenge by Iran, a clear statement of intent is presented here in combination with a proven ability to carry out terrorist attacks, whether relying on Iranian diplomatic missions or extremists in local communities abroad. This leads to an assessment of a high level of threat, which requires long-term readiness in security efforts as well as long-term alertness, which I believe are already in place.


Meir Gershuni is a former senior member of the ISA and owner of the consulting company "Meir Gershuni Consulting Ltd."