Over the past two decades, Israeli intelligence agencies have devoted most of their efforts, budgets, and energy to surveillance Iranian file. While much focus has been placed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, weekly discussions and assessments are also devoted to the regime’s stability and prospects for survival.
Only now, after 35 years in office, have some Israeli experts dared to express cautious optimism about changes in Tehran.
Leaders of the Israeli intelligence and security community speak mostly in their assessment that the nationwide protests of the past three months are not a passing phenomenon unlike previous waves of anti-government protests in the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years.
A high-ranking Israeli security source told Al-Monitor, “The current Iran is not the Iran that existed 10 or 5 years ago, nor last year or even three months ago. What is happening now is deeper, broader and irreversible.”
For his part, former Deputy Defense Minister Gen. (res.) Ephraim Sneh described the situation as “chronic,” and said, “This is no longer a local disturbance or a transient disease. What we are seeing is changing the face of Iran, and there will be no turning back.”
Even the Israeli optimists are not willing to bet on regime change in Tehran at this short stage. “The regime still has many tools to defend itself and most of them have not been exhausted. We see potential changes and concessions that the regime will have to make. On the one hand it is difficult for us to see an alternative to the current regime and on the other hand, the change in Iran is real,” the senior Israeli security source said.
Israeli analysts were stunned by the sight of the Iranian national football team refusing to sing the national anthem in their first World Cup match in Qatar on November 21. “It was a symbolic act, but it resonated with us and helped us understand that what is happening now in Iran has not happened before,” the source said.
The source pointed out that even if the regime abolishes the compulsory hijab that sparked protests in mid-September with the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing the hijab properly and wearing tight jeans, the protests will continue.
There may be a period of calm, but the Iranian people have overcome the barrier of fear, and the demonstrators talk about rights and freedom in the face of the regime. “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse that,” he added.
This view was reinforced by support for the protests expressed by Khamenei’s sister, who described his rule as “tyranny.”
While closely monitoring such public dissent, Israeli experts attempt to determine the regime’s endurance and estimate its prospects in the medium and long term. They point to three elements still missing for the protest to overthrow the regime.
The first is a prominent and charismatic leadership that the authorities cannot silence, and may stem from opposition to Iran in exile, as was the case with the fueling of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini.
“At the moment, the protest lacks a prominent leader, and this is a clear defect,” said a senior Israeli intelligence source. An additional element missing from the wave of protest is organized finance.
The third element is the support of respected clerics. According to the source, the public in Iran does not abandon Islam and most Iranians are religious. There is a need for a religious authority to move the demonstrations to a more powerful level and provide them with religious justification. According to the senior intelligence source, “at the present time this authority is absent.”
Israel does not rule out the possibilities of immediate change in the medium to long term. A senior Israeli official said: “Almost all revolutions are in the end a sudden event where you wake up one day, the wall has collapsed and it will happen in Iran as well and no one knows when and it could take months or years. The only relevant question is whether this will happen before or after.” Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state.
In this regard, officials in Israel do not greatly assess the prospects for a return to nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran. A senior Israeli security source said, “What prevented the signing was not directly related to the nuclear file, but to other issues. The assessment in Israel is that at the present time the Americans cannot afford to sign any agreement with Iran in light of the authorities’ blatant violation of human rights.”
The source added, “The exposure of the military axis between Iran and Russia, which is currently using drones manufactured in Iran to attack Ukrainian citizens, also constitutes a major obstacle to progress in the nuclear agreement. Israel believes that all this together with Iran’s continued involvement in the spread of terrorism will hinder initiatives to renew negotiations.” Nuclear”.