The tension between Israel and Iran appears to be heightening. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), recently said: "Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles that are ready to hit Israel to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories if the Zionist regime repeats its past mistakes."
He added: "Today, the grounds for the annihilation and collapse of the Zionist regime are [present] more than ever." Salami warned that if Israel made the "wrong move," it would come under attack.
A few weeks ago, a senior adviser to the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Ahmad Karimpour, said Iran could destroy Israel "in less than eight minutes" if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave the order.
Rhetoric and Iran's Military Capabilities
There are several reasons why Iran's repeated anti-Israel statements may be pure rhetoric. They are most likely meant as a type of psychological warfare, because Iran cannot afford direct conflict with Israel.
Although Iran is larger geographically and in terms of population, its military capacity is inferior. Even regarding missile capabilities, which Iranian generals boast about, Israel's are greater in range and number.
What fundamentally changes the balance of power is Israel's nuclear capacity. It is widely believed to have some 200 nuclear warheads that can be used with intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as nuclear-armed submarines.
As such, Iran's policy toward Israel is to not strike first, as doing so would be suicidal for the ruling political establishment, whose main objective is to maintain power. It would be more effective to fight Israel via its Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah.
Tehran's repeated boasting about IRGC capabilities is aimed at invoking nationalist sentiment among the public, because Iranian leaders know that the overwhelming majority of Iranians are dissatisfied with the hardliners and the political establishment.
Kazem, 29, PhD student majored in public health, pointed out "I would like to see a regime change in Iran, but I want Iran, ruled by any government even the current clergies, to be stronger than any country in the region including Israel. Iran should be the most powerful nation in the region militarily, technologically and economically as it was under Shah era or thousands of years of the Persian empire".
In addition, IRGC attempts to maintain and increase the budget allocated to it by showing that it is an indispensable and a must-have force to protect Iranians.
This method has been successful, as polls have repeatedly shown that many Iranians who oppose the political establishment still favor their country becoming a nuclear power or being more powerful than any other country in the region.
Finally, Khamenei and senior cadre of IRGC are appealing to the nationalistic sentiments of Iranians to win their votes by showing that IRGC is a must-have force to protect Iranians and project Iran's prowess. They are also recalibrating the domestic balance of power, making it clear that they are the final decision-makers. They are appealing to their hardline social base by showing it that they continue to prioritize the values of the 1979 revolution (such as opposing Israel and the US) over other issues, including national interests. And, they are sending a message that the nuclear agreement does not mean Iran would make fundamental changes in its socio-political and socio-economic policies.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, business advisor, best-selling author, and the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review. An American citizen, he is originally from Iran and Syria, lived most of his life in Iran and Syria till recently. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Arabic and Persian. He also speaks English and Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew.
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You can contact him at Dr.email@example.com or follow him at @Dr_Rafizadeh. This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.