The Nov. 29 attack on the British embassy has been cast by analysts as part of a power struggle between Iran's archconservative factions, with some trying to undermine President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The argument that Iranians are very strategic is [wrong]. They are very tactical: They think very much in terms of the next move, and not where they want to end up," says Shahram Chubin, an Iran specialist based in Geneva for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
All critical debates in Iran today are among ruling but fractious conservatives, with almost no input from the emasculated liberal opposition, he says.
"There's no one to say: 'Hey, have we thought through what this means, because if we alienate the international community, and antagonize the EU all over again, won't we be more vulnerable to an Israeli attack?' " says Mr. Chubin.
"Also there is a tradition of freelancing.... In this case I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Qods Force," he adds, referring to the branch of the Revolutionary Guard that handles covert operations beyond Iran's borders. During the attack on the embassy, portraits of the Qods Force chief were held aloft, and some who breached the gates were identified on Farsi-language websites as Qods Force officers.
The British were an easy target for a regime incensed with increasing pressure from the West.