IRAN – ISRAEL CONFLICT AND IMPLICATIONS

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IRAN – ISRAEL CONFLICT AND IMPLICATIONS

1.. Background.In April 2024 the two old adversaries in the Middle East almost came close to igniting a devastating international conflict. It may be prudent to understand the nature of the conflict between Iran and Israel to gauge a future course . The conflict between Iran and Israel has deep historical roots that span political, ideological, religious and geopolitical dimensions. It is imperative to understand these to determine the future course of their bilateral relations :

  1. Historical Context. Iran and Israel had relatively cordial relations during the era of Shah Pelvi , prior to Iranian Revolution of 1979.After the revolution, Iran became an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini adopting anti – Israel stance and supporting Palestinian groups opposed to Israel.
  2. Religious Differences. The religious differences has contributed to tensions as Iran’s leadership has at times called for the destruction of Zionist Israel , occupying Muslim lands.
  3. Geopolitical Factors. Iran support for anti Israel groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza has fueled the conflict and led to many military confrontations.
  4. Nuclear Program. Israel possible possessing of nuclear weapons and Iranian program to build nuclear weapons also remain a contentious issue between the two rival nations.
  5. Religious Power Dynamics. Iran and Israel rivalry is also shaped by broader regional dynamics in Middle East . Iran support for provision Syria, Iraq and Yemen and Israeli continuation of Zionist policies against hapless Palestinians has further complicated the relations. US factor in mentoring and supporting Israel and its continued hostility / sanctions against Iran have also attributed to the hostilities .

2.Iran’s Attack on Israel. Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel on midnight of  April,13 in retaliation for an Israeli air strike at Iranian embassy complex in Syria, which killed Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander Brigadier General Reza Zahedi, represented the most dangerous round of conflict between the two belligerent states. The Iranian attack involved more than 350 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones. The first direct Iranian attack on Israel marks a new phase in the two countries strategic rivalry. In the past Iran has opted to act against Israel through its regional networks of partners and proxies to retain deniability and minimize the risk of political or military consequences for its actions. The current Iranian attack on Israel is the first instance since the Gulf War of 1991 that Israel faced a state launched missile attack . Iran military leadership has portrayed this attack as a significant accomplishment despite Israel and its allies successfully intercepting the vast majority of the barrage . Only probably 5-7  cruise missiles were able to penetrate Israel’s multilayered air defence and target an Israeli airfield . The shift in Iranian strategy of a direct confrontation with Israel reflects that it is heading towards a strategic equilibrium with Israel despite Israel’s continued aerial, technological and intelligence supremacy. The Iranian leadership appeared to have concluded that the country’ s geo- strategic stature has improved due to better strategic military capabilities, a network of proxies and the support of Russia and China.

3.Israel’s Response .⁠Israel’s measured response to Iran’s earlier attack on April 19 , on the Isfahan region allowed the two countries to temporarily close their current round of conflict . Iranian officials have downplayed and even dismissed Israel’s response, demonstrating their willingness to avoid further escalation. The U.S. has played a major role to avoid climbing an escalation ladder by the both sides . The attack launched on the 85 the birthday of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Al Khamenei also had a message for Tehran that Israel can attack deep within Iranian territory without restraints including possibly Iranian nuclear facilities.

  1. ⁠Geo- Political Purview.The New Age of Global Threats.For decades, the West enjoyed the fruits of the post-Cold War “peace dividend”. This era In the Middle East, all is changed – changed utterly. Iran’s “Operation True Promise”, launched on 13 April, represented the first direct attack on Israel by another state since Iraq’s missile strikes in 1991 during the first Gulf War. The decades-long shadow war between Tehran and Tel Aviv – conducted via proxies and espionage and assassination– has burst into the open. The consequences for the region, and the world, could be severe.

Iran’s attack was prompted by Israel’s bombing of its diplomatic compound in Damascus on 1 April, which killed two senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But Iran’s retaliation was more than a token reprisal. There are contradictory views , some suppose that Iran did not intend it to cause significant harm to Israel while the other view point is that firing of more than 300 missiles and drones was meant to gain a strategic ascendancy over Israel and cause considerable damage to its war fighting potential.The regime launched more than 300 drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. For Israel, this was both a military and diplomatic triumph. In the aftermath of the 7 October 2023 Hamas  attack, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, there was overwhelming international solidarity with the country. But in recent months, as the death toll from the war in Gaza has grown to more than 35000 people including innocent children and women, this support has wavered. On 26 March, the UN Security Council voted for the first time in favor of an immediate ceasefire after the US opted to abstain. The killing of seven aid workers in Gaza on 1 April, which Israel described as a “grave mistake”, saw Western skepticism reach new heights.

The risk is that both sides become trapped in a pattern of escalation that culminates in what analysts have long feared: an all-out war between Israel and Iran. This is not a conflict that the world can watch passively. Israel is an undeclared nuclear weapons state; Iran has never been closer to enriching weapons-grade uranium. “The Middle East is quieter today than it has been in two decades,” declared Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, the week before the 7 October massacre. Now, the region has rarely appeared more combustible.

5 . Genesis.An analysis of the Iranian attack and Israeli retaliation is imperative to draw some conclusions. Israeli targeting of Iranian Consulate in Syria on April, 1 in which an elide Iranian National Guard commander Zahedi who was responsible for relationship with Hafiz Asad of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon along with few others was killed , was according to previous Israeli pattern of targeting Iranian assets in Syria. In the past in response,Iran has been targeting Israel through its proxies but April, 13 retaliation at the level of the state can be attributed to a number of factors and compulsions. The first and foremost was the resentment within the powerful Iranian Guards, clamoring for a revenge, the second is to satisfy the public outrage and the last important factor is Iran’s geopolitical prominence , its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and a message to its proxies in Hamas, Houthi’s and Hezbollah that Iran can react with massive retaliation. There were two factors which could have been instrumental in a controlled aggression by Iran . First was the US factor and Iranian efforts to reopen Iran- USA Nuclear dialogue and a possible lifting of US sanctions which is hurting Iranian economy and the second important factor that if Iran- Israel enter into a prolonged war, it could take away the world focus from Israeli atrocities in Gaza and erode the growing international support in USA, UK and Europe . These were the cogent reasons that Iran divulged its timings of attack , fully aware of Israeli , US and other allies abilities to intercept and destroy most of the slow armed drones and missiles. Israel has 14 batteries of’ Iron Dome’ shield deployed to protect its air space . The other allies states to Israel like US, UK , France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia also contributed in destroying Iranian missiles and drones, route That is the reason that out of almost 350 missiles and drones fired, 99 % were destroyed and only 5 Ballistic missiles were able to hit Iran’s prime target Nevatim Air Base in Southern Israel where F-35s were stationed . According to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu , only a little damage was caused to the Air Base . The retaliation by Israel on April, 19, targeted Isfahan which has major military , missile and nuclear infrastructure. The damage was bare minimum. In fact, Iranian leadership denied any Israeli attack on their soil. Israeli luke warm response was also most likely an outcome of domestic pressures to retaliate at the same time not opening another front because of ongoing war in Gaza, controlled by tacit  US indulgence . Israeli gambit was to entice an Iranian response with which they can deal with at the timings and environments of its own choosing in future and to highlight to the world the danger which a possible nuclear Iran posses to the world peace .

  1. Conclusions.In the Middle East as elsewhere, we have entered a new age of geopolitical danger. A revanchist Russia is waging relentless war in Ukraine. An expansionist China, now equipped with the world’s biggest navy, is threatening Taiwan. An increasingly isolationist US may elect Donald Trump as president this November.For decades, the West enjoyed the fruits of the “peace dividend”: the decrease in defence spending that followed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. On the positive side, Iran and Israel have learned from their experience.In the matrix of the present conflict they both communicated their intentions accurately, they realized that they could de escalate without losing face and they both had a scare that could re- establish a mutual deterrence .Israel over decades has been able to neutralize most of the Arab states hostile to its existence and has even formalised diplomatic and economic relations with them. The state with extreme right wing regime in control continues to pursue its Zionist policies against the hapless Palestinians and states opposing its hegemony and even for US in pursuing its agenda. Iran may therefore emerge as the most potent ‘ enemy’ for Israel given its leverage over Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthi’s of Yemen and its strategic partnership with Russia and China .While there may not be an immediate threat of a major war in Middle East in the foreseeable future but the era of a peaceful region may be definitely over.

 

 

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Thualfuqar Center for Strategic Studies, Research and Human Rights .... Thualfuqar center is a private, independent research institution concerned with public affairs in Iraq and the effects of its regional and international environment.

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