Iran-Israel tensions escalate: Heightened conflict risks in ME

This video grab from AFPTV taken on 14 April, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during Iranian attack on Israel. Iran's Revolutionary Guards confirmed early 14 April, 2024 that a drone and missile attack was under way against Israel in retaliation for a deadly 1 April drone strike on its Damascus consulateAFP

Since last October, the situation in Gaza has been painfully evident to the global community. Israel's actions have shockingly disregarded international conventions and resolutions aimed at peace. Tragically, over this period, at least 34,000 Palestinians have lost their lives, with 76,000 more sustaining injuries due to Israeli assaults on Gaza. Despite calls for restraint from various allies, including the US, Israel has persisted in its actions. The recent abstention from voting against ceasefire in Gaza in UN Security Council indicates a significant shift towards ending this largely one-sided conflict.

Amidst this tense atmosphere, Israel further escalated tensions by attacking the Iranian consulate in Syria on 1 April. This provocative act occurred during a time when Muslim communities were observing fast and preparing for the Eid festival. The assault resulted in the deaths of two Iranian generals, General Mohammad Reza Zahedi and General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, along with five other Iranian military officers, alleged Hezbollah member Hussein Youssef, and two Syrians. Additionally, two Syrian police officers guarding the consulate were injured. By launching this attack, Israel not only violated Article 51 and 2(4) of the UN Charter but also failed to provide any justifiable rationale for its actions. Experts foresaw that the ramifications of this aggression might prompt a reaction from Iran, potentially rising tensions in the region.

On 13 April, Iran unexpectedly initiated an invasion on Israel which is the first in the history of the enmity between this two countries. The Israeli military reported that over 300 drones and missiles were launched towards Israel. They claimed that nearly all were successfully intercepted by their defenses, with support from the US, UK, France, and other nations, preventing them from reaching their intended targets. Fortunately, no fatalities were reported, and Israel stated that the damage incurred was minimal. This marks the first direct attack by Iran on Israel following several proxy attacks and conflicts.

Experts note a lack of evidence suggesting Iran's support for non-state armed groups targeting Israel, and Iran had never previously launched a direct attack on Israel. This raises questions about Israel's earlier strike on Iran's consulate, which not only violated international conventions but also disregarded Syria's sovereignty. However, that incident occurred on April 1st and was considered a concluded operation. The attack by Iran on April 13th appears to be less about defense and more about retaliation or demonstration of power. It signifies a shift from a defensive posture to a more assertive stance.

Wheel of events

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened with his war cabinet to deliberate potential responses following the Iranian attack, as the country's military chief of staff vowed retaliation. After the Iranian assault, the UN Security Council held an emergency session on 14 April, during which Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned that the region teetered "on the brink" of war and implored for tension de-escalation. US President Joe Biden engaged in a conversation with Mr. Netanyahu after the Iranian attack, reaffirming "America's commitment to the security of Israel."

However, after the day of the attack, the US communicated to Israel its decision not to participate in any retaliatory strikes against Iran, as conveyed by a senior White House official. "We're committed to a ceasefire that will bring the hostages home and prevent the conflict from escalating further," Mr. Biden remarked on 15th, referencing the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. US officials involved in preventing the strike advised caution to Israel following Iran's aggression. President Biden also informed Netanyahu that Washington would not provide military support for any reprisal against Iran, according to a White House official cited in local media reports.

There are three potential outcomes above this scenario: 1. Escalation or de-escalation 2. Security dilemma and proxy attack 3. Soft power enforcement.

1. Escalation or de-escalation

The tension involving Israel and Iran, particularly the events of 1 April, can be seen as reactions from both sides. Israel's actions were in response to perceived threats from Iran, while Iran's actions can be interpreted as a direct response to Israel's previous actions. The global community, including both allies and adversaries, is now calling for restraint and de-escalation from both parties. Iran has explicitly warned Israel against further provocations, indicating that any such actions would be deemed unacceptable.

Conversely, Israel has made it clear that it will not allow such attacks to go unanswered, emphasizing its historical stance of responding firmly to threats against its sovereignty. The recent attack by Iran on Israel is not a conclusive event; rather, it sets the stage for potential further escalation. This escalation poses a significant challenge not only to the stability of the Middle East but also to global peace and security. Both Israel and Iran must exercise restraint and seek avenues for de-escalation to prevent further destabilization in the region and beyond.

While hope for peace remains, the path forward remains uncertain.

2. Security dilemma and armament

The phenomenon of security dilemmas and the proliferation of arms, particularly among global and regional powers, has persisted for many years. The ongoing nuclear proliferation and the looming threat of nuclear escalation echo the dynamics of the Cold War era, fueling an arms race. Recent events in the Middle East, spanning the past decade or two, have exacerbated this security dilemma. The intensifying conflict between Israel and Iran is a prime example, as it threatens to further escalate armament and provoke an arms race among Middle Eastern states. The once-assured confidence of Israel, believing that its territory would not be subject to direct or significant attacks, has been shattered. This escalation in physical warfare and proxy attacks between Israel and Iran is likely to sensitize neighboring states in the Middle East to bolster their military capabilities in response, heightening tensions and deepening the security dilemma in the region.

3. Soft power enforcement.

The allies and neighboring countries including the US ask Israel to restrain and not to take any serious steps that may lead the Middle East to a physical war. After this, Israel launched a “diplomatic offensive” against Iran, calling for sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on 16 April that he has contacted 32 countries calling on them to impose sanctions against Tehran. The move comes as Israel mulls a military response to Iran’s attack on Israel. Katz did not specify which governments he had asked to impose the sanctions. The IRGC is already blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the United States and is subject to EU sanctions. So It seems that Israel is choosing a Soft Power enforcement policy where Iran will face some more sanction and their broken economic economy will face some more pressure although the previous section and tension weren’t capable of breaking down their focus on Armament and probable nucleare proliferation.

Above all, the current situation regarding the relationship between Iran, Israel, and their allies is far from peaceful. In February 2024, warships from China, Russia, and Iran conducted live-fire exercises in a crucial Middle Eastern waterway, demonstrating a significant display of power in the volatile region, as reported by state-run media. The responsibility to pursue peaceful resolutions amidst potential conflicts rests squarely on their shoulders. While hope for peace remains, the path forward remains uncertain.

Syed Mohammad Arfatur Rahaman is a research associate at iDEA Foundation

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