MS Risk Blog

The Clash of Longstanding Rivals: A Turning Point in the Middle East?

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This paper delves into the recent escalation between Iran and Israel, focusing on the aerial assault targeting the Iranian consulate in Damascus at the beginning of the month and Iran’s response through a missile operation directed at Israel on April 14th. It evaluates the scale of the attacks, their impact on regional stability, and the diplomatic consequences. The analysis further assesses the risk of additional escalation and the difficulties faced by international efforts aimed at decreasing tensions in the Middle East.

As a result of an aerial assault on April 1, that targeted the Iranian consulate in Damascus, thirteen people were killed including a senior commander in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and his deputy General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi. Iran deemed this assault a violation of its sovereignty and issued a threat of retaliation. In response, Iran launched a missile operation targeting Israel on April 14th, hitting multiple targets simultaneously. This marked the initial frontal strike witnessed between the two adversaries after a significant period.

The Israeli military reported that Iran deployed over 300 drones and missiles against Israel. The assault consisted of a total of 170 drones and 30 guided missiles, along with a minimum of 110 long-range ballistic missiles.

Four missiles struck the Israeli airbase, aimed at the Nevatim air base located in the Negev desert in Southern Israel, base is to the country’s F-35 fighter jets. Although the Iranian army said that their blitz “successfully accomplished all its goals,” the actual impact was limited. Only minor damage occurred at the Nevatim Air Base in the southern region, and a 7-year-old child sustained injuries from fragments of an intercepted missile.  During the assault, sounds of explosives were detected in various locations, including Tel Aviv. As Israeli forces attempted to intercept the projectiles, air raid alarms were activated in over 720 locations and the detonations were also detected in Jerusalem.

Israel said that almost 99% of the incoming barrage was successfully intercepted, either before it entered Israeli territory or while it was over the nation. Israel, together with the US, UK, France, and Jordan, successfully intercepted drones and cruise missiles. Jordan has acknowledged that it shot down Iranian drones to defend national sovereignty. Jordan also granted Israeli airplanes limited access to its airspace. In addition, the Saudis are said to have shared intelligence with the US and monitored potential risks posed by Iranian-supported militant factions in Yemen.

In response, Israel retaliated by targeting Isfahan, a city of strategic significance that has several crucial facilities, such as military research and development centers and bases. In addition, Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant is situated in the neighbouring city of Natanz. The strike was more limited than anticipated, indicating a deliberate effort to discourage Iran without escalating the situation.

Israel was warned by Iran against launching a response. Major General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, claimed on state television that Iran’s retaliatory measures would be “significantly more extensive” than the assault if Israel retaliates. Washington was also cautioned by Iran that support for Israeli retaliation could result in the targeting of American bases.

As the likelihood of a spillover conflict in the Middle East grows, an increasing number of Western and Middle Eastern nations are concerned about what’s to come. Another conflict in the Middle East is something that ‘we cannot afford’ as UN Security Council Secretary Antonio Guterres stated.

The escalation between Iran and Israel poses a regional threat of destabilisation to an already unstable area. Israel is currently dealing with the violence emerging from Iran-backed militia groups along its border, including Hezbollah; therefore, an actual confrontation would be a very challenging conflict to manage.

The escalation between Iran and Israel presents also diplomatic challenges that have the potential to disrupt regional stability and international relations. The participation of nations including France, Jordan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia adds a layer of complexity to the attempts aimed at mitigating tensions and achieving a peaceful resolution.

To sum up, further escalation of the tensions between the two states and the failure of diplomatic negotiations to defuse it could have additional repercussions for regional security. Amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Middle East is already affected by serious unrest, including attacks and counterattacks in Iraq involving the US, and confrontations in Syria and Lebanon.