The shadow war between Iran and Israel has been exposed. What happens next?

AP , Monday 15 Apr 2024

Iran’s unprecedented retaliatory attack on Israel early Sunday marked a change in approach for Tehran. All eyes are now on whether Israel chooses to take further military action, while Washington seeks diplomatic measures instead to ease regional tensions.

The United Nations Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the Middle East at UN headqu
The United Nations Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York City on April 14, 2024. AFP

 

Iran says the attack was in response to an Israeli airstrike that destroyed what Iran says were consular offices in Syria and killed two generals with its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard earlier this month.

Israel said almost all the over 300 drones and missiles launched overnight by Iran were shot down by its anti-missile defence system, backed by the U.S. and Britain. The reported casualty was a wounded girl in southern Israel, and a missile struck an Israeli airbase, causing light damage.

An American source told ABC News that five Iranian missiles struck Israel's Nevatim Airbase, causing damage to the main runway, a C-130 transport aircraft, and several storage facilities.

The damage is not negligible but significantly less than what Iran intended to do.

The chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard called the operation successful.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said in a speech to ambassadors and diplomatic mission representatives in Tehran, “The Iranian military operation against Israel was limited and aimed at squadrons of F-35 aircraft. The Israeli attack on our consulate violates international laws and treaties, and we will not hesitate to defend our interests in the face of any attack."

Iran stressed that it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus attack, not civilians or “economic areas.”

Iran has managed to strike a balance between retaliating publicly for the strike in Damascus and avoiding provoking further Israeli military action at least initially, which could lead to a much wider conflict, said Mona Yacoubian, vice president of the Middle East and North Africa Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

“Both (Iran and Israel) are able at this point to claim victory and step down off the precipice, particularly since there were no Israeli civilians killed,” Yacoubian said.

The world was still waiting, however, for the result of an Israeli War Cabinet meeting on Sunday. Israeli hard-liners have pushed for a response, but others have suggested restraint, saying Israel should focus on strengthening budding ties with Arab partners.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said Benny Gantz, a member of the War Cabinet.

Analysts say Iran sent a message that it would be willing to escalate and change its rules of engagement in its shadow war with Israel.

“It’s a warning shot, saying that if Israel breaks the rules, there are consequences,” said Magnus Ranstorp, strategic adviser at the Swedish Defense University.

Iran’s attack has further stoked fears of the war in Gaza causing regional havoc.

But Iran maintains that it does not seek all-out war across the region. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Iran has “no intention of continuing defensive operations” at this point unless it is attacked.

After Israel began its offensive in Gaza, Iran-backed groups were involved militarily while Tehran sat on the sidelines. Lebanon’s Hezbollah group fired rockets into northern Israel. Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked Western ships on the Red Sea. An umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militias attacked U.S. military positions in Iraq and Syria.

Now, Tehran is “willing to up the ante” without relying on proxies, said the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, Maha Yahya.

“They gave enough warning that this was coming, and I think they knew that they (the drones and missiles) would be brought down before they reached Israeli territory,” Yahya said.

She also noted that the recent mounting pressure on Israel over its conduct in Gaza has now shifted to deescalating regional tensions instead.

Yacoubian says Washington has a critical role to play in avoiding further escalations.

Israel taking further military action does not seem popular among its allies including the United States, said Eldad Shavit, who heads the Israel-U.S. Research Program at Israeli think tank the Institute for National Security Studies.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told NBC that President Joe Biden does not want an escalation in the regional conflict or a “wider war” with Iran, and is “working on the diplomatic side of this personally.”

Urgent meetings of the G7 — the informal gathering of industrialized countries that includes the United States, United Kingdom, and France — and the U.N. Security Council were being held Sunday.

G7 meeting participants in a statement unanimously condemned Iran's attack, saying “We stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives.”

 

* This story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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