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Iran-Israel Conflict: A Brief
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By Dr. Sohail Mahmood 

On April 13, 2024, Iran launched a wave of over 300 drones and missiles against Israel. Nearly all of the missiles and drones were shot down before reaching the country. Iran's most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Hezbollah also fired rockets at an Israeli base on April 13, 2024. Israel struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on April 14, 2024. Yemen's Houthis, who had been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in support of the Palestinians, called Iran's attack legitimate.[1]  Iran's attack on Israel was expected as it was a response to an earlier Israeli attack on an Iranian diplomatic complex in Damascus, Syria on April 1, 2024. That attack killed seven members of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two senior commanders, and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran's proxies, triggered by the war in Gaza.[2] On April 14, 2024, the IRGC seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important energy shipping routes, highlighting the risks to the world economy of a wider regional war.

President Biden condemned Iran’s attacks and pressed for a diplomatic response in a bid to head off further military escalation. Israel's foreign minister said a retaliatory attack against Iran is possible. Iran's president warned of “a decisive and much stronger response” if Israel retaliates against Iran.[3] President Biden is now seeking to avoid further escalation leading to a wider war after Israel’s successful defense. He told Israel that the Israeli defense “constituted a major strategic victory that might not require another round of retaliation.” [4]

It is not immediately clear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel will agree to leave it at that was. Earlier, the Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz made his military’s intentions clear on April 14, 2024: “We will exact a price in Iran, in the manner and at the time that is right for us.”.[5]  Abubakr Al-Shamahi, in his article “Iran, Israel and the Potential for Miscalculation” published on Aljazeera on April 18, 2024, aptly argued that: [6]

What comes next? There is a high chance that Israel will respond militarily in some capacity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long projected himself as a security hawk and the man to keep Iran in its place, is unlikely to allow a direct attack from Iran go without a response...The Biden administration likely knows that Israel will attack – United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Cameron has already admitted as much – but it will be putting pressure on Netanyahu to keep its retaliation limited and then cross its fingers that Iran does not respond and everyone goes back to the cold proxy war that Israel and Iran have participated in for years.t sounds as if everyone – barring, perhaps, some of the more messianic figures in the Israeli government – wants to avoid an all-out war that would be devastating for all involved and the wider region. But that does not mean that each side doesn’t have its own desired outcomes, all of which could potentially lead to the conflict that they’re all eager to avoid. Israel wants to re-establish its deterrence and wants to have the last word. Iran does not want to be seen as weak or fail to respond to escalating Israeli attacks. The potential for miscalculation. Even if each side wants only that and not a full-fledged conflict, miscalculations happen, and best-laid plans can often go awry.

Undoubtedly, any Israeli attack on Iran will lead to a counterattack. The fear is that this tit-for-tat conflict can cause grave miscalculations on either side. The escalations spiral can certainly lead to an outright war between Iran and Israel. Whenever things can go wrong, they are apt to go wrong. Also, the law of unexpected consequences kicks into the equation.  It has happened many times before in world history. Therefore, the hesitance by Israel to attack Iran is both proud and wise. But despite the expectation of an imminent direct Israeli attack on Iran, it hasn't yet happened for good reasons. Most importantly, there is immense international pressure on Israel over the conduct of its war in Gaza and beyond. The world leadership is well aware that Netanyahu considers Iran a mortal enemy. For years he had advocated a tough military line against Iran and has pushed the US for much harder action over the Iranian nuclear program, and Tehran’s backing for Hezbollah, Hamas, and other regional proxy groups. Meanwhile, the war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on October 7, has already spread to fronts with Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. The October 7 attack in which Israel says 1,200 were killed and 253 taken hostage. Many were later freed in Hamas-Israeli deals and about 100 hostages remain. In Gaza, at least 33,970 people have been killed and 76,770 wounded since Israel began its military offensive on Gaza on October 7. 2,2024.[7] Today, Gaza faces an immense and unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The United Nations says the population is on the brink of famine.[8]

Given the regional tensions, the rest of the world wants immediate de-escalation and has openly asked Israel to show restraint in its future actions. [9]

Israel also does not want and cannot afford a major conflict with Iran while still fighting a war in Gaza and skirmishing with Iranian proxies along its borders.[10]

Meanwhile, Western nations are weighing fresh sanctions against Iran in response to its unprecedented attack against Israel. The United States plans to impose new sanctions against Iran in the coming days, National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said, to “degrade Iran’s military capacity.” The European Union is also considering increased sanctions to “punish”  Irann for its attack and “help prevent future ones on Israel”. At the same time, it wants  Israel to “exercise restraint”.[11]

The other reason for Israeli Premier Netanyahu's delay is domestic where there is considerable internal discontent with the government.

Most probably, the coming attack on Iran will be symbolic, and the targets will not be widespread. However, the greater problem lies in the uncertainty that these attacks will bring into the entire region. The escalations may spin out of control. The US can certainly do more to minimize the cycles of tit-for-tat retaliations that might be coming our way. Given the tense situation, Israeli attacks on Iran will be limited to just symbolism but then Iran will also be forced to retaliate. Undoubtedly, the instability in the region will thereby increase. It is now incumbent on the US, Britain, and France who all helped Israel fend off the Iranian attacks to jointly act to de-escalate the tensions in the region The threat of another war in the Middle East foes and dragging in the US has put the region on edge, The threat has triggered calls for restraint from global powers and Arab nations to avoid further escalation. Russia, China, France, and Germany, as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, urged restraint on April 14, 2024.

"We will do everything to stop a further escalation," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to China. "We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way."[12]

The Biden administration is looking to de-escalate tensions in the region. The US will continue to help Israel defend itself but does not seek a wider war in the region. President Biden has wisely indicated to Israel that the US won’t participate in any future Israeli attack on Iran, as it would create the dreaded escalation.[13]

Meanwhile, two senior Israeli ministers signaled on April 14, 2024y that retaliation by Israel is not imminent and it would not act alone.

"We will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us," centrist minister Benny Gantz said ahead of a war cabinet meeting.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance against " this grave threat by Iran which is threatening to mount nuclear explosives on these missiles, which could be an extremely grave threat," he said. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.[14]

Iranian Army Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that "our response will be much larger than tonight's military action if Israel retaliates against Iran" and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.[15]

The Iranian attack on Israel was unprecedented but knowing the country's formidable defense capabilities, it did not seek any genuine devastation in Israel. The attack was largely meant for domestic consumption as the Islamic regime had to save face after vows of revenge while simultaneously avoiding a major new war.

It was argued that Iran had never directly attacked Israel in the past for good reason. It was aware of the retaliation capacity of Israel backed by the US. Therefore, Iran, as before, would only attack Israel through its regional proxies like Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis. Iran was not seeking a wider regional war, as before. Meanwhile, Israel was losing the greater Gaza war even when it was winning the battles in the last six months and counting. The Iranian leadership is aware that a direct attack on Israel will shift the focus of the war which will hurt the Gaza cause. More importantly, it doesn't have to directly confront Israel when it doesn't have to and pay a huge cost in such a misadventure. The Iranian leadership was wise and pragmatic and knew its limitations. However, Iran had somehow to avenge the loss from the earlier Damascus attack. Given the domestic pressure to avoid the killings of IRGC leadership suffered in Damascus, it was expected to only carry out limited missile attacks through Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the Houthis based in Yemen. Such attacks would have been very carefully calculated to strike only some military targets and avoid civilian casualties as Iran's leadership had stated openly that it wasn't in any hurry to take revenge for the Damascus losses suffered by the IRGC. Meanwhile, the Biden administration displayed tough rhetoric because of domestic pressure, especially from the Republican party, which accuses it of weakness. In sum, it was argued that we could not expect a regional confrontation as such it does not suit anyone, neither Iran nor Israel and certainly not the US. Nor anyone else, including China and Russia, adversaries of the US. Therefore, a direct Iranian attack on Israel wasn’t supposed to happen. But Iran did directly attack Israel and in doing so it has now crossed a red line. This attack was a paradigm shift in the Middle East as it was the first time Iran had directly attacked Israel from Iranian territory. The strikes have now set up a direct military confrontation between the two countries. Although the attack achieved little in military terms, its range “went well beyond the small-bore tit-for-tat shadow war between Iran and Israel in recent years, crossing a red line by firing weapons from Iranian territory into Israeli territory. Had defenses not held, scores or hundreds could have been killed.”[16] The retaliation was seen as a political success in Iran and its friends worldwide.

Also, for the first time, American, British, and French forces helped Israel thwart the aerial projectiles fired by Iran.

Earlier, the European Union and Britain strongly condemned the Iranian attack. Also as expected, the Muslim world largely didn’t do it. Turkey also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region. Arab states Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint on April 14, 204.[17] No one outrightly supported Iran in its latest actions.

Earlier, the Group of Seven leaders met on April 14, 2024, to discuss the attack.

The U.N. Security Council also met on April 14, 2024, after Israel’s ambassador asked it to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. On April 16, 2024, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned that an Israeli attack would be met with a “severe, extensive, and painful response.” [18]

The commander of the IRGC warned that any retaliation by Israel would draw an even more forceful response. Iran’s mission to the United Nations warned the United States to stay away from its conflict with Israel. [19]

Undoubtedly, there is great regional tension at the moment, but it can be curtailed as there is a path to regional peace. Only a two-state solution that establishes an independent sovereign Palestine can bring peace to the Middle East region. Nothing else can work. However, it won’t happen as the US, Britain, and France won’t pressure Israel to do it. Therefore, we are surely heading for more regional tensions and instability. Meanwhile, the hapless Palestinians will suffer even more. That is most unfortunate and an act of sheer injustice. We can only hope it is otherwise.

Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an Independent Political Analyst based in Chapel Hill NC


[1] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/

[2] “Israel's War Cabinet Meets to Discuss Response to Iran Attack: Live Updates”, Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2024, https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/israel-iran-strikes-live-coverage, and “Forces intercepted nearly all 300 Iranian drones and missiles, Israel says”, Washington Post, April 14, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/04/14/israel-iran-attack-war-drones-missiles-news/; Abubakr Al-Shamahi,  “Iran, Israel and the potential for miscalculation” Aljazeera,  April 18, 2024, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/18/iran-israel-potential-miscalculation-analysis

[3] “Israel's War Cabinet Meets to Discuss Response to Iran Attack: Live Updates”, Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2024, https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/israel-iran-strikes-live-coverage

[4] “ Forces intercepted nearly all 300 Iranian drones and missiles, Israel says”, Washington Post, April 14, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/04/14/israel-iran-attack-war-drones-missiles-news/, Peter Baker, Biden Seeks to Head Off Escalation After Israel’s Successful Defense, New York Times, April 14, 2024

[5] “Forces intercepted nearly all 300 Iranian drones and missiles, Israel says”, Washington Post, April 14, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/04/14/israel-iran-attack-war-drones-missiles-news/,

[6] Abubakr Al-Shamahi,  “Iran, Israel and the potential for miscalculation”, Aljazeera,  April 18, 2024, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/18/iran-israel-potential-miscalculation-analysis

[7]At least 33,970 Palestinians have been killed and 76,770 wounded in Israel’s military offensive on Gaza since 7 October”, The Guardian, April 18, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2024/apr/18/middle-east-crisis-israel-gaza-hamas-qatar-latest-news

[8] Matthew Mpoke Bigg, “Middle East Crisis: Israel’s Conflict with Iran Overshadows Fighting in Gaza”, New York Times, April 17, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/04/17/world/iran-israel-gaza-war-news

[9] Ronen BergmanIsabel KershnerJulian E. Barnes and Russell Goldman, “Middle East Crisis: Israel ponders a response to Iran’s attack, with each choice a risk”, New York Times, April 17, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/04/17/world/iran-israel-gaza-war-news

[10][10] Ronen BergmanIsabel KershnerJulian E. Barnes and Russell Goldman, “Middle East Crisis: , https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/04/17/world/iran-israel-gaza-war-news

[11] EU foreign policy chief warns 'we are on the edge' of a regional war in the Middle East, The Guardian, April 18, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2024/apr/18/middle-east-crisis-israel-gaza-hamas-qatar-latest-news

[12] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/

[13] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “The US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/, and “ Forces intercepted nearly all 300 Iranian drones and missiles, Israel says”, Washington Post, April 14, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/04/14/israel-iran-attack-war-drones-missiles-news/,

[14] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/

[15] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/

[16] Peter Baker, “Biden Seeks to Head Off Escalation After Israel’s Successful Defense”, New York Times, April 14, 2024

[17] James MackenzieParisa Hafezi and Jeff Mason, “US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says”, Reuters, April 14, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-netanyahu-vows-victory-after-iran-strikes-fears-wider-conflict-grow-2024-04-14/

[18]Adam Pourahmadi and Mostafa Salem,” Iran’s president warns of a severe and painful response if its "interests" are targeted”,  CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/israel-hamas-war-gaza-news-04-16-24/h_11eb1fb37b6fa9b96dc51679537692ba

[19] “Forces intercepted nearly all 300 Iranian drones and missiles, Israel says”, Washington Post, April 14, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/04/14/israel-iran-attack-war-drones-missiles-news/

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