Geopolitics Military Affairs

Escalation between Israel and Iran in the context of the Gaza conflict: Regional war on the horizon?

Tomáš Iliev

On April 1, 2024, Israel destroyed one of the buildings of the Iranian embassy in Damascus. The attack left 16 people dead behind. Three senior commanders of the IRGC and at least four members of the Quds forces were eliminated during the attack. Ever since this event, Damascus had been promising revenge on Israel. On the other hand, even before the attack, Israeli officials claimed that the IDF was prepared to repel any attack and was ready to protect Israeli citizens against the aggression. 

In response, on April 13, 2024, Iran attacked Israel directly with more than 300 drones and missiles. Despite this number of weapons used, no casualties were reported from Israel. Israel was not left alone in defending its territory. The US, Great Britain and Jordan helped Israel to destroy rockets and drones approaching its territory from Iran. Moreover, the UAE and Saudi Arabia provided Israel with vital intelligence, which allowed the Jewish state to be ready for the Iranian attack.

As a retaliation for Iran´s attack, Israel launched missiles into Iran on April 19, 2024. Little has been known about the counter-strike of Israel, which, according to sources, hit targets near the city of Ishafan, where Iranian nuclear facilities and military complexes are situated. However, according to the latest news, the nuclear facility was not hit or damaged. The European Union, Great Britain, the USA and other international partners of Israel condemned the attack on Israel. They also called for peace and stability in the situation in the Middle East after Israeli retaliatory strikes on Iran. The tensions between Iran and Israel have sharpened in the time when world leaders are calling on Israel and Hamas to stop the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip – a conflict that also fuels tensions between the countries in the Middle East. 

While many fear an escalation of this conflict, it is essential to bear in mind that neither Israel nor Iran is interested in an open, full-scale conflict which would throw the whole region into chaos. The regime in Iran has been facing growing disappointment from the side of its citizens due to the poor socio-economic situation in the country. Moreover, human rights have been constantly violated by the Tehran authorities. Therefore, the Iranian government uses Israel and the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip to redirect the attention of its citizens toward external enemies. Iranian officials have many times repeated that Saturday’s attack was the response to Israeli bombardment, and they do not wish to continue in such actions.

Also, Israel is in a challenging situation where it seeks to destroy Hamas and finish the ongoing operations in the Gaza Strip. In addition, many hostages are still not home, and the pressure on Netanyahu to bring them back increases daily. Israeli society is not satisfied with the situation. However, the events from October 7 allowed Netanyahu to enforce its hawkish style of politics and behaviour. However, Israeli society is very sensitive to additional casualties and therefore, Netanyahu cannot afford to launch a full-scale war with Iran.

Last but not least, Israel and Iran have to take the presence of the US in the region into account. The Iranian attack on Israel would provoke the US to increase its activity against the Iranian military objects in the Middle East. This action could pose a significant threat to the survival of the Iranian regime. On the other hand, the US warns Israel to be very sensitive in deciding about its reaction to the Iranian air attack. Therefore, the US presence in the region and its intentions do not favour the scenario of a potential full-scale war between Iran and Israel.

The latest events stem from an escalation in the Middle Eastern region, which could be dated back to last year. On October 7, 2023, more than one thousand militants from Hamas crossed a border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israel was caught unprepared, and due to this fact, more than 1200 people were killed. Moreover, Hamas kidnapped more than 200 people. Shortly after, the IDF stepped into the Gaza Strip and launched an operation focused on eradicating the Hamas from Palestine. Israeli military operation does not avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, and therefore, strong criticism from the ranks of Israeli allies and opponents could be heard. Iran uses this situation as a reason for its lasting support of pro-Iranian proxies in countries like Lebanon, Syria or Yemen. However, the bombardment of the Iranian consulate and subsequent Iranian attack launched a new chapter of this conflict, where both states attacked each other directly.

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