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Tensions Escalate Between Iran And Israel As Global Concerns Mount – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Tensions Escalate Between Iran and Israel as Global Concerns Mount

Defiance of international laws has become a norm even by smaller and middle powers which has further emboldened the non-state actors in the bargain

Escalating Tensions: Iran’s Anniversary Amidst Heightened Geopolitical Risks

As Iran celebrated its 45th anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic Republic two things have not abated one is the spate of Western sanctions on Iran and the second is the mutually assured destruction syndrome with Israel. Low-intensity, clandestine attacks on strategic assets and grey zone warfare have continued apace by both sides. But rhetoric is no longer being expressed in words alone. The threat of increasing wider conflagration in the region is becoming real.

Hitherto Iran has been well ensconced with plausible deniability for the actions of its major strategic offshoots or network partners in Houthis (Yemen); Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria among others. This asymmetric strategic advantage has enabled Tehran to exercise and enhance its influence in the Middle East and beyond while becoming an indispensable and powerful “Joker’ in the Middle East pack as Andrey Kortunov alluded to.

In the wake of the 7 October 2023 terror attacks by Hamas and the killing of nearly 1,200 civilians with over 250 hostages, the Israeli response to destroy Hamas for good has met with limited success. But the disproportionate response and continued bombings have only resulted in over 35,000 Palestinian civilian casualties, huge injuries and excessive civilian strife due to the prevention of humanitarian assistance from going into Gaza which has brought the international community and institutions’ patience to the brink.

Most countries faced large-scale demonstrations against the continuing plight of Palestinians and the reportage from the ground by various agencies which impacted their assessments. Finally, a moribund UNSC passed a resolution UNSCR 2728 (25 March) calling for immediate ceasefire, release of remaining hostages and uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid and assistance. As expected, it was denounced by an ever-so-intransigent and domestically discredited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. US after much indignation and public outcry abstained on the resolution for the first time to let it pass. However, to keep the carrot dangling, some of their interpreters called it a ‘non-binding‘ resolution yet again trying to row in two boats.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained that their vote “reaffirms the US position that a ceasefire of any duration come as part of an agreement to release hostages in Gaza.” But an enraged Bibi even cancelled a visit of his two ministers to Washington for discussion on his final assault against Hamas at the Rafah crossing, where nearly 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are said to be holed up.

During this war and even before, while many Arab countries were considering normalising ties with Israel in the Abraham Accords format the Iranians and Turkey became more sanguine for the Palestinian cause. Iranians fully supported the Hamas ideology and strategy as it corresponded with their thinking and resolve about the Zionist state and its iron-clad benefactor – the Americans. No doubt the war this time has lasted this long as both sides are engaged with their heart and soul into it. It seems to be a ‘now or never’ fight.

However pragmatic and sanction embattled Iranians did not want to get directly involved in the Hamas war. Intermittent responses and minor escalations continued by all sides. The defeat of Hamas is not a strategic defeat for Iran but their continuation of war and survival of Hamas is already a strategic defeat for Israel. Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predicament and threat to his political survival are very well known and understood which have tended to adversely impact the Israeli interests and credibility beyond borders as he faces continued demonstrations at home. Given the international pressure in Gaza whether the opening of another front in Lebanon or Syria is a good strategy only time will tell.

Global strategy to deal with the ongoing Israel-Hamas was wrongly based on the fear factor. The fear of this war going beyond the localised narrow Gaza terrain dictated all efforts and concerns by most players to somehow prevail upon and contain the fallout and expansion into a wider regional conflict which would be disastrous by all counts for the region and the world.

However, no one was looking at the germane issue due to their own strategic and convenient interests which is the underlying and unresolved Palestinian cause which has come in prominence once again both at the Arab street and the global slate. Palestinians want a vote at the UNSC to recognise them as a full state and member of the UN. But West Asia is a tinder box and even a small light could flare up including an accidental rub. We have probably reached that point.

On 2 April 2024, alleged Israeli precision missile strikes took out the consular section of the Iranian embassy in Damascus killing General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Tehran believed he was the target of the attack. Several others were killed too. The Iranian Ambassador escaped but said that the response would be ‘harsh’. Israelis as usual refused to comment and so did the Americans stating that they could not divulge if the US was informed of this operation. However, they have advised the Iranians not to escalate by retaliation at this time.

Meanwhile, Israel has continued to take down Iran-backed Hezbollah assets in Lebanon and Syria keeping the conflict to sub-optimal levels. Claiming that it had averted the transfer of advanced weapons to the West Bank and Hamas, Israel, last week, carried out its deadliest strikes in months on northern Syria’s Aleppo province and killed a senior Hezbollah fighter in Lebanon. It has also regularly struck the airports in Aleppo and Damascus to derail Iran’s weapons transfers to its proxies.

Hezbollah from all accounts is said to be the strongest of the three Hs even as the Houthis have been able to disrupt global shipping through attacks on commercial shipping especially aligned to US and Israel, imposing heavy costs on the global maritime trade, purportedly in support of Hamas and Palestinian cause.

IS-KP has also become rejuvenated and carried out lethal attacks against Iranian and Russian targets recently killing hundreds of people. Could this attack be passed as yet another one is an open question? If that indeed is the case then a major escalation could be averted.

While the Russians have called for a UNSC meeting on the alleged Israeli strikes on the Iranian mission in Damascus, the Iranian response and its quantum and timing will remain a major cause of concern. Like that of the killing of General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq some kind of below-threshold attacks by Iranian proxies against US bases were witnessed. So far observers believe that Tehran was keeping the Hezbollah out of orbit but whether they would try to fully activate all fronts remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that Iran reserves the right to retaliate and will determine the nature of its response to the aggression. If indeed the war escalates regional and global mayhem and devastation will follow, which for the current fractured global order would be difficult to contain. Defiance of international laws has become a norm even by smaller and middle powers which has further emboldened the non-state actors in the bargain. In a scenario like this one can only hope for sanity to prevail before it is too late.

Anil Trigunayat is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in First Post. as ‘Iran and Israel on a war path as world watches uneasily‘ on March 21, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Mansi Garg, a researcher at IMPRI.

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