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Iran Attacks Israel: What's Next?

Updated: Apr 23

The geopolitical landscape shifted dramatically on April 14, after Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel. The largest drone swarm in history was sent to Israel from Iran, marking a massive escalation in regional tensions. The Middle East has long been a battleground for major powers, notably the United States and Iran, but last nights attack was truly unprecedented.

On April 1, Israel launched a precision missile strike on Iran's Consulate in Damascus, killing 7 members of IRGC forces, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the highest-ranking commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force (IRGC-QF) in Lebanon and Syria. Since then, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials have vowed revenge against Israel.

On March 26, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, Islamic Jihad and Iraqis travelled to Tehran, where they discussed strategy and received instructions. It was expected then that a few days after Ramadan, the conflict would escalate. Meanwhile, Iran developed new drones resembling the Iranian Shahid drones, which after testing 4 weeks ago are now operational. As such, Iran's combat tactic options have significantly increased and are still increasing. 

As a result, Iran can use a missile arsenal, stationed in its western provinces, which reaches Israel in only a couple of minutes. This is what we witnessed last night.

Israeli officials say Iran launched 185 drones and 36 cruise missiles. Most of the launches were from Iran, though a small portion came from Iraq and Yemen. Iran also launched 110 surface-to-surface missiles. According to intelligence sources, Iranian missiles were equipped with the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system.

Initially, it was anticipated that Iran might provoke attacks on Gulf states to pressure them into demanding a US withdrawal. However, events unfolded differently. In a preemptive move, US partners in the region chose to restrict their territories from being used by the US, effectively sidelining America's direct involvement. This strategic decision by Gulf states underscores a clear desire to avoid becoming the centre of a proxy war.

Israel, known for its robust air defence systems like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow, is well-prepared to counter such multi-directional threats. The Israeli Air Force is also well-trained and equipped to engage in high-risk operations. Additionally, the UK, US and Jordan assisted with the drone and missile interceptions last night.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Force, has announced that Israel successfully intercepted 99% of the threats launched by Iran tonight, marking a significant strategic victory. He reported that none of the 170 "suicide" drones and only 25 of the 30 land-attack cruise missiles penetrated Israeli airspace, with the latter being shot down by the Israeli Air Force. Additionally, out of 120 medium-range ballistic missiles, only a few impacted Israel, striking the Nevatim Airbase in the Negev Desert. Although this caused minor infrastructure damage, the base remains operational and is preparing to receive the third squadron of F-35Is that have been actively conducting interceptions tonight.

Israel's defence against last night's missile and drone attack from Iran is estimated to have cost them over $1.3 billion. This includes expenses for jet fuel, surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, and other military equipment utilized by the Israeli Air Defense Array. Notably, the cost of a single "Arrow 3" hypersonic anti-ballistic missile is estimated to be between $5 million and $20 million.

To keep up the pressure, Iran is expected to continue enhancing its influence and capabilities in the region. Iran would bolster military and logistical support to its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and potentially extend into the Palestinian territories. Additionally, Iran might seek to deepen its strategic ties with countries like Algeria and nations in Africa's Sahel region, alongside advancing its military cooperation with Russia. An overarching goal remains the gradual progression towards developing nuclear weapons capabilities, a point of significant international tension.

The United States, with its strategic interests in the region and alliances, particularly Israel, would likely continue its efforts to prevent any escalation. They will work through diplomatic channels, look at possible sanctions, and maintaining a strategic military presence in the region. Achieving their aims will involve communications with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Türkiye to influence Teheran. 

In addition to all of this, Iran has repeatedly proposed a ceasefire in Gaza. Accepting such a ceasefire would signal that the US's ability to protect its core interests, which include Israel and freedom of navigation in the region's waterways, is diminishing. Alongside this, a ceasefire will give space and time for Hamas to reorganise and plan new strategy.

If the US were to prove its power in the region and pursue military intervention in support of Israel it would certainly exacerbate tensions. American bases would be prime targets for Iranian retaliation. Such a scenario would likely compel Gulf Arab states to distance themselves from the US to avoid Iranian reprisals, further weakening US influence. escalation could seriously undermine America's role as deterrent and protector. 

In response to the escalating conflict with Israel, Iran's Ministry of Defense has broadened its strategic horizons. It has initiated talks with China and North Korea, aiming to expand the scope of military cooperation. These discussions are particularly focused on enhancing Iran's military capabilities and logistical support during its confrontation with Israel.

Iran's outreach to China and North Korea signals a strategic manoeuvre to solidify its defence infrastructure and international alliances. By aligning with nations that also have strained relations with Western powers, Iran is attempting to forge a coalition capable of countering the influence of Western nations.

Likewise, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran has asked all its regional diplomatic partners, including Afghanistan, to cut off all diplomatic cooperation with Jordan.

According to intelligence sources Russia cooperated with Iran's air force in the attack aiding with about 85 missiles and a set of cyber operations. Before this incident, Russia had already been engaging with Iran and North Korea as major military suppliers following its invasion of Ukraine. These relationships have provided Moscow with crucial support in bolstering its military capabilities amidst international sanctions and global isolation. 

In response to all of this, Israel is calling for aid from its Western allies. Israel’s call on the West has grounds for a couple of reasons. Principally, maintaining internal stability, as engaging in a conflict with Iran could potentially unite the country under a common cause and divert public attention from domestic issues. This will strengthen Netanyahu's position as a leader during a time of immense political and social division in Israel, outside of their war with Iran. 

However, Israel's traditional alliances in the West have shown signs of strain. Criticism over its policies towards Palestinians and other regional actions has led to a cooling of relations with key Western countries. An attack by Iran, Israel might calculate, could revitalise these alliances and compel Western nations to lend their support against a common adversary, thereby reinforcing Israel's strategic importance to the West.

It's possible Israel's strategy is to draw its Western allies more deeply into Middle Eastern affairs. By escalating tensions with Iran, Israel could be aiming to create a scenario that requires Western intervention, ensuring continued military and diplomatic support from its traditional allies.

Three days ago, on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said: "Today I made clear to Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian that Iran must not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict," following threats made by Iran toward Israel. Despite strained relations, the West are well aware of the need to continue their traditional role in supporting Israel if they are to retain their power in the region.  

In Iran, the attack on Israel created unprecedented panic among civilians. The Iranian currency is in freefall and at an all-time low, the Iranians joined into enormous queues for petrol, and there are reports that shops and supermarkets were raided throughout the night. There is real fear in Iran as Iranians anticipate Israel's response.

Iran’s attack has had the knock-on effect of strengthening Israel’s defence reputation in the world and has worked to unify Israel and the Western countries that support them. It has also worked to create clear alliances between Israel and certain Arab states including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the former of which intercepted some of the Iranian missiles. Israeli journalist Yoseph Haddad has also reported that Saudi Arabia intercepted some missiles but these reports have not been corroborated.

Looking ahead, there is a high probability Israel will retaliate. The severity of Israel's response is yet to be seen, and whether the US gets involved or not, we don't know. The US is working to avoid direct conflict, likely for fear of an oil shock in an election year. 

President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States would neither participate in nor support offensive actions against Iran. However, some military intelligence sources are calling for Israel to use this opportunity to destroy Iran's underground Natanz and Fordo nuclear enrichment facilities, therefore obstructing Iran from making nuclear weapons. Escalation is certainly on the cards. 

In response to this, Iran’s mission to the UN stated: “The matter can be deemed concluded. However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe…U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

In the meantime, Israel will persist in its efforts to target Hezbollah and disrupt its communication lines with Iran. This is ultimately because Israel's strategic goal is to push the conflict's buffer zone out of northern Israel and into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah poses a long-term security challenge for Israel, requiring a more direct confrontation with Hezbollah to ensure the safety and security of its northern borders. Israel's desire for a buffer zone may well initiate an Israeli broader military operation in Lebanon, which could last a few months.

And amongst all of this, the situation in Gaza remains a sore point for Israel on the international stage. With recent announcements from four European countries regarding the recognition of Palestine, Israel is under increased scrutiny for its actions in the area. By shifting the focus to a larger conflict with Iran, Israel may seek to divert international attention away from its policies in Gaza and away from the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Image: Government Press Office/via Flickr

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