Iran-Israel Aerial Strike Escalates Conflict in the Middle East

Photo via Al Jazeera

***

On April 13, at around 4:00 PM EST, Iran launched an unprecedented strike on Israeli territory in response to the suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria. This attack killed an Iranian military commander, as well as several other senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Five days later, Israel rang true on its vow to strike back, firing missiles into Iran, Syria, and Iraq.

During the five-hour-long aerial attack—named Operation True Promise—Iran deployed over 120 ballistic missiles, 170 drones, and more than 30 cruise missiles, aiming at military targets. Prior to the missile barrage, Iran gave both Israel and the U.S. warning and ample time to prepare. The Israeli military, with assistance from the U.S., UK, France, and Jordan, intercepted the majority of projectiles, with only five missiles getting through and causing minor infrastructure damage on military sites. 

Images via Al Jazeera. Source.

Iran’s confrontation must be contextualized within the larger conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, as well as the domestic factors at play within Iran. Since October 7, tensions between Israel and its bordering Arab nations have dramatically heightened as the death toll of Israeli military operations in Gaza have surpassed 34,000 casualties. Israeli-Iranian relations have long been rocky, manifesting in an ongoing proxy war with state-funded terrorism on both sides. However, the direct confrontation between the two governments this month via aerial strikes is new.  

Considering the nature of the strike, mainly its focus on military bases and the warning given beforehand, it is likely that the choice to attack served a rhetorical purpose. For one, the Iranian government must present a certain image to satisfy its population and send a message to opponents that it will not hesitate to strike back. There were also likely strategic motivations at play: Iran was able to test out a range of weaponry against Israel’s defenses and Western support.  The bottom line is that Iran’s motivations in performing an aerial attack with an emphasis on spectacle but minor destruction were more likely to promote deterrence, rather than further escalation of conflict. 

Despite the possible intentions of Iranian forces, on the evening of April 18th, Israel launched a counter-attack against the recommendations of its allies who are looking to avoid a wider regional conflict. Specific details of the attack are scarce, and both Iranian and Israeli officials have not commented much on the situation. In a recent meeting with senior military leaders in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed the discussion of both the Iranian strike and the Israeli retaliation. As of now, it is looking as though Iranian officials are seeking to de-escalate tensions by providing as little acknowledgment of the strike as possible. 

While Israel has not officially commented on the attack, the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, tweeted a Hebrew slang word that literally translates to “scarecrow,” meaning “weak” or “lame.” This dismissal of the operation by an Israeli minister caused an uproar within Netanyahu’s cabinet and highlighted growing internal divisions within the Israeli government. 

Looking forward, it is important to assess the different interests at play within the involved parties of the conflict. For Israel, a war with Iran and its proxies could be devastating, but it could also serve other purposes. Primarily, a larger regional conflict would divert attention from the raging humanitarian crisis occurring in Gaza as well as the advancing ground operation in Rafah. Additionally, Netanyahu has a vested interest in prolonging wartime conditions to preserve his own political power. 

On the other hand, Western allies of Israel have nothing to gain from another regional war in the Middle East. Fadi Quran, a member of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian policy network, says: “There are two scenarios: one is that American decision-makers realize that Netanyahu and his war cabinet are pulling NATO into a regional war with Iran, which is not in the interests of the U.S. or EU, and double down with massive pressure on Netanyahu to force a ceasefire in Gaza. The second scenario is that Netanyahu’s gamble with a regional war succeeds and Western leaders are cornered into allowing Israel to continue using starvation as a tactic in Gaza, attack Rafah and pull the region closer to the abyss.”

It is clear that Iran is not looking for war, but as the IDF continues to destroy Gaza and its population, proxy groups like Hezbollah and the Houthis that are funded by Iran are starting to become a much larger threat to Israel. The potential devastation of full-fledged conflict between Israel and Iran would be catastrophic for all parties, but the question of whether they will be able to settle remains.