20 Giugno 2024
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Iran-Israel escalation?

Today, we shed light on the regional implication of the April 14 Iranian strike towards Israel.
On the night between Saturday, April 13, and Sunday, April 14, for the first time in history, Iran hit Israeli territory, marking a change of pace in the Middle East conflict that began on October 7. After days of tensions that followed the alleged Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1, last weekend Tehran responded with about 320 drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles launched against Israeli skies. Israel successfully intercepted about 99% of them, with only a few hitting the ground, and causing little damage (only one person has been seriously injured). Apprehension between the two countries has rarely been so high. However, the confrontation does not affect the Tel Aviv-Tehran only, but involves – and worries – the entire region, as the next steps are unknown, and so is the impact that a further escalation could have on Gaza and beyond. How have different countries in the region and beyond reacted to the Saturday night attack?
Experts from the ISPI network discuss the regional implications of the Israel-Iran escalation.

Iran’s view
Sara Bazoobandi, Marie Curie Fellow, GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies; Associate Research Fellow, ISPI
“The attack was a successful experience for Iran. Not only it provided a unique opportunity for the Iranian government to test its warfare against Israel, but also it demonstrated Iran’s determination to take the crisis to a different level by directly attacking Israel. The extent of Israel’s response will be a key factor in shaping future events. The United States may indeed be keen on a de-escalation, but if a direct confrontation breaks out between Iran and Israel, it will not stand back and watch. Both Iran and Israel are seeking measures to demonstrate their own military edge and restore deterrence. However, the ultimate losers of this show of power are the people of the region, particularly the Iranians. Suffering under the weight of economic hardship exacerbated by government’s corruption and misguided policy choices from one side and sanctions from the other, after April 14, the Iranians will be looking anxiously to the country’s future in the hand of the country’s oppressive leaders.”

Israel’s view
Raphael S. Cohen, Director, Strategy and Doctrine Program, RAND Project AIR FORCE; Senior Political Scientist
“Right now, the question for the Israeli war cabinet is less whether Israel will respond to the Iranian strike, but how and when. Israeli leaders remain concerned that if they let such a widespread attack go unanswered, it would be an open invitation for Israel’s other adversaries to attempt similar attacks in the future. Moreover, Israeli officials are unlikely to believe Iranian statements that “the matter can be deemed concluded.” As long as the Iranian Quds Force continues to fund, train and equip proxies like Hezbollah, the Houthis and Hamas and, as long as those groups continue to strike Israeli territory, Israel will consider Iran as a combatant in the current conflict. And so, Israel believes it must respond in some form. The question though is what form the response takes. It is possible to imagine several responses, from cyberattacks and more aggressive targeting of Iranian operatives abroad, to a direct military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities. At the same time, a debate can occur on when such a strike could occur, if Israel would prefer to attack immediately, or if Israel will wait until the dust settles.”

The US’ view
Barbara Slavin, Distinguished Fellow, Middle East&North Africa, Stimson Centre
“From the start of the Gaza war, the Biden administration has been trying to keep the conflict from expanding in a way that would menace not only Israel, but US forces and other security partners in the region. This task is even more urgent in light of the Israeli killing of Iranian generals and the Iranian response. The key, as always, is to get a cease-fire in Gaza, free Israeli hostages and begin a process of reconstruction and political reform for the Palestinians. Otherwise, we will see continuing violence and threats of a wider war.”

Russia’s view
Chiara Lovotti, Research Fellow and Scientific Coordinator, Rome MED Dialogues
“Iran’s attack against Israel plays into Putin’s hands in several ways. First, it further distracts the world from Ukraine – at a crucial time of the war as Kyiv struggles against increased Russian aggressivity, and public opinions on Western support to Zelensky give signs of fatigue. Second, the spectre of an armed escalation in the Middle East hands the Kremlin’s propaganda new material to press its narrative on Western-led conflict management efforts in the region, described as inconsistent and ineffective. It shows that the West – primarily the US – is not able to bring about stability, nor to shield its allies. Consequently, the Middle East ticking bomb helps Putin asserting that there is an alternative to the West for those who are seeking it. The Ukraine war itself is part of a wider confrontation in which Russia is standing against Western norms and values while striving to offer the rest of world a different model: any failures to contain war in the Middle East will allow Putin to say just that.”

Italy’s view
Valeria Talbot, Head, MENA Centre, ISPI
“Italy, too, strongly fears a widening of the conflict that could have unpredictable consequences not only for the Middle East. Therefore, Rome joins the international chorus calling for Israel and Iran to tone down and avoid escalation while holding firm to its support for the Jewish State. Despite intense diplomatic activity, Italy alone cannot exert pressure on the parties involved. Rome needs to use its diplomatic leverage, especially in multilateral contexts, including the G7 of which it holds the rotating presidency, to shape concerted actions while preventing possible divisions from reducing their effectiveness.”

The Gulf’s view
Yasmine Farouk, Nonresident scholar, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
“Gulf foreign policies are stretched very thin after the April 15 attack because of the increasing tension between their indispensable strategic partnership with the US and a delicate détente with Iran in the Gulf. For Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, it is becoming arduous to shield themselves from potential Iranian attacks in the name of fighting Israel, while fulfilling their strategic choice of closer defense relations with the US and Israel. For Qatar, the Israeli instrumentalization of the Iranian counterattack is risking its strategic partnership with the US because of its close relations with both Hamas and Iran. Besides the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf countries are still resisting the American policy de facto pushing them into a with-us-or-against-us equation that includes being with Israel, while wanting to benefit from their détente with Iran to contain only the Iranian side of the military escalation. Domestic politics are consuming the Kuwaiti decision-makers. As for Oman, Western support for Israel is challenging the crucial Omani mediation efforts.”

Jordan’s view
Tuqa Nusairat, Director for Strategy, Operations, and Finance Rafik Hariri Center & Middle East programs, Atlantic Council
“Jordan’s public decision to intercept Iranian missiles and drones directed at Israel is rooted in the kingdom’s desire to avoid being pulled into the conflict directly or indirectly. The Jordanian government and monarchy have been vocal about the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to avoid the conflict expanding across the region. With widespread domestic protests against Israeli aggression and demands to nullify the peace treaty with its neighbor, Jordanian authorities are under pressure to show no sympathy to Israel. Jordan’s strategic decision with regards to Iran’s attack highlights its desire to maintain its relationship with the US and protect its own economic and security interests, not Israel’s. While some chose to use this incident to highlight the importance of Arab-Israeli peace, the kingdom must grapple with increasing discontent at any level of Jordanian – Israeli cooperation, perceived or real.”

Saudi Arabia’s view
Aziz Alghashian, Fellow, SEPAD
“Saudis are concerned and for a good reason. The last thing they want is to be caught up in a US-Iran-Israel conflict. As all of these three actors, and especially the US and Iran, are important for Saudi security, Saudi Arabia’s ruling élite have tried to be consistent in making sure it is not perceived as facilitating or assisting any of them against each other. Riyadh, thus, has profusely emphasised de-escalation, as an increase in the escalation would not only have immediate security ramifications, but would have the potential to turn into a conflict that would affect Saudi’s plans for reaching its economic goals. Therefore, regional stability is essential for Saudi Arabia.”

Turkey’s view
Galip Dalay, Non-resident senior fellow, Middle East Council on Global Affairs; Senior consulting fellow, Chatham House
“To save his political future, break Israel’s growing international isolation and settle the score with Tel Aviv’s chief regional foe, Ankara believes that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants a war with Iran, particularly if he can drag the US into his war. Turkey is already diplomatically active at the nexus of Iran and the US/West to de-escalate the tension. Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Chief of İntelligence Ibrahim Kalin spoke with their American and Iranian counterparts. Fidan will probably embark on a regional diplomatic tour as well. Ankara is highly concerned that further escalation of tension between Tehran and Tel Aviv will shift the focus from the Gaza invasion and lessen the international pressure on Israel – hence Tel Aviv might be emboldened again to pursue further de-populating of Gaza and annexation of the West Bank. Plus, this process will only strengthen Iran’s resolve to speed up its nuclear program, probably further triggering a regional nuclear race. To prevent an Iran-Israel war, Ankara will probably pursue an active diplomacy focusing on Iran, the US (the only actor that can rein in Israel), regional states and Europe.”

Egypt’s view
Abla Abdel Latif, Executive Director and Director of Research, Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, Economic Research Forum
“When discussing Iran’s missile strike against Israel on Saturday night, it’s important to acknowledge that this action was in response to Israel’s earlier strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Therefore, the Iranian attack can be viewed as retaliatory. In fact, Tehran’s response was measured, with no significant injuries or casualties reported, showcasing Iran’s restraint despite its considerable military capabilities. This attack serves as a clear message from Iran to Israel, signaling Tehran’s reluctance to engage in regional conflict and its desire to avoid being drawn into one. Currently, de-escalation hinges on several factors: bringing an end to the conflict in Gaza, the United States adopting a different stance from Israel in regional policy, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Only then can a genuine resolution to the conflict be achieved.”

Iraq’s view
Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Associate Professor, California State University San Marcos
“Iraq’s premier al-Sudani found himself in Washington for a White House visit during this crisis, as his country is literally balancing the interests of the US and Iran. Some of the projectiles that were launched toward Israel flew over Iraqi airspace, an Iranian violation of its national sovereignty. Yet at the same, some of the drones were most likely launched from Iraqi territory, by militias allied with Iran, such as the Harakat al-Nujaba and Kataib Hezbollah, whom the US has targeted since January in repeated airstrikes, violating Iraqi sovereignty. This episode is a reminder that Iraq is another, often forgotten, theatre in what has become a regional war since October 7.”
Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, President, the Middle East Research Institute
“For days, Iraqis knew that an attack was imminent and, based on the 2020 experience, expected it to be of a limited nature. Nevertheless, people were surprised by the nature of the attack, and concerned about further escalations. It is remarkable how quickly people moved on, putting the incident behind them. Interestingly, the attack did not impact Prime Minister Al-Sudani’s visit to the United States or his meeting with President Biden.”

Lebanon’s view
Joseph Bahout, Director, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut
“In Lebanon, perceptions of regional dynamics are deeply divided due to entrenched convictions. The Iranian strike has been interpreted in contrasting ways: some view it as ineffective and merely cosmetic, while others see it as highly deterrent to Israel, potentially altering the regional balance. Both perspectives highlight the profound divide within the country. Similarly, opinions diverge on Israel’s likely response to Iran’s actions. Some speculate that Israel may target Iranian proxies in the region to avoid directly confronting Iran and risking escalation, while others think and perhaps even hope for Israeli strikes on critical military sites within Iran itself. Amidst these uncertainties, there is a prevailing fear across Lebanon of tensions escalating along the border with Hezbollah. In the last few hours, tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have seemed to have risen dramatically, so one could speculate that this could be a substitute for an eventual Israeli attack on Iran.”

Qatar’s view
Bulent Aras, Research Director, Center for International Policy Research
“Amid tensions between Iran and Israel, Qatar urges restraint and de-escalation, emphasising at the same time the need to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the occupied territories. Qatari leaders advocate for collaborative regional and international efforts to mitigate tensions and seek peaceful relations. Indeed, Doha has reiterated its commitment to supporting regional and international endeavours for regional stability and security, which it carries out through a mediator role that the longstanding relationships with both Iran and the US has enabled it to play.”

Syria’ s view
Armenak Tokmajyan, Non-resident scholar, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center
“The Israel-Gaza war has had a paradoxical impact on Syria. While it has brought regional attention back to Damascus, with Russia and Arab states trying to keep Syria out of the conflict, it has heightened the risk of a regional escalation, which Syria is eager to avoid. Although Damascus postures as a resistance force against Israel, without a capable military and ineffective Russian air cover, it stands to lose more from any major confrontation between Iran and Israel on its soil.”

Ugo Tramballi, Senior Advisor, ISPI
“To a certain extent, for Hamas, the strain between Israel and Iran is a sort of dream coming true. When Yahya Sinwar decided to strike southern Israel on October 7, it is highly likely that his strategic goal was a regional escalation. But the inhabitants of Gaza’s ruins are probably too busy trying to survive to pay attention to the confrontation between Israel and Iran. Sinwar’s ambitions cannot be shared by them and those around the world who are dealing with the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Strip.”

[by ISPI]