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The Prospect of Regional War in the Middle East

Updated: May 3

Iran and Israel Are at War

Israel and Iran are now at war. Iran unprecedentedly struck Israel with drones and missiles–both cruise and ballistic–and Israel has responded with its first-ever strikes on Iranian soil. There is no formal declaration of war, but such declarations are a thing of the past. This war is unique as Iran and Israel do not share borders. This means both nations are only able to strike each other through the air. Hence the events of both April 13 and April 19. There is one caveat to this situation however which is that Israel is surrounded by Iranian allies like Hezbollah, Hamas and the militias in both Syria and Iraq. Pressure is building in the region, and it is unlikely to subside without further suffering. 


Background

The current round of tensions between Israel and Iran began with the October 7 attacks. Many speculate that Hamas was acting to prevent the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The unprecedented bilateral talks were brought to a stop by the Israeli response to the Hamas-led slaughter of more than 1200 civilians in one day. That response was an IDF invasion of the Gaza Strip as well as a multi-month bombing campaign which is speculated to have resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 Gazans


Iran is an ally of Hamas, as well as the Houthi movement. Both of which have responded to the IDF action in Gaza. First, the Houthis began their attacks on the commercial vessels in the Red Sea, prompting a response from a US-led coalition. Iran financially backs both Hamas and the Houthis, as well as the militias in the Levant which carried out hundreds of strikes on US bases in early 2024. Israel, likely upset by Iranian proxy activity, responded on April 1, 2024, by attacking the Iranian embassy in Syria killing senior military officers. 


War Breaks Out

These powers, while hostile, the belligerents had not struck one another's soil, that is until Iran launched 300 munitions–a combination of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles–at Israel on April 13. This was the first time Iran ever launched an attack on Israeli territory. 


Israel responded, as promised, with retaliatory attacks on April 19th Israel launched air strikes for the first time on Iranian territory. It is reported that the IDF struck key airbases and nuclear facilities within Iran. These targets suggest that Israel is anticipating an escalated confrontation with Iran and is looking to inflict damage on the Iranian military capacity as well as nuclear development programs. 


The Ominous Future 

The conflict has intensified from a proxy conflict to direct confrontation. The House of Representatives last week approved a foreign aid package that sees 95 billion sent overseas, including 26 billion to support Israel. The timing seems impeccably convenient, with bipartisan support. Rather than pushing for peace in Ukraine or a ratcheting down of tensions in the Middle East, the U.S. will now pour lighter fluid on the burgeoning inferno which has embers across the globe. 

Israel's situation is increasingly dire, as militarily it is superior to all powers in the region. It intercepted 99% of the incoming threats from Iran and its proxies, and it successfully invaded Gaza City with minimal casualties. The biggest threat that borders Israel is Hezbollah. Israel fought the group in 2006 for 34 days. While the aftermath favored the IDF it had suffered many casualties and had to end its unsustainable offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The renewed strength of Hezbollah combined with Hamas and Iranian proxies and drone/missile strikes may pose a real threat to Israel. 


Unless work is done to resolve the situation in Gaza the proxy conflict with Iran will worsen. It may be the case that the attack on the Iranian embassy was a step too far and in that case, nothing but retribution will satisfy Tehran. Israel has dug a hole for itself with its response to October 7th. Iran may do the same until both parties are in a crater together. Iran relies on timing and Israeli vulnerability to succeed, Israel relies on both the U.S. Congress and the U.S. State Department. Something has to give, yet nothing seems to want to. If tensions do not subside soon between Iran and Israel, they may boil over into all-out regional conflict. 


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.



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