The Complex Circumstances of the Iran-Israel Conflict

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

The journal provides insightful analysis on the dynamics at play in the boiling tensions between two longtime rivals. 

Following an unexpected aerial attack on its soil by Iran on April 14, the world waited to see the full breadth of a potential Israeli response, which could decide the future of the already harried relations between two of the Middle East’s biggest powers.  

The attack followed a deadly Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria on April 1 that killed seven military personnel, including two Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders. Tehran accused Tel Aviv and claimed that its response to the “violation of international obligations and conventions” would be “decisive” as the country “reserves the right to carry out a reaction and will decide on the type of response and the punishment of the aggressor.” The attack was far from the first—Israel has a history of strikes and assassinations against Iran and its officials. 

The retaliatory strike on Israel was, at first glance, unsuccessful—99% of the 300 drones and missiles launched were downed before they reached their targets. Some analysts, however, argue that Iran launched the attack with the intention of failure. The International Crisis Group noted that the choice of weaponry was almost certainly intentional: “They could have used a much higher number of projectiles, synchronized drones and missiles in a way that would have swarmed the air defense systems, and could have fired their new hypersonic missiles. They clearly wanted something spectacular but not fatal.” 

As the first-ever attack on Israel launched from Iran’s territory, it marked a new chapter in the longstanding conflict. A response by Israel could change the future of the Middle Eastern landscape. The US has made it clear that, while it does support Israel over Iran, it will not support an Israeli counterattack. Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, however, made clear that it will seek to retaliate.  

On the evening of April 18, Iran reported explosions in its central city of Isfahan, home to the country’s largest nuclear research complex. While sources report that the sounds were the result of Israeli drones being shot down, Iranian officials indicated that there was no damage to military or nuclear sites and that there are no plans to further escalate the tit-for-tat exchange. 

With the possibility of the conflict’s expansion on the horizon, it is more important than ever to understand the dynamics between Iran and Israel—and the US role throughout the decades. Middle East Policy provides comprehensive analysis of key developments in the Iran-Israel relationship, giving readers the information they need to understand the recent attacks, including the significance of rhetoric by both countries, the role of security dynamics, and the impact of other actors in the conflict. 

Here are some of the key studies the journal has published: 

  • The Iran-Israel Conflict: An Ultra-Ideological Explanation, by Farshad Roomi 
    • Tehran’s ideological worldview has isolated Iran and bolstered the Israeli right, increased global sympathies for Israel, escalated Iranophobia, aligned conservative Arab states with Israel, and marginalized the issue of Palestine. By maintaining its abrasive stance towards Israel, Iran has not only hurt its own interests, but those of the Palestinians it purports to support. 
    • Portraying Israel as an ideological enemy benefits Iran in many ways, including helping divert the frustrated Iranian population, furthering the narrative of a world in opposition to Islam, and maintaining a position as a proxy nuclear power in the Middle East. 
    • Iran’s approach has largely harmed their national interests and failed to meet their religious or moral duties. By prioritizing opposition to Israel, Tehran has undermined its relationship with the world—most notably the US—and neglected its touted humanitarian duty to Palestinians while failing to offer concrete solutions to its own domestic issues. 
  • Iran’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: A Grand Strategy, by Seyed Hossein Mousavian and Mohammad Reza Chitsazian 
    • Iran’s grand strategy is moving from defensive to offensive, as it both engages where the US tries to impose dominance, but also tries to keep the US and its allies away from its own borders, combat American hegemony, and expel all American forces from the region. Tehran’s strategy is a focus on expanding regional influence and balancing its internal and external affairs. 
    • “Four decades of confrontational U.S. policies, coupled with a total neglect of Iran’s goodwill, have radicalized Iranian foreign policy toward the West, pushed Tehran toward the Eastern bloc and persuaded Tehran to expand its influence in the region. During these decades, either reformists or conservatives have tried to attract Washington to a rapprochement, but these entreaties ultimately resulted in failure.” 
  • Azerbaijan, Israel, and Iran: An Unlikely Triangle Shaping the Northern Middle East, by Namig Abbasov and Emil A. Souleimanov 
    • This article examines the developing relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan. Despite the latter’s shared Shiite identity with Iran, the two countries have a historically adversarial relationship, as Azerbaijan maintains interest in forging closer ties with Israel to balance against Russia to the north and Iran to the south. The relationship has proved concerning to Tehran, who sees the cooperation as a national security threat. 
    • A history of positive social, economic, and political relations between Israel and Azerbaijan continue to contribute to the burgeoning relationship. Azerbaijan is a critical energy provider and transit area for Israel, while Israel serves as a prominent investor, a partner in the expansion of energy technology, and an important military supporter. 
  • Iran’s Regional Influence in Light of Its Security Concerns, by Ali Akbar 
    • Tehran’s foreign policy of regional influence is often considered to be expansionist, but this article argues that its rationale has been oriented around guaranteeing Iran’s national security.  
    • The ideas that Iran is expanding its regional outreach to exert control over neighboring countries and groups is often promoted by rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia. This narrative benefits opposing states’ capacity to promote fear of Iranian influence and attacks. 
    • Regional wars, particularly in Syria—an important Iranian ally and anti-Israel government—have increased tensions between American-backed Israel and Iran. However, these intermediary ‘targets’ provided an important buffer between the two as Tehran feared the fall of Assad would allow Jerusalem to launch direct attacks and expand regional American-Israeli hegemony. 
  • Iranian-Israeli Confrontation: The Cyber Domain, by Gawdat Bahgat 
    • This article examines how the longstanding conflict has expanded into nearly all aspects of foreign and warfare domains, including cyberspace. In recent years, both countries have invested in defensive and offensive cyber capabilities. 
    • Iran has been accused of cyberattacks on US banks and Aramco, the infiltration of a US Navy and Marine Corps computer network, and data theft. However, both the US and Israel have reportedly carried out cyberattacks on Iran. 
    • Both countries have long threatened all-out war; expansion into spheres of indirect conflict could prove both a preventative measure and a risk factor for more dangerous warfare. 
  • Sanctions, Deterrence, Regime Change: A New Look at US-Iran Relations, by Mahmood Monshipouri and Giorgio Davide Boggio 
    • This article explores the possibilities of the US-Iran relationship through the routes of diplomacy, continued sanctions, or escalatory deterrence. The authors argue that the sanctions imposed so far have not had the desired effect, and a new course of action deserves attention. 
    • Regional rival Israel has an incredible amount of influence over the narrative in the US and plays an important role in how Washington interacts with Iran. By creating a climate of constant crisis, in which diplomacy was seen as uncertain and politically unpopular, “Israel [has] left the United States with only two real options: war or sanctions.” 
  • The Regional-Supremacy Trap: Disorder in the Middle East, by Seyed Masoud Mousavi Shafaee and Vali Golmohammadi 
    • This article offers two arguments: the Middle East has become a battle zone in the wake of US retrenchment that encouraged aspirant regional powers, and the “regional-supremacy trap” encourages influential actors to seek hegemony. 
    • The growing ties between the US, Israel, and major Gulf countries has pushed Iran to offer a stringent counter-hegemonic approach. These opposing but equally powerful visions have created a system where no party can make significant progress, but are pushed further into polarizing, unwavering stances. 
    • The conflict between the US and Israel against Iran has created greater instability, as demonstrated by the Syrian civil war that worked not only to overthrow a government out of favor but one that was seen as supporting Iran, and encouraged all parties to become increasingly involved.  
  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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