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Iran, right after the Eid ul Fitr vacation, launched a counter-strike on Israel to avenge the deaths of its senior military commanders in Israeli airstrikes on its Damascus Consulate. The Israeli airstrike on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus was a blatant violation of international law and the Vienna Conventions, which provide immunity to diplomatic staff, even in a war. Embassies and consulate compounds are considered sovereign territories of respective countries and are immune from host countries’ law enforcement and military action. The Israeli airstrike on the Iranian Consulate was a multifold violation of international law and the Vienna Convention. Israel first violated the airspace of the sovereign Syrian Arab Republic and then targeted another sovereign country’s diplomatic compound, having no regard for international law. The United States, which has an ironclad commitment to the defense and security of Israel, has distanced itself from Israel’s actions and has neither condemned nor condoned those airstrikes.

Anticipated Escalation

Israel and Iran have a long-standing enmity that dates back to the post-Iranian Revolution era. The Islamic Republic of Iran has a constitutional obligation to strive for the independence of Palestine. This claim is based on Article 154 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, which states: “The Islamic Republic of Iran supports the struggles of the oppressed for their rights against the oppressors in every corner of the globe while observing complete non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations.” According to this claim, Palestinians are considered the oppressed, while Israel is labeled as the oppressor, deemed unworthy of survival by the Islamic Republic.

Israel considers Hamas to be another Iranian proxy, working for the Iranian regime to destabilise Israel. Israel blamed Iran for the 7 October attacks conducted by Hamas in Israel. Since then, both Iran and Israel have waged shadow wars against each other. Iran strikes against Israel and its interests through its proxies in southern Lebanon, North Yemen and Syria. Israel conducts airstrikes on Iranian assets in Syria and southern Lebanon and conducts assassination and sabotage operations within Iran. The Iranian nuclear program could also be seen as an important factor in this regard because Israel wants a decisive confrontation with Iran before it gets nuclear weapon capability. Iran, before getting nuclear, wants to avoid direct confrontation with Israel and wants to continue its policy of indirect warfare with Israel. Israel and its ally, the United States, is also not in favor of direct confrontation with Iran due to its own interests and commitments to the Persian Gulf allies. The Israeli airstrikes on the Iranian Consulate could be deemed as a desperate effort by Israel to drag Iran into a wider regional conflict.

The psychological myth of Israel’s invincibility

From the creation of Israel up until now, Israel has maintained an image of invincibility that no adversary of Israel is able to shatter. Israeli strategists have very carefully crafted this image, and it is more psychological than practical. Israel has almost won all of their wars against its Arab neighbors and has been able to maintain the escalation dominance. For instance, in the 1967 Arab-Israel war, Israel decapitated the Egyptian air force while they were on the ground, leaving the Egyptian army without air cover in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli army occupied the whole of the Sinai Peninsula after the war ended. Then, they used this territory as a bargaining chip to pacify Egypt and returned the territory in exchange for peace and full diplomatic relations. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights from Syria with similar intentions. In the 2006 Lebanon war, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invaded southern Lebanon and occupied their territories. Hezbollah waged guerrilla warfare against Israel and forced Israel to retreat from southern Lebanon. The Israeli modus operandi is to occupy sovereign territories, maintain the element of surprise and eliminate threats at will in the region.

The recent Israeli airstrike on the Iranian Consulate was an effort by the IDF to establish a new normal with Iran. Iran delayed its response, calculated all of the pros and cons of its counterstrike, garnered diplomatic and moral support and then responded by launching drones, cruise and ballistic missiles toward Israel. The Iranian counterstrike was more symbolic in nature due to various reasons. First, Iran proved that it could target Israel from its territory without utilising its proxies in Syria, Iraq, southern Lebanon and Northern Yemen. Second, Iran’s intent was not to cause any material damage or human causalty, but to shatter the Israeli image of invincibility despite having a multi-layered missile shield and the support of allies. Third, Iran used missiles with lesser payloads and drones to minimise the damage because, in conventional conflict with Israel, Iran has a clear technological disadvantage. It is evident from official Iranian statements that the matter should be considered closed after the Iranian counterstrike. Iranian diplomats are quoting Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which allows states to act in self-defense.

Israel response

Israel responded to the Iranian strike with plausible deniability to restore deterrence after the Iranian strike on its territory. The Israeli response was very calculated without causing any substantial damage. The view that was prevalent among the regional experts was that Israel was vouching for escalation with Iran, but the United States could have restrained them. Israel has a clear advantage over Iran in terms of technological superiority and nuclear weapons, but Iran is strong enough to be taken out single-handedly by Israel. Israel needs the assistance of the United States to make this possible. The US, as of now, has so much on its plate that it could not afford to open another front with Iran, which would engulf the whole Persian Gulf region and cost them their allies. The US and its allies’ calculated response to the Houthis of Yemen validates this analysis because they conducted limited airstrikes on their bases and ammunition depots without going for an all-out invasion. The Israel-Iran faceoff is over for now, as the Iranians have downplayed the Israeli strikes and Israel has maintained plausible deniability. The bottom line is that the Middle East is a complex and volatile region with many hotspots that can spark a wider regional conflict in the future.

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