Location: The Middle East
Parties involved: Iran, Israel, Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Yemen, United States.
On 10/03/2023, in an historic first, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore their diplomatic ties, which have been in a bad state for decades. In many areas both countries have been opponents of each other and the two countries have supported opposing parties in multiple conflicts, like for instance in Yemen and Syria. The deal can be seen as a first sign of the decrease in tensions. The improvement of diplomatic relations between the two countries provides an opportunity for Iran to step out of a relatively isolated position on the world stage that it has held for the past years. For Saudi Arabia, the deal provides a way to protect itself, as well as other Gulf States, against attacks from Iran, as there will be more possibilities to negotiate over disagreements that will likely pop-up in the near future.
On 12/04/2023 it was reported by news agency Reuters that Iran had been smuggling weapons and military equipment to Syria under the disguise of relief aid for the Syrian regions affected by February earthquakes. The deliveries were meant to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to strengthen Iran’s defense capabilities against Israel in Syria. According to Reuters, the secret deliveries went on for 7 weeks.
On 05/05/2023 Iran and Syria renewed their diplomatic and military relations emphasizing that Syria is an important ally to Iran. Israel then accused Iran of delivering more and more weapons to Syria and to Syria aligned terrorist organizations like Hezbollah in recent months.
On 07/05/2023 the Foreign ministers from the Arab League member states voted in favor of the reinstatement of Syria’s membership, after Syria was suspended from the Arab League for more than 10 years. The return to the Arab League is a political victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the allowance to return signals the acceptance by regional actors that Assad's government has survived in Syria.
On 14/05/2023 Iran summoned the Iraqi ambassador to complain about the lack of effort on the Iraqi side on combating terrorist organizations that target Iran. Though not mentioned specifically, it is believed that Iran has problems with the Kurdish organizations in the North of Iraq. According to Iran the Iraqi Kurds are directly responsible for domestic attacks in Iran.
On 26/05/2023 Israel’s National Security Advisor warned that Israel will do a pre-emptive strike on Iran if it continues with the development of a nuclear warhead. Iranian leaders in return have warned that they will make sure that Israel will face a multi-front war if it dares to attack Iran, suggesting that Iran and Syria will attack from the east and Hezbollah will attack from Lebanon in the north. Countering this threat, Israel’s prime-minister Netanyahu emphasized that it is prepared for a multi-front war.
On 29/05/2023 Israel allegedly launched a series of airstrikes on Iranian IRGC (Islamic Republican Guard Corps) targets in and near Damascus, Syria. The airstrikes are part of an ongoing campaign against weapons convoys and caches, IRGC compounds and installations, and Hezbollah camps.
On 29/05/2023 Israel launched an extensive military drill in the north of Israel called “Operation Firm Hand”. The IAF and IDF (Israeli Air Force and Israeli Defense Forces) will simulate attacks deep behind enemy lines and simulate how to fight a multi-front war. This drill is seen as a message to the Iranian government to back down on its threatening rhetoric.
On 06/06/2023 the Iranian government unveiled a new, allegedly hypersonic, missile called the Fattah. According to Iran the missile can reach speeds up to Mach 15 and can hit Israel in 400 seconds whilst outmaneuvering air-defense systems and even destroying those systems.
It is likely that Iran will continue to expand its influence on the Middle-East. The IRGC is a semi-autonomous military entity within Iran and is responsible for fighting Iran’s proxy wars against Israel and the West in general. The IRGC is likely to increase its activities in Syria in the coming months. This will undoubtedly lead to more airstrikes from Israel on Syrian soil and retaliatory strikes from IRGC affiliated Syrian and Palestinian militants.
Iran and Israel are not likely to decrease their rhetoric towards each other in the coming weeks or months. With Israel getting Operation Firm Hand under way and Iran unveiling its new Fattah hypersonic missile, it seems that the two countries are headed for an actual confrontation in the near future.
Peace negotiations are taking place behind closed doors with the US and Saudi-Arabia leading the talks. But it seems that neither Iran or Israel are inclined to back down on their rhetoric with both countries also trying to deflect national- and international attention away from internal political struggles.
The right-wing government of prime-minister Netanyahu of Israel is under a lot of scrutiny for trying to pass a judicial reform bill that would essentially grant the sitting government unilateral power to pass decisions with the Supreme Court not being able to interfere. This reform bill has led to massive protests across the country. These protests forced Netanyahu to freeze the bill for the time being. The protests however have continued with the demand that the bill be taken out instead of frozen for now. Netanyahu and his ministers and advisors have been trying to deflect attention away from the domestic troubles by focusing on Iran’s development of a nuclear warhead.
In Iran there has been a constant wave of protests against the strict Islamic rulership in the country. With the deaths and detentions of many protestors, whose demand is that the Islamic regime stops enforcing strict Islamic laws on, especially, women, the protests continue to this day. The Iranian regime has cracked down on the protests with unprecedented violence, but still the protests continue. It is unlikely that they will diminish anytime soon. The Iranian government has, not unlike the Israeli government, tried to deflect attention away from their domestic problems by focusing on its rivalry with Israel.
An open confrontation between Iran and Israel will lead to a multi-front war in the Middle-East with countries like Syria and Lebanon being pulled into the conflict. It is unclear whether other Arab nations will stay neutral or will support one of the sides in such a conflict. Historically Arab nations have banded together to form a bloc against Israel, but in recent years Israel has signed, or will sign, multiple treaties with Arab countries like the UAE and Saudi-Arabia. Historically there is peace with Egypt and Jordan.
The United States will undoubtedly try to use its influence in the region to calm all parties involved, but it seems that more and more the Arab nations and Israel no longer blindly follow the United States lead.
With tensions running high between the two countries it is not likely the rhetoric on both sides will die down in the coming weeks or months. It is likely Israel will continue its air-strikes on IRGC targets in Syria as Iran will increase its IRGC presence in the same country.
There is a chance of Israel initiating a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s presumed nuclear capabilities in the near future. This could lead to a regional conflict in the Middle-East with countries like Syria and Lebanon being sucked into a multi-front war against Israel. The past negotiations, initiated by the United States and its Arab allies, have led to cooler heads on both sides of the conflict, but it seems that Israel and Iran want to make independent decisions, ignoring international pressure.
With domestic political problems in both countries on an all time high, leaders of both countries are more than happy to draw attention away from their political struggles and draw attention to the conflict between the two countries.
Any such conflict will be devastating for the region as both countries have professional and well-equipped armies. There is no clear indication as to who would be victorious in such a conflict, but there is no doubt that it will have an enormous impact on the people, economy and environment of the countries involved and affected by such a war.