Why we may not see any further escalation in the Iran-Israel stand-off

Story by  Aditi Bhaduri | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 22-04-2024
President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi
President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi


 Aditi Bhaduri

Now that Israel has struck Iran in tit-for-tat attacks, the ball is in Tehran's court and there is reason to believe that Iran may not make any further strikes on Israel. After Iran's unprecedented strikes on Israel on 14-15 April, the world had been waiting with bated breath as Israel vowed to avenge this direct attack. Yet, when the attack did come on Thursday night morning it seemed more a message than an attack - a strike involving three drones which, according to Iran's Foreign Minister, “... was not a strike and they were more like toys that our children play with – not drones".

Behind The News

Iran's President It seems that both countries, while directly attacking each other, are keeping the attacks to a minimum, without providing any cause for further widening of the conflict, keeping space for de-escalation open. Thus, while Iran launched a rather spectacular attack - at least quantitatively - it took care to see that only military bases and not civilians were targeted. It also left space for de-escalation saying it would consider the matter "concluded" if Israel did not launch any reprisal attacks.

Israel on its part also, amid calls by the entire international community, including best friend the USA, for restraint and no retaliation, seemed to only convey a message to Tehran with its very modest attack, but which occurred at a strategically significant area - in Isfahan. Besides being an extremely important cultural place, and an important symbol of the Iranian identity, Isfahan is also the site of Iran's nuclear facilities. The Iranians had no difficulty in intercepting these drones.

Both Iran and Israel seemed to have achieved their objectives - avenging attacks, sending a message to the other side that there would be no hesitation in retaliating, but simultaneously signaling an unwillingness to escalate the situation, and satisfying their domestic audience.

In Iran's case, it seems there will not be any retaliatory strike on Iran. On 20th April Iranian news agency reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said no [Israeli] attack had occurred in Isfahan to prompt Iran’s reaction. Iran has been downplaying the attack. No doubt back channels have been working furiously and further attacks may not be helpful for Iran.

For one, by practicing restraint Iran can score brownie points over Israel. Secondly, any flare-up in the Iran-Israel stand-off will cause the focus to shift from Gaza and Israel's war with Hamas. Many critics of Israel say that Israel allegedly attacked Iran’s diplomatic premises in Damascus in a bid to shift focus away from Gaza.

Third, an Iran-Israel war would immediately shift the narrative in favour of Israel, which has been under worldwide condemnation for its treatment of Gaza. Fourth, Israel was helped in thwarting Iran's attacks not just by its Western allies but also by Arab countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

In case of an Iran- Israel war, a regional coalition against Iran may take place. This is something Iran will wish to avoid given the recent breakthroughs it had with the Arab world through the China brokered peace with Saudi Arabia, and the diplomatic and commercial engagements with others like UAE and Bahrain.

Fourth, Iran is engaged in secret talks with the US, something which facilitated the release of American hostages and Iranian funds of $6 billion, which are currently in Qatar's custody. More recently, talks facilitated by Oman were conducted to rein in the Houthis' disruptive activities in the Red Sea. On the eve of the US elections, Iran may not wish to jeopardize these talks.

Fifth, a war with Israel may not be good for Iran in military terms. Not only will the US and other G7 countries back Israel, but the US House of Representatives has just approved funds of $26.38 billion for Israel with overwhelming bipartisan support. It is expected to sail smoothly through Senate approval.

Sixth, while Iran's friends Russia and China have come out strongly in support of Iran, they are also against any further escalation of the conflict. An Iran-Israel war may also jeopardize Russia's war on Ukraine as either side may not be able to fulfill their military commitments to each other.

Seventh, the G7 has warned Iran of sanctions after its strikes on Israel and Iran may want to minimize them. Iran has just recorded its highest sales of oil in the last six years and it would not want to jeopardize that.

Eighth, a war with Israel will be at best difficult for Iran's sluggish economy. It will also be difficult for the Iranian regime domestically as it already has a tenuous hold on domestic scene, given the spate of popular protests and opposition to many of its policies gripping the country in the recent past.

Finally, Iran can continue to inflict a cost on Israel in its traditional manner - through its proxies Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Lebanon and Iraq. Its message to Israel with the direct strikes seems to have been well taken, as seen with the limited Israeli reprisals.

ALSO READWas Iran being pushed to the wall for too long?

All in all, we may not see any further escalation on the Iran-Israel front, at least for now. The focus should be on Gaza and a ceasefire there with the unconditional release of the Israeli hostages still held captive by Hamas. This is entirely in the hands of Israel and the US.