As Iran-Israel Proxy War Escalates Into a Conflict, What Can the World Expect?

Iran is announcing the fact that we are even in terms of this round and the ball is in Israel’s court.

6 min read
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Iran’s retaliatory strike against Israel last week was largely ineffective. The 300-odd mix of ballistic/cruise missiles and drones were intercepted by the anti-missile defence systems like Israel’s Iron Dome with Israel’s allies, the US, UK, France, and Jordan chipping in to intercept with their military assets stationed in the region and intelligence.

Only one serious casualty was reported – a child who was hit by shrapnel. Israel’s multi-layered missile defence systems are formidable but the interception of over 99% of the missiles and drones could not have been achieved without American kinetic military assistance. Israel claimed that its Nevatim and Ramon Air Force bases were hit but did not disrupt operational activities.


'Self-Defence': Iran’s Response to Israel’s Consulate Attack

Iran’s anger was brewing over the Israeli strike against its Consulate in Syria which killed several top commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the organisation which coordinates and directs militant groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

These militant and terrorist groups act as Iran’s proxies against Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It remains a moot question as to why the IRGC commanders were stationed at the Iranian mission. Clearly, Israel had intelligence of their activities that were planned to harm Israel. Hence, Israel launched the attack as an act of preventive self-defence.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack but has also denied its culpability, a standard Israeli policy.

Iran had issued public warnings of its impending attack on Israel and claimed that it had given notice of its impending attack to Iraq, Jordan, and Turkiye. Iran’s compulsion was to show its citizens and regional proxies that it could inflict a cost on Israel, especially after Hamas had proven that Israel could be humiliated by its 7 October surprise attack which has led to Israel’s disproportionate attack on Gaza.

Iran has justified its action as an act of "self-defence" and issued warnings against any retaliation, promising a much larger military action with upgraded weapons, if Israel retaliated, indicating it was ready for escalation.

First Direct Attack

Iran has also served notice to the US that its bases in the region would be legitimate targets if the US helped Israel in attacking Iran. Iran’s attack has raised the probability of the conflict expanding, dragging in Iran and the US directly.

Iran’s attack was not surprising but it is the first instance of Iran launching a direct attack on Israel from its territory. Iran’s visceral hate for Israel began with the 1979 Islamic revolution which brought the mullahs into power. Since then, Iran’s Mullahcracy has vowed to obliterate Israel from the map of the world.

This goal is at the core of Iran’s foreign policy. In pursuit of this policy, Iran has supported proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis, and various Syrian militant groups to mount attacks on Israel, avoiding direct conflict with Israel.

Did Iran deliberately orchestrate its attack in a manner to inflict minimal damage to Israel? This possibility cannot be ruled out since Iran may have been desperate to pacify inflamed domestic opinion and its national ego.

Iran would have known that the formidable American-Israeli anti-missile systems, American and other allied Air/Naval forces, stationed in the region, would intercept the drones, ballistic and cruise missiles. Launched from many hundreds of kilometres away, these projectiles would be easily detected and destroyed. Notwithstanding these considerations, Iran’s stock in the Islamic world has gone up as a result of these attacks.


Iran’s Latest Targets World Over

Earlier this year, Iran had launched missiles into Pakistan at the camps of Jaish-e-Adl, the Iranian Baloch militant organisation that claims to be fighting for independence for Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, adjoining Pakistan’s Balochistan. After Pakistan retaliated with its own missile strikes into Iran, both sides made up, citing Islamic brotherhood ties.

The Jaish-e-Adl is suspected to be receiving aid from the ISI and the CIA. India had obliquely supported Iran because of its stand on terrorism and Pakistan’s central role in it.

In September 2019, Iran had advertised its missile and drone capability by attacking Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil-processing facility. In 2021, Iran’s proxies attacked US forces in Iraq, and in 2024 another drone launched from Iraq killed three American servicemen at a US base in Jordan.

Iran has steadily improved the technological capabilities of its missiles and drones. The Iran-Israel proxy war has targeted Israeli embassies and Israelis across several countries like Bulgaria, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Thailand, and many countries.

In the past couple of years, Iran has frequently targeted the Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq over the last two years because of Kurdish Israel-USA links. Iran’s agents had targeted the Israeli Embassy in Delhi, thus souring bilateral ties.

Israel May Conduct An Operation In Gaza

Israel’s threshold for restraint against attacks on its territory is low, a fact known to all in the volatile West Asian region. Hence, the assumption that Israel will certainly retaliate is widely shared.

Israel may have aborted an immediate reprisal attack owing to pressure from allies. While offering ironclad guarantees for Israel’s security, the US has cautioned Israel and warned that it will not participate in an Israeli counter-offensive against Iran.

Going by past practice, Israel’s default position would be to attack Iran but the very limited damage caused by Iran’s attack could lead to a measured and indirect response by Israel.

Statements by some Israeli Ministers indicate that Israel may use this opportunity to consolidate a regional coalition against Iran. Other opposition leaders have interpreted Iran’s attack as a breakdown of Israeli deterrence. Hezbollah will be the prime target for more Israeli retaliation, while Israel continues with its campaign of eliminating Hamas from Gaza.

The collateral damage to Gaza’s infrastructure and over 33,000 deaths has far exceeded the bounds of proportionality for Hamas’s 2 October terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians last year.

By setting the goal of destruction of Hamas in Gaza, it is faced with an impossible task since Hamas is deeply embedded in the population. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is showing Israel in a negative light and global public opinion has turned against Israel.

Global Response and India’s Reaction to the West Asia Crisis

The Iranian attack has drawn condemnation and concern across the globe. Predictably, the leaders of the G7 nations condemned the attack and warned Tehran of setting into motion a potential uncontrolled escalation in the conflict.

India too has expressed serious concern about regional peace and security and called for immediate de-escalation. China has also articulated its deep concern and called for restraint to prevent further escalation. In this scenario, Iran has already pushed into the arms of China and to a lesser extent with Russia. Both the countries are supplying parts for Iran’s missiles and drones and Iran has exported drones in large numbers to Russia which have been deployed against Ukraine.

India’s low-key response to Iran’s attack on Israel was anticipated but there are growing pitfalls for India’s West Asia policy. Any large-scale conflagration will jeopardise India’s economic interests and the lives of millions of Indian citizens living and working in the region. India is currently negotiating with Iran for the return of 17 Indian crew members of the ship MSC Aries captured by Iran in the Gulf because of its Israeli links.

Moreover, for India’s geopolitical interests, Iran cannot be ignored. India’s energy security is intimately tied to the region and the region is more intimately connected to India than the war in Ukraine.

There is concern that Israel will attack drone and missile manufacturing facilities or even nuclear facilities in Iran. Iran had gone on high alert in anticipation of such strikes and vowed to retaliate.

Israel’s strategic dilemma has deepened. While Israel debates its next response, Iran has used the megaphone to announce a "harsh” and "massive” response to any further Israeli attack. Iran is announcing the fact that we are even in terms of this round and the ball is in Israel’s court.

Meanwhile, the world waits with bated breath for the next round in this ongoing conflict which is poised to be on the brink of escalation that will cause a major economic upheaval.

(The author is a former Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs; he has served in three West Asian countries - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel; he is a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a founding Director of DeepStrat, a think tank)This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Iran   Saudi Arabia   India-Israel 

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