Israel and Iran - any action on one side may spark a full-scale conflict

Commenting on the exchanges of fire between Iranian and Israeli forces in the early hours of Thursday, Middle East politics expert Dr Yaniv Voller, has warned that any further action on either side could spark ‘full-scale conflict’.

‘This incident is an escalation of a long period of skirmishing between Israel and Iran. Iran has used its intervention in the Syrian civil war to place forces along the Syrian border with its arch-enemy, Israel. Israeli governments have viewed Iran as the country’s top strategic threat. Therefore, the Iranian presence on Israel’s border has been considered a red line and Israeli leaders have vowed to prevent Iran from threatening Israel’s security from Syria.

‘Up until this point, both countries have kept a low profile. Israel targeted arms shipments to Hezbollah and ammunition depots. Iran retaliated through proxies. An incident in which an Iranian drone entered the Israeli airspace led the Israeli air force to strike an Iranian airbase in Syria.

‘But until now, these incidents did not lead to an escalation. What is the reason for this? One potential explanation relates to regional factors. Iran may feel more confident now that President Assad seems to have won the civil war in Syria. As part of its growing coordination with Russia, which is now considered the most active great power in the region, Iran sees an opportunity to expand its operations.

‘However, there may be an international context as well. Last Tuesday, US President Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran. Trump’s decision means renegotiation of the terms of the agreement and the possibility for the renewal of sanctions on Iran. It may be possible that Iran escalated tensions with Israel in order to demonstrate the price of renewed hostilities toward Iran.

‘Will we witness further escalation in the coming days? It is likely that both parties prefer to avoid an all-out war at this stage. Iran may still hope to get back to the negotiating table, while Israel seeks to gain more support for an international action against Iran. On the other hand, both governments are being pushed by hawkish elements to pursue further military goals. Any action on one side may spark a full-scale conflict.’

Dr Yaniv Voller

Dr Yaniv Voller is a lecturer in the Politics of the Middle East in the University’s School of Politics and International Relations. His research concerns the geopolitics of the Middle East, the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states, separatism/liberation, insurgency and the role of ideas, ideology and practices in shaping international politics.