Iran’s drone attack on Israel

GS Paper II

News Excerpt:

Iran has attacked Israel after Israel bombed its consulate in Damascus, Syria, sending tensions in West Asia zooming once again.

Background to the present Israel-Iran conflict? 

  • Earlier an attack on an Iranian diplomatic building in Syria led to the deaths of several senior Iranian military commanders. 
    • Iran blamed Israel for carrying out the airstrike on the building and threatened retaliation. 
  • Israel has also accused Iran for funding Hamas and supplying weapons for the October 7 attack on its people.

Iran’s attack on Israel:

  • Iran has launched a concerted missile and drone attack against Israel. According to the Israeli military, around 300 drones and missiles were fired. 
  • Some of these projectiles were also fired from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, according to America’s defence department. 
  • Israel, with the support of the US and the UK, took down a number of the weapons fired, minimising casualties.
  • In recent years, similar missile and rocket attacks have been carried out by militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This is the first time Israel has faced a direct missile attack from a state since the Iraqi Scuds in January 1991.
  • The attack marked a new chapter in a discord between the two states that percolated for years and has spiralled since Israel declared war on Hamas last October. 

Iran-Israel Ties:

  • The Iran-Israel relationship has not always been as fraught as it is today. Iran was one of the first countries in the region to recognise Israel after its formation in 1948. It was only after 1979 that their diplomatic ties ended.
  • After a religious state was established in Iran after the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The regime’s view of Israel changed, and it was seen as an occupier of Palestinian land.
  • While Israel and Iran have never engaged in direct military confrontation, both have attempted to inflict damage on the other through proxies and limited strategic attacks.
    • Israel has attacked Iranian nuclear facilities from time to time. In the early 2010s, it targeted several facilities and nuclear scientists in a bid to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
    • Iran, meanwhile, is seen as responsible for funding and supporting several militant groups in the region that are anti-Israel and anti-US, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Impact of Iran-Israel conflict on the World:

The Iran-Israel conflict has significant implications not only for the two countries involved but also for the broader Middle East region and beyond. Here are some of the key impacts:

  • The immediate impact will be higher oil prices. 
    • Crude oil, already trading near six-month highs, may cross $100 per barrel if tension worsens. 
    • Supply chain disruptions can happen as Iran can severely restrict movement in the Strait of Hormuz. 
    • All this will push inflation up just when developed countries are looking to reduce interest rates. 
    • Global economic growth could fall below the 3.1% that the International Monetary Fund has projected for 2024.
  • Regional Destabilisation
    • The conflict exacerbates tensions in an already volatile region. 
    • Both Iran and Israel wield significant influence in the Middle East, and their confrontation can escalate into broader regional conflicts, involving other countries and non-state actors.
  • Global Security Implications
    • Given the strategic importance of the Middle East and its energy resources, instability in the region can have global ramifications, affecting energy markets, trade routes, and international security.
  • Trade and travel disruptions:
    • Apart from oil prices being affected, trade and travel could also be hit in the likelihood of an Israel-Iran all-out war. Aviation and shipping sectors could be disrupted. 
    • In fact, several countries in the region, including Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel, temporarily closed their airspaces, opening it later, albeit with restrictions.
  • Proxy Wars
    • Iran and Israel often engage in proxy conflicts through supporting opposing factions in neighbouring countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. 
    • These proxy wars can prolong existing conflicts and make regional stability elusive.
  • Nuclear Proliferation Concerns
    • Iran's nuclear program has been a source of tension with Israel and the international community. 
    • The conflict raises concerns about the potential for nuclear proliferation in the region and the risk of a nuclear arms race.
  • Diplomatic Relations
    • The conflict strains diplomatic relations not only between Iran and Israel but also with other countries that are allies or partners of either side. 
    • It can complicate efforts for diplomatic resolution of conflicts and hinder regional cooperation on shared challenges.

Impact on India:

  • As conflict between Israel and Iran heats up, India is among the countries most affected. India has deep equities in the region: a large diaspora, strong economic partners, and a growing strategic role. 
  • For New Delhi, a potential escalation as a result of the tension means an impact on all three accounts: its people, its economic interests and strategic needs.
    • The West Asia region contributes to India’s 80% of oil supplies, which a potential conflict will impact. 
    • India has been able to minimise the impact of oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war by buying Russian oil at discounted prices, but this conflict will have an adverse impact on energy prices.
    • The crisis comes just when India seems poised for rapid economic growth. Inflation is coming under control and industrial production is gathering pace. Add to this strengthening consumption and reviving private investment. A war could derail all this. 
    • India sees the region as its extended neighbourhood, and it has been working with all sides in the turbulent region to push for the India-Middle-East-Europe Economic corridor, which has strategic as well as economic benefits for Delhi. 
    • Firstly, while there are about 18,000 Indians in Israel and about 5,000-10,000 Indians in Iran, about 90 lakh people are living and working in the Gulf and West Asia region. 
    • Secondly, India’s economic interests are tied to energy security.
    • Thirdly, India has invested in a strategic relationship with major Arab countries including Iran, and Israel. 

Impact of conflict on India’s diplomatic and strategic relationship with both countries:

  • India has strategic ties with both Iran and Israel — and for decades, it has been able to balance between the two sides. 
  • But if the conflict widens, it would be difficult for it to maintain an ambivalent position.
  • India-Israel:
    • India has a very deep strategic relationship with Israel, especially in the context of defence and security partnership. 
    • In the last decade or so, the relationship has grown and has been made public — unlike in the past. This has led to India lending support to Israel in the first few hours of the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas.
    • The two sides have strong concerns about extremism and terrorism, as both have suffered during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. 
    • Israel has also emerged as a major defence supplier, along with the US, France and Russia, and New Delhi remembers that it has stepped up to help during times of crisis, including the Kargil war in 1999.
  • India-Iran:
    • India has managed to maintain a strategic relationship with Iran, as Tehran has been one of the major suppliers of crude oil — which has suffered setbacks due to sanctions. 
    • Both countries have shared concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    • The two countries also have similar concerns on Taliban’s treatment of minorities and the lack of an inclusive and representative government in Kabul.
    • Chabahar is another strategic economic project, which acts as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia — since Pakistan denies land transit to Indian goods.

Way Forward:

  • The Iranian threat had led to worldwide diplomatic initiatives to thwart a possible further conflagration in the region already struggling with Israel's offensive in Gaza.
  • India’s position that there should be “immediate de-escalation” and “step back from violence” and “return to the path of diplomacy” is, therefore, crucial for peace in an otherwise volatile region.
  • The US President Joe Biden has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would not participate in any Israeli counter-offensive against Iran. Such pressures from world leaders will help de-escalate the ongoing situation and help establish peace in the region.

Book A Free Counseling Session