Israel has long made clear its penchant for applying military pressure to disrupt Iran’s nuclear advances and weapons exports — and, more recently, its drone technology program. In the last few months, however, Israel’s appetite for risk seems to have increased.
These recent attacks continue a decades-long pattern of largely unclaimed tit-for-tat strikes between Israel and Iran in what is described as a “shadow war” with fronts on land, air, and sea. There was a brief pause in Israeli attacks on Iran’s nuclear program when negotiations between the Islamic Republic and Western powers became public in 2013. This lull lasted until the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the resulting nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018. Even so, throughout the period in which all parties adhered to the JCPOA, Israel continued what its military experts dubbed a “campaign between wars,” targeting Iranian-backed militias and weapons shipments through Iraq and Syria to groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Although this conflict has continued to the extent of a shadow war, it is feared that this process will turn from a shadow war to an open and all-out war due to the changes in the domestic and international conditions of both sides which are as follows:
- The Biden administration entered office with a focus on restoring the JCPOA. But the evidence shows that, from the point of view of Iranian leaders, diplomacy itself seems to be off the table, not just for the Biden team but even for European leaders who had traditionally been predisposed to engage with Iran. Iran’s current leaders appear less interested in nuclear diplomacy as Tehran’s nuclear capabilities advance.
- The war in Ukraine — and Iran’s emergence as an important supplier of weaponry to Russia — has indeed changed the dynamics of cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. In fact, unlike in the past, where Iran was the co-dependent partner and Russia maintained the upper hand, Russia today relies on Iran’s defense industry, which, thanks to decades of being subject to arms embargoes, has made remarkable progress. The continued cooperation has the potential to create a supply chain and manufacturing system in which each country focuses its production on military equipment in which it has a comparative advantage. This “cross-functional partnership” stands in contrast to NATO’s “same-functional alliance,” where parties share similar competencies.
- Statements by Israeli officials about the IDF’s determination to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2023 seem to have conveyed the “message” to Iranian leaders that Israel will no longer be content with a shadow war strategy if the nuclear negotiations fail. In this case, the US will also support Israel’s plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Therefore, if Iran has considered Israel’s plan to attack its nuclear facilities as a definite option, it is very likely to plan a preemptive attack or retaliatory response to Israel. Iran’s response will probably be in the form of a full-scale war campaign consisting of Iran’s army and its proxies inside and outside Israel, along with Russia’s indirect military support.
As a result, Iran’s recent efforts such as strengthening its air force with Russian Sukhoi fighters, speeding up the enrichment program to reach a 90 percent rate, establishing radar systems in Syria, increasing the rate of sending weapons to Hezbollah, de-escalating tensions with the Persian Gulf countries and the increase in terrorist acts against Israeli targets inside and outside the borders can be considered as part of Iran’s plan to launch its war campaign against Israel.