Many factors are contributing to the recent series of tensions between Iran and Israel. The two countries’ blaming each other for assassination attempts in each other’s territories is now being debated discreetly and boldly between them. For years, they have been involved in carrying out undercover operations or infiltrating each other’s camps to kill officials or leaders.
Things have recently escalated and appear to be taking on new forms. Given their roles in the Middle East and their geopolitical and strategic interests in the region, Iran and Israel see each other as the greatest threat. They both aim to be a regional power, trying to compete based on shared interests. While Israel is backed by the US, this is the most disturbing fact for Iran, a stumbling block to its rise as a regional power.
In recent years, Iran has accused Israel of assassinating its top nuclear scientists. Since 2007, five nuclear scientists have been assassinated in Iran. Despite being under the watchful eye of the West, Iran is said to be carrying out various nuclear operations and has increased uranium production over the years. The death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020, allegedly with a remote-controlled machine gun, marked a dramatic transition in relations between the two countries. Israel has never denied or agreed to this. However, Mossad later revealed the threat Fakhrizadeh posed as a result of his scientific knowledge.
The cause of the rising tensions between the two
Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is entirely for peaceful purposes. However, since President Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reinstated US sanctions, in the absence of an agreement to limit Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions, Tehran has reduced its commitments while expanding its nuclear activities. Iran has responded by enriching uranium to ever-higher levels of purity. It is now suspected of having enough for a nuclear weapon. Its talks in Vienna with world powers about reviving the nuclear deal have also stalled.
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Meanwhile, Iran, if it achieves a nuclear weapon, would in turn threaten its neighbor, Israel, who strongly insists on the nuclear deal happen. In turn, Israel is likely to launch military strikes inside the Islamic republic, which could spark a wider conflict in the region.
The surfacing of the shadow war
The situation between the two reached a level where they were openly talking about retaliation attacks. Recently, during Israel’s Prime Minister’s visit to Turkey, Israel, with the support of Turkey, foiled the Iranians’ plan to kill and abduct an Israeli tourist, and five Iranians were arrested regarding that.
Iran boasted of a drone operation inside Israel; both countries allegedly attacked each other’s cargo ships, and Iran last week claimed Israel was behind a sabotage attack on an underground nuclear site. Iran recently announced the arrest of three people with alleged ties to Mossad, whom it accuses of plotting to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
Iran also reported several mysterious deaths within the country, including two aerospace officials who were “martyred while on a mission” and a defense ministry engineer who was “martyred by industrial sabotage.” It did not, however, go so far as to blame Israel for the deaths. Some hardliners have called for military attacks on Israel. The hardline Resalat newspaper demanded a “hard blow” against Israel. Iran will almost certainly target Israeli citizens or interests in the region.
Alongside the turmoil in Israel’s government happening right now. The election is heading to new elections this summer. The outgoing Prime Minister of Israel has hinted, saying that we will no longer target each other in proxy wars but rather go for open covert operations.
The Arab countries’ establishing diplomatic relations with Israel has changed the dynamics of geopolitics in the Middle East in recent years, such as the Abraham Accords, which saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agree to normalize relations with Israel. According to some analysts, these initiatives are an attempt to isolate Iran. Recent sanctions and internal insecurity in Iran pose a threat to Tehran; unless it suspends its nuclear activities and cooperates with the nuclear deal, it will be unable to revive its economy with so many things going on. According to a Biden administration official, tensions between the two states have not risen significantly.