Once friends, Israel and Iran have attacked each other on several occasions on land, air and sea. In the past months, tensions have been rising between Israel and Iran and the proxy conflict is now turning into a more direct confrontation.
Opposing President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israel has asked the US to harden its stance against its arch-enemy Iran. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, but Israel will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Calling for international action against Iran, Bennett said, “Iran's nuclear weapons program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed."
Israel and Iran have attacked each other on several occasions on land, air and sea as part of their long-running undeclared shadow war. They have blamed each other for mysterious attacks and stepped up a covert war even as they tried to avoid direct conflict which could be deeply destructive for both countries.
However, in the past months, tensions have been rising between the two countries and the proxy conflict is now turning into a more direct confrontation.
Friends turned foes
Iran and Israel were on friendlier terms during the reign of Iran’s last monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi but fell apart after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The new Islamic Republic of Iran denounced Israel as an imperialist power in the Middle East. And started supporting groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group that regularly fights Israel, and the Palestinian group Hamas. Israel has tried to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, killing most of its atomic research scientists.
Attacks in sea
On July 29, 2021, a deadly drone strike was launched on an Israeli-operated tanker in the Gulf of Oman. Israel blamed Iran for the attack, but Iran denied the charge.
Similar attacks happened in 2019 as well, though neither country accepted responsibility for the hits. Some of the attacks included Iranian oil tankers going to Syria, attacks on Israeli cargo ships, including a car carrier in February, and an attack on an Iranian ship near Yemen, which was a floating base for the country’s premier military force – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The assassination of nuclear scientists
Israel is said to have assassinated five Iranian nuclear scientists and injured one since 2007, using a variety of methods. The first nuclear scientist was poisoned in 2007, while another was killed in 2010 using a remotely detonated bomb. The next assassinations between 2010 and 2012 were done by hitmen on motorcycles.
The last attack was on Iran’s top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the man who led Iran’s atomic bomb program. Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 using a remote-controlled machine gun with an intelligent satellite system using artificial intelligence.
The operation, which took less than a minute and fired 15 bullets, was meticulously planned.
Known as the father of Iran’s nuclear program, Fakhrizadeh played a key role in developing drones for the country. According to a New York Times report, if Iran required sensitive equipment or technology prohibited under international laws, Fakhrizadeh obtained it through various ways. He had long been the target for Israel.
The scientist was killed using a special model Belgian-made FN MAG machine gun that was attached to a robotic apparatus. The whole operation was remotely controlled.
“It was not a simple terrorist attack for someone to come and fire a bullet and run,” Fakhrizadeh’s son Hamed had said on television later.
“His assassination was far more complicated than what you know and think. He was unknown to the Iranian public, but he was very well known to those who are the enemy of Iran’s development.”
In April 2021, Iran blamed Israel for an explosion at its Natanz facility, which is one of the country’s largest uranium enrichment plants. This was the second time that the site was hit in less than a year.
Apart from this, Israel has repeatedly attacked military sites in Syria, which borders Israel, killing several Iranians. Iran has lent its military support to its ally Syria.
In Lebanon, Shiite Muslims have opposed Israel’s occupation of the southern part of the country. This led to the formation of Hezbollah in 1982, which often fights proxy wars for Iran. Since 2006, the military wing of Hezbollah has fired rockets into Israel’s northern border, while Israel has targeted some key components of the Hezbollah.
Both countries face significant risks of escalation of the direct war. According to Israel’s military, Hezbollah is armed with around 130,000 missiles which could wreak havoc if unleashed on Israel.
Apart from the physical damage, war will have a serious economic impact on both countries, especially Iran which is already beleaguered by sanctions by the US.
(Edited by : Yashi Gupta)