When did the conflict between Israel and Iran begin?

Last Updated on April 20, 2024 5:50 am

Tensions are rising in the Middle East. Meanwhile, an Israeli missile hit Iran early Friday morning, two US officials told CBS News, the BBC’s US affiliate. In addition, there have been reports of attacks in Daraa province in the southern part of Syria.

The distance of Isfahan province from Tehran, the capital of Iran, is three and a half hundred kilometers. Iran’s nuclear facilities are located there. The province is also home to one of the country’s largest military air bases.

Earlier, Iran attacked Israel with drones and missiles on the night of April 13. Iran’s state media reported this information citing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, a branch of the country’s armed forces.

At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of his wartime cabinet. The media reported that it was decided to respond to Iran’s attack there.

This direct conflict between Iran and Israel began on April 1. Two senior military commanders were killed in an attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that day. Iran blamed Israel for the attack and vowed to retaliate. This retaliatory attack is basically the latest episode in the old conflict between the two countries.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in a bloody conflict for years. And its intensity sometimes increases, sometimes decreases depending on the geopolitical issues. This is one of the reasons for instability in the Middle East.

To Tehran, Israel is the ‘little devil’ and the United States’ ally in the Middle East, which it calls the ‘big devil’.

Israel accuses Iran of funding “terrorist” groups as well as exploiting Jewish opposition to attack them.

The conflict between the ‘two archenemies’ has caused large numbers of casualties, often in secret, with no government claiming responsibility. The war in Gaza has worsened the situation.

How hostilities between Israel and Iran began

Relations between Israel and Iran were cordial until 1979; But this relationship soured when the Ayatollah seized power in Tehran through the so-called Islamic Revolution.

Iran was the second Muslim country after Egypt to recognize Israel even though it initially opposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. At the time, Iran was a monarchy ruled by the Shahs of the Pahlavi dynasty and one of the United States’ main allies in the Middle East.

For this reason, Israel’s founder and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, sought and achieved friendship with Iran as a means of countering rejection of the new Jewish state by its Arab neighbors. But in 1979 the situation changed completely.

Ruhullah Khomeini overthrew the Shah through revolution and imposed the Islamic Republic on Iran.

One of the main features of this new government’s identity was its rejection of the imperialism of the United States and its ally Israel.

The new Ayatollah’s government severed ties with Israel, denied the validity of Israeli citizens’ passports, and seized the Israeli embassy in Tehran, handing it over to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

At the time, the PLO was leading the fight against the Israeli government and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Ali Vayez, director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization on conflict resolution, told the BBC that hostility to Israel was a pillar of the new Iranian regime because many of its leaders participated in and trained in guerrilla warfare with the Palestinians in places like Lebanon, and had a lot of sympathy for them.

But also, Vaiz believed, the new Iran wanted to present itself as a pan-Islamic power. And so brought the issue of Palestine against Israel, because other Arab Muslim countries had already dropped it.

This is how Khomeini began to claim Palestine as his own and pro-Palestinian protests became normal with his and Tehran’s government support.

However, according to Vaize, Israel’s hostility toward Iran did not begin until the 1990s. Because before that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was considered a bigger regional threat.

Even the Israeli government was one of the intermediaries in making the secret program known as ‘Iran-Contra’ possible. The United States thereby removed weapons to Iran that it used to wage war against neighboring Iraq from 1980 to 1988; But over time, Israel began to see Iran as one of the main threats to its existence, and conflict between the two countries began.

The ‘Shadow War’ between Israel and Iran

Faced with other major regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the reality of Iran’s Shiite predominance in the Sunni-dominated Arab Islamic world, the Iranian government “realized its isolation and began to develop a strategy aimed at countering fears that enemies would one day invade their own territory,” Vaize said. by’

Thus the network of organizations linked to Tehran expands and conducts military actions favorable to its interests. Notable among these is Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which the United States and the European Union have designated as a ‘terrorist’ group. Today, this so-called Iranian ‘axis of resistance’ extends to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Meanwhile, Israel did not sit idly by. Rather, Iran and its allies resisted attacks and other hostile acts. But often it is in a third country where Israel finances and supports armed groups fighting pro-Iranian forces.

The fight between Iran and Israel has been described as a ‘shadow war’ as both countries have attacked each other. But in many cases no one has officially acknowledged it.

In 1992, an Islamic jihadist group close to Iran blew up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. 29 people were killed.

A few days ago, Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Mousavi was killed. Israel’s intelligence agency was blamed for the attack.

It was always important for Israel to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, so that the Ayatollahs would never acquire a nuclear weapon.

Israel has never believed Iran’s claim that it was being run for civilian purposes only. It is even widely accepted that Israel, in cooperation with the United States, created the Stuxnet computer virus, which caused serious damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities in the first decade of the 2000s.

Tehran blames Israeli intelligence for the attack on some of the top scientists in charge of its nuclear program. The most notable of these was the 2020 killing of its most senior figure, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The Israeli government, however, has never admitted involvement in the deaths of Iranian scientists. Israel, along with its Western allies, has accused Iran of drone and rocket attacks on its territory in the past, as well as several cyber attacks.

The Syrian civil war that started in 2011 was another cause of conflict between the two countries.

According to Western intelligence sources, Iran then sent money, weapons and trainers against rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

This has raised alarm bells in Israel, which believes neighboring Syria is one of the Iranians’ main conduits for sending equipment and weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

According to the US intelligence portal Stratfor, at various times both Israel and Iran have carried out operations in Syria aimed at preventing the other from launching a large-scale attack.

In 2021, this ‘shadow war’ had reached the sea as well. Israel blamed Iran for attacking Israeli ships in the Gulf of Oman that year. On the other hand, Iran accused Israel of attacking their ships in the Red Sea.

Hamas attack on Israel

Following the October 7, 2023 attack by the Palestinian militia Hamas against Israel and the Israeli army’s massive military operation in Gaza in response, analysts and heads of government around the world expressed concern that the conflict could trigger a chain reaction in the region and provoke open and direct conflict between Iranians and Israelis.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah-affiliated militias along the Lebanese border have escalated in recent months, as have clashes with Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank.

Until last week, both Iran and Israel had avoided escalating their hostilities into a full-scale war, but that changed after Tehran launched drones and missiles.

According to Voyager, the irony is that no one wants a large-scale conflict now. Six months into Israel’s devastating war against Hamas in Gaza, its reputation on the international stage has had a massive negative impact and has left it more isolated than ever.

Analysts have warned that Iran is “a state and therefore much stronger” than Hamas.

But at the same time ‘it has many economic problems’ and ‘internally its government is suffering a legitimacy crisis’ after months of protests led by women upset by the imposed religious restrictions.

The deaths of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ senior commander, General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy, Hadi Hazriahimi, among the 13 killed in the attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, hit Tehran particularly hard.

The country’s foreign ministry then vowed “punishment for the aggressor” and its ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, announced that “effective action” must be taken against it.

Iran’s counter-drone and missile attack on Israel in response to the attack on the consulate in Damascus, last Friday’s attack on Iran by Israel – the question is whether the hostile relationship between the two countries is going to take the form of a long-term open conflict.

Author: Guillermo D. Olmo, BBC World Service

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