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Analysts assess implications of Iran-Israel tensions

FILE - An anti-missile system is activated after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, April 14, 2024.
FILE - An anti-missile system is activated after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, April 14, 2024.

Despite an unprecedented direct attack on Israel last month, Iran has been careful not to engage in an all-out war with Israel at this time. But analysts say other radical elements in Iran might be willing to take more risk in the future.

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told a recent online seminar that Iran has decided to take a slower approach toward Israel for a number of reasons.

Sadjadpour sees Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who turns 85 later this year, as “committed to preserving the regime.” But he questions Khamanei’s ability to rein in all its forces.

“One potential explanation for what was really an unprecedented Iranian attack April 13th from Iranian soil onto Israel is Khamenei is now no longer able to micromanage things perhaps as he was five, 10 years ago,” Sadjadpour said. “And he’s appointed all of these very firebrand, hardline Revolutionary Guard commanders. They may be much less adverse than he is.”

Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy told VOA that neither Iran nor Israel wants a military conflict to expand at this time.

“It’s very clear that Iran wanted to send a global message that it is prepared to meet Israel fire to fire, so to speak,” Heras said. “However, the current Iranian leadership is not in a position or mindset to escalate into a full-out war with Israel that it knows will involve the United States. The Biden administration has made it very clear that when it comes to a potential war between Iran and Israel, the U.S. will side with Israel.”

In April, Israel carried out airstrikes on a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran in retaliation for Iran’s unprecedented direct missile barrage on Israel that month.

Iran said it conducted the attack in response to an alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic complex in Damascus, Syria on April 1 that killed two top Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, thought to be involved in planning the Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7.

Researchers Hamidreza Azizi and Erwin van Veen of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague wrote in a recent article that the Islamic Republic is trying to “avoid having to fight a domestic and foreign ‘war’ at the same time.”

They point to Iran’s violent crackdown on women and girls openly defying the country’s strict headscarf laws as well as on the men who support them, following the death of Mahsa Amini and other activists, as part of the domestic turmoil. Amini died in 2022 in police custody following her arrest for alleged violations of the dress code laws.

Azizi and van Veen said the dress code violations symbolize broader social disobedience against Iran’s ruling conservative elites.

“Simply put, by cracking down on dissent at home, Iran’s ruling elites aim to avoid domestic unrest while facing the threat of war abroad. Similarly, by threatening war abroad, Iran’s ruling elites aim to avoid deterioration of their credibility and deterrence at home as well as in the region,” they wrote in the institute’s paper titled Tehran’s perpetual motion: The threat of war abroad and contested legitimacy at home.

Observers describe the recent attacks by Iran and Israel as limited, stopping short of eliciting an all-out war, with negligible damage caused on either side.

Still, Amos Harel, a defense analyst for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, said that despite the limited nature of the recent direct attacks between Iran and Israel, “the balance of deterrence between the two countries [is] unsettled."