Navigating the Complex Dynamics of West Asian Geopolitics: Preventing Escalation

What will the complex calculus of the new Middle East crisis resolve into, and what will be the impact on India?

Escalating Tensions in West Asia: Israel’s Strategy Shift and Global Ramifications

ISRAEL has succeeded in diverting world attention from Gaza and Hamas to Iran. This is similar to how Hamas, in October 2023, successfully short-circuited US efforts at normalising relations between the Arab states and Israel under the Abrahams Accord.

These moves and countermoves are ratcheting up the intensity of conflict in West Asia with serious global implications, including for India. The Indian approach seems to be similar to that in the case of the conflict in Ukraine— to play both sides.

Countermoves

Iran’s attack on Israeli soil is unprecedented. It is a response to the Israeli attack on its consulate in Syria on April 1, killing some of its top army commanders. It had warned of a retaliation and that gave Israel and its partners, the US, the UK, etc., time to prepare.

The US had already moved its forces and prepared its allies in the region to shoot down the projectiles from Iran. Even Jordan apparently participated in this. Israel could take care of the projectiles that managed to reach its territory. So, 99 percent of the projectiles were shot down in the air and there was little damage in Israel.

The Indian approach seems to be similar to that in the case of the conflict in Ukraine— to play both sides.

It provided a sense of victory to Israel, the US and their allies. This was US President Joe Biden’s message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to forestall any immediate Israeli retaliation.

Did Iran need 15 days to prepare to attack Israel? Could it not have used many more than 300 projectiles to attack to overwhelm Israeli defences? Could the Iranian allies like the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen not have fired a much larger number of projectiles?

Clearly, Iran was making a show of avenging an attack on them but did not want to hit Israel. It did not want to provoke an attack on its territory from the much superior US and Israeli forces.

The Iranian foreign minister stated in a press conference after the attack that the US, Turkey and some Arab neighbours were given advance information about the limited attack. The US has denied that it had advance information.

Not only were 15 days given to Israel to prepare its defence, the timing of the attack was also conveyed in advance. The drones, which would take six–seven hours to reach Israel, and cruise missiles, which would take two–three hours, were bound to be neutralised given the advance preparations.

Only ballistic missiles, which take only a few minutes to traverse the distance that exists between Israel and Iran, were a serious challenge, but due to the advanced notice and preparation, even they got neutralised.

The Iranian army briefing after the attack also mentioned that the attack was a limited one and had achieved its objective and no more attacks would occur unless Israel attacked its territory. Thus, the Iranian attack was for show and not effect.

The US and the G7 that met in the aftermath of the Iranian attack while condemning the Iranian attack suggested that Israel had won and that it should not retaliate against Iran.

Some even argue that this presents an opportunity to take out Iran’s nuclear establishments and cripple its nuclear bomb capability.

Indeed, Israel’s attack on the embassy in Syria was meant to draw the US and other allies into unequivocally supporting Israel. That support had been dwindling due to the ongoing genocide in Gaza which was inflaming world opinion. Israel has succeeded in this aim. Today, the attention has shifted from genocide in Gaza to the global implications of a wider war in West Asia.

Pressures escalating

The US, while saying it does not want an escalation and that it would not support an Israeli strike, has also said its support to Israel is “ironclad”. Just as Israel has defied US advice to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid to enter, it can defy the current US advice to not escalate the conflict.

Arun Kumar is a Retired Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is the author of `Demonetization and Black Economy’ (2018, Penguin Random House). 

The article was first published as ‘West Asian moves and countermoves: Challenges of them spinning out of control‘ in The Leaflet on April 16, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

Read more at IMPRI:

Unleashing Compassion: Exploring Swiggy’s ‘Pawternity’ Policy

Iran’s Missile Attack: Signaling an End to Rising Tensions?

Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Mansi Garg , a researcher at IMPRI.