Iran–Israel proxy conflict
|Iran–Israel proxy conflict|
Israel (Orange) and Iran (Dark Green) in the Middle East
|Commanders and leaders|
(President of Syria)
Benjamin Netanyahu |
(Prime Minister of Israel)
Ehud Olmert (2006–2009)
The Iran–Israel proxy conflict, or Iran–Israel proxy war and Iran–Israel Cold War, is the ongoing proxy war between Iran and Israel. The conflict is bound in the political struggle of Iranian leadership against Israel and its declared aim to dissolve the Jewish state, with the counter aim of Israel to prevent nuclear weapons being acquired by the Iranian government and downgrading its allies and proxies such as the Lebanese Hezbollah party. Iranian forces are operating in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad's government. The conflict gradually emerged from the declared hostility of post-revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran towards Israel since 1979, into covert Iranian support of Hezbollah during the South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000) and essentially developed into a proxy regional conflict from 2005. With increasing Iranian involvement in Syria from 2011, the conflict had shifted from proxy warfare into direct confrontation by early 2018.
Israel suspects Tehran is pursuing the goal of forming a continuous land transport route from Iran via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, and if Tehran succeeds "it would be a strategic game-changer." According to Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, "As long as the current regime exists, with the nuclear agreement or without it, Iran will continue to serve as the main threat to Israel's security". In the Syrian Civil War, hoping to bolster its logistics and force projection capabilities in the area, Tehran aims to clear a path from the Iranian capital to Damascus and the Mediterranean coast. Israeli government is convinced that Iran is interested in creating territorial contiguity from Iran to the Mediterranean and in transferring military forces – including naval vessels, fighter planes and thousands of troops – to permanent bases in Syria and is trying to "Lebanonize" Syria and take over using Shi'ite militias, as it had done with Hezbollah in Lebanon. As Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned, "everything possible will be done to prevent the existence of a Shi’ite corridor from Tehran to Damascus". In 2017, Israeli intelligence discovered an Iranian base being built in Syria just 50 km from the Israeli border.
Israel and Syria have observed a truce since Israel reaffirmed its control over most of the Golan Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has led to several incidents of fire exchange across the once-peaceful borders. The Israeli military is reportedly preparing itself for potential threats should there be a power vacuum in Syria. "After Assad and after establishing or strengthening their foothold in Syria they are going to move and deflect their effort and attack Israel," an Israeli official told The Associated Press in January 2014. Some experts say that while the encroaching militant forces on Israel's border will heighten security measures, the advancements are not likely to create significant changes to Israel's policy disengagement in the Syria crisis.
In a number of incidents over the course of the Syrian Civil War, Israel has clashed with Hezbollah and Iranian forces in the region. On several occasions, Israel was suspected of perpetrating or supporting attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets within Syrian territories or Lebanon. The first incident of this kind took place on 30 January 2013, when Israeli aircraft were accused of allegedly striking a Syrian convoy transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. More incidents were attributed to IAF on May 2013, December 2014, April 2015. Some of those reports were confirmed by the Syrian Arab Republic, whereas others denied. Israel systematically refused to comment on alleged targeting of Hezbollah and Ba'athist Syrian targets in Syrian territory. In 2015, suspected Hezbollah militants launched an attack on Israeli forces in Shebaa farms. In March 2017, Syria launched anti-aircraft missiles towards Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, allegedly targeting Israeli IAF aircraft, which Syria claimed were on their way to attack targets in Palmyra (Syria). After the incident, the State of Israel has stated it was targeting weapons shipments headed toward anti-Israeli forces, specifically Hezbollah, located in Lebanon. Israel denied Syria's claim that one jet fighter was shot down and another damaged. Israel has not reported any pilots or aircraft missing in Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East following the incident. According to some sources, the incident was the first time Israeli officials clearly confirmed an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah convoy during the Syrian Civil War. As of September 2017, this was the only time such confirmation was issued.
Iran claims its foreign policy is based on aiding the oppressed vulnerables around the world–not for material gains, but as a humanitarian religious positive action. In Iran's foreign policy Israel is conceptualized as a Zionist regime that threatens vulnerable people and Islamic religion itself. It is known as ideological enemy for Iran. Iran, in contact with the U.S. over the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has said that Israel would be at risk if the U.S. and its coalition sought to topple Assad. Hezbollah’s 7 October 2014 attack on Israeli forces, its first declared such operation since 2006, proved the seriousness of the threat. Though the Islamic Republic of Iran has been known for its anti-Israeli stance from the very beginning, its continuous support for Hezbollah evolved into almost a direct confrontation with Israel, as Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have allegedly infiltrated Lebanon and directly supported Hezbollah during the past decade. The Hamas-dominated Gaza had also been considered a proxy of Iran.
- 1 Background
- 2 History
- 3 Iranian supporters and alleged proxies
- 4 Israeli supporters and alleged proxies
- 5 International responses
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Iranian–Israeli relations have shifted from close ties between Israel and Iran during the era of the Pahlavi dynasty to hostility since the Islamic Revolution. Iran has severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel, and its government has not recognized Israel as a state, referring to its government as the "Zionist regime".
The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon resulted in the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) departure from Lebanon. The following creation of Security Zone in South Lebanon has benefited Israeli allies in Lebanon and civilian Israeli population, as Galilee suffered less violent attacks by Hezbollah, than previously by PLO in the 1970s (hundreds of Israeli civilian casualties). Despite this Israeli success in eradicating PLO bases and partial withdraw in 1985, the Israeli invasion had actually increased the severity of conflict with local Lebanese militias and resulted in the consolidation of several local Shia Muslim movements in Lebanon, including Hezbollah and Amal, from a previously unorganized guerrilla movement in the south. Over the years, military casualties of both sides grew higher, as both parties used more modern weaponry, and Hezbollah progressed in its tactics.
Iran supplied the militant organization Hezbollah with substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid while persuading Hezbollah to take an action against Israel. Hezbollah's 1985 manifesto listed its four main goals as "Israel's final departure from Lebanon as a prelude to its final obliteration" According to reports released in February 2010, Hezbollah received $400 million from Iran. By the early 1990s, Hezbollah, with support from Syria and Iran, emerged as the leading group and military power, monopolizing the directorship of the guerrilla activity in South Lebanon.
In January 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran's nuclear program would only be set back six weeks as a result of its interim agreement with the international community. In one of the region's oddest pairings, Israel and the Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia increasingly are finding common ground — and a common political language — on their mutual dismay over the prospect of a nuclear deal in Geneva that could curb Tehran's atomic program but leave the main elements intact, such as uranium enrichment. In June 2017, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated that "We and the Arabs, the same Arabs who organized in a coalition in the Six-Day War to try to destroy the Jewish state, today find themselves in the same boat with us … The Sunni Arab countries, apart from Qatar, are largely in the same boat with us since we all see a nuclear Iran as the number one threat against all of us,".
Iranian support to Hezbollah and Hamas
With the election of Iranian hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, relations between Iran and Israel became increasingly tense as the countries engaged in a series of proxy conflicts and covert operations against each other.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Iranian Revolutionary Guards were believed to have directly assisted Hezbollah fighters in their attacks on Israel. Multiple sources suggested that hundreds of Revolutionary Guard operatives participated in the firing of rockets into Israel during the war, and secured Hezbollah's long-range missiles. Revolutionary Guard operatives were allegedly seen operating openly at Hezbollah outposts during the war. In addition, Revolutionary Guard operatives were alleged to have supervised Hezbollah's attack on the INS Hanit with a C-802 anti-ship missile. The attack severely damaged the warship and killed four crewmen. It is alleged that between six and nine Revolutionary Guard operatives were killed by the Israeli military during the war According to the Israeli media their bodies were transferred to Syria and from there, flown to Tehran. On 6 September 2007, Israeli Air Force destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria, with ten North Koreans reportedly killed.
During and immediately after the Gaza War, the Israeli Air Force, with the assistance of Israeli commandos, was reported to have allegedly carried out three airstrikes against Iranian arms being smuggled to Hamas through Sudan, as Iran launched an intensive effort to supply Hamas with weapons and ammunition. Israel hinted that it was behind the attacks. Two truck convoys were destroyed, and an arms-laden ship was sunk in the Red Sea.
On 4 November 2009, Israel captured a ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and its cargo of hundreds of tons of weapons allegedly bound from Iran to Hezbollah.
In 2010, a wave of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists began. The assassinations were widely believed to be the work of Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service. According to Iran and global media sources, the methods used to kill the scientists is reminiscent of the way Mossad had previously assassinated targets. The assassinations were alleged to be an attempt to stop Iran's nuclear program, or to ensure that it cannot recover following a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. In the first attack, particle physicist Masoud Alimohammadi was killed on 12 January 2010 when a booby-trapped motorcycle parked near his car exploded. On 12 October 2010, an explosion occurred at an IRGC military base near the city of Khorramabad, killing 18 soldiers. On 29 November 2010, two senior Iranian nuclear scientists, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoon Abbasi, were targeted by hitmen on motorcycles, who attached bombs to their cars and detonated them from a distance. Shahriari was killed, while Abbasi was severely wounded. On 23 July 2011, Darioush Rezaeinejad was shot dead in eastern Tehran. On 11 January 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan and his driver were killed by a bomb attached to their car from a motorcycle.
In June 2010 Stuxnet, an advanced computer worm was discovered. It is believed that it had been developed by US and Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. In a study conducted by ISIS it is estimated that Stuxnet might have damaged as many as 1,000 centrifuges (10% of all installed) in the Natanz enrichment plant. Other computer viruses and malware, including Duqu and Flame, were reportedly related to Stuxnet. Iran claims that its adversaries regularly engineer sales of faulty equipment and attacks by computer viruses to sabotage its nuclear program.
On 15 March 2011, Israel seized a ship from Syria bringing Iranian weapons to Gaza. In addition, the Mossad was also suspected of being responsible for an explosion that reportedly damaged the nuclear facility at Isfahan. Iran denied that any explosion had occurred, but The Times reported damage to the nuclear plant based on satellite images, and quoted Israeli intelligence sources as saying that the blast indeed targeted a nuclear site, and was "no accident". Hours after the blast took place, Hezbollah fired two rockets into northern Israel. The Israel Defense Forces reacted by firing four artillery shells at the area from where the launch originated. It was speculated that the attack was ordered by Iran and Syria as a warning to Israel. The Israeli attack was reported to have killed 7 people, including foreign nationals. Another 12 people were injured, of whom 7 later died in hospital.
The Mossad was suspected of being behind an explosion at a Revolutionary Guard missile base in November 2011. The blast killed 17 Revolutionary Guard operatives, including General Hassan Moqaddam, described as a key figure in Iran's missile program. Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai wrote that several lower-ranked Iranian missile experts had probably been previously killed in several explosions at various sites.
In response to Israeli covert operations, Iranian agents reportedly began trying to hit Israeli and Jewish targets; potential targets were then placed on high alert. Yoram Cohen, the head of Shin Bet, claimed that three planned attacks in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Thailand were thwarted at the last minute. On 11 October 2011, the United States claimed to have foiled an alleged Iranian plot that included bombing the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington DC and Buenos Aires.
On 13 February 2012, Israeli embassy staff in Georgia and India were targeted. In Georgia, a car bomb failed to explode near the embassy and was safely detonated by Georgian police. In India, the car bomb exploded, injuring four people. Amongst the wounded was the wife of an Israeli Defense Ministry employee. Israel accused Iran of being behind the attacks. The following day, three alleged Iranian agents were uncovered in Bangkok, Thailand, thought to have been planning to kill Israeli diplomatic officials, including the ambassador, by attaching bombs to embassy cars. The cell was uncovered when one of their bombs exploded. Police responded, and the Iranian agent present at the house threw an explosive device at officers that tore his legs off, and was subsequently taken into custody. A second suspect was arrested as he tried to catch a flight out of the country, and the third escaped to Malaysia, where he was arrested by Malaysian Federal Police. Thai police subsequently arrested two people suspected of involvement. Indian police arrested a Delhi-based journalist in connection with February’s car bomb, which injured four Israelis including the wife of an Israeli diplomat. Syed Mohammed Kazmi the journalist was arrested on 6 March 2012, he is said to have been in contact with a suspect police believe might have stuck a magnetic bomb to the diplomat’s car. It is said Kazmi was an Indian citizen who worked for an Iranian publication.
In late February 2012, WikiLeaks published confidential emails from Stratfor, a US-based private intelligence company, which were stolen by the hacking group Anonymous. Among the information released was a claim that Israeli commandos, in collaboration with Kurdish fighters, destroyed several underground Iranian facilities used for nuclear and defense research projects.
On 18 July 2012, a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was destroyed in a bombing attack that killed five Israeli tourists and the driver, and injured 32 people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the attack. In July 2012, a senior Israeli defense official stated that since May 2011, more than 20 terrorist attacks planned by Iranians or suspected Hezbollah agents against Israeli targets worldwide had been foiled, including in South Africa, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Turkey, Thailand, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Nepal, Nigeria, and Peru, and that Iranian and Hezbollah operatives were incarcerated in jails throughout the world.
On 6 October 2012, Israeli airplanes shot down a small UAV as it flew over northern Negev. Hezbollah confirmed it sent the drone and Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the drone's parts were manufactured in Iran.
In November 2012, Israel reported that an Iranian ship was being loaded with rockets to be exported to countries within range of Israel and that Israel "will attack and destroy any shipment of arms".
On 7 May 2013, residents of Tehran reported hearing three blasts in an area where Iran maintains its missile research and depots. Later, an Iranian website said the blasts occurred at a privately owned chemical factory.
On 10 December, Hamas announced that they have resumed ties with Iran after a brief cut off over the Syrian conflict 
A court in Jerusalem has sentenced an Israeli man, Yitzhak Bergel to four-and-a-half years in prison for offering to spy for Iran. Bergel belongs to the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect which is vehemently opposed to the State of Israel's existence.
On 5 March 2014, the Israeli navy intercepted the Klos-C cargo ship. Israel stated Iran was using the vessel to smuggle dozens of long-range rockets to Gaza, including Syrian-manufactured M-302 rockets. The operation, named Full Disclosure and carried out by Shayetet 13 special forces, took place in the Red Sea, 1,500 kilometers away from Israel and some 160 kilometers from Port Sudan.
Two workers were killed in an explosion that took place at a military explosives factory southeast of Tehran, near the suspected nuclear reactor in Parchin. In what seemed to be a response ordered by Iran, Hezbollah set off an explosive device on the border between Lebanon and the Israeli-controlled side of the Shebaa farms, wounding two Israeli soldiers. Israel responded with artillery fire toward two Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.
During the Syrian Civil War
Iran–Israel conflict during the Syrian Civil War refers to the Iranian-Israeli standoff in and around Syria on the course of the Syrian conflict. With increasing Iranian involvement in Syria from 2011 the conflict shifted from proxy warfare into direct confrontation by early 2018.
On several occasions, between 2013 and 2017, Israel reportedly carried out or supported attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets within Syrian territories or Lebanon. One of the first reliably reported incident of this kind took place on 30 January 2013, when Israeli aircraft struck a Syrian convoy allegedly transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. Habitually, Israel refused to comment on the incident, a stance that is believed to seek to ensure that the Syrian government did not feel obliged to retaliate.
More incidents were attributed to IAF on May 2013, December 2014, April 2015. Some of those reports were confirmed by the Syrian Arab Republic, whereas others denied. Israel systematically refused to comment on alleged targeting of Hezbollah and Ba'athist Syrian targets in Syrian territory. In 2015, suspected Hezbollah militants launched a retaliatory attack on Israeli forces in Shebaa farms. In March 2017, Syria launched anti-aircraft missiles towards Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, allegedly targeting Israeli IAF aircraft, which Syria claimed were on their way to attack targets in Palmyra (Syria). After the incident, the State of Israel has stated it was targeting weapons shipments headed toward anti-Israeli forces, specifically Hezbollah, located in Lebanon. Israel denied Syria's claim that one jet fighter was shot down and another damaged. Israel has not reported any pilots or aircraft missing in Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East following the incident. According to some sources, the incident was the first time Israeli officials clearly confirmed an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah convoy during the Syrian Civil War. As of September 2017, this was the only time such confirmation was issued.
By early December 2017, the Israeli air force had confirmed it had attacked arms convoys of Ba'athist Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah nearly 100 times during within over six years of the conflict in Syria.
Iranian supporters and alleged proxies
Hezbollah has grown to an organization with seats in the Lebanese government, a radio and a satellite television-station, programs for social development and large-scale military deployment of fighters beyond Lebanon's borders. The organization has been called a "state within a state". Hezbollah is part of the March 8 Alliance within Lebanon, in opposition to the March 14 Alliance. Hezbollah maintains strong support among Lebanon's Shi'a population, while Sunnis have disagreed with the group's agenda. Following the end of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, its military strength grew significantly, such that its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah receives military training, weapons, and financial support from Iran, and political support from Syria. Hezbollah also fought against Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Between 2005 and 2011, Iran was one of the main funders and suppliers of Hamas. Israel estimates the Hamas' Brigades have a core of several hundred members, who received military style training, including training in Iran and in Syria (before the Syrian Civil War). In 2011, after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Hamas distanced itself from the Syrian government and its members began leaving Syria. Since 2012, Hamas ceased receiving any support from Iran due to Hamas' support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. In a speech for the spokesman of the Qassam brigades in 2014 on Hamas's 27 anniversary he thanked Iran for aid in finance and weapons.
In 2008, Sudan and Iran signed a military cooperation agreement. The agreement was signed by Iran's Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar and his Sudanese counterpart Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein.
In 2011, however, Sudan reduced the cooperation with Iran because of the Start of the Syrian Civil War.
In 2015, Sudan completely severed its ties with Iran, by participating in the Saudi led intervention in the Yemeni Crisis on behalf of the Sunni Arab alliance.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Iran is a major financial supporter of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ). Following the Israeli and Egyptian squeeze on Hamas in early 2014, PIJ has seen its power steadily increase with the backing of funds from Iran. Its financial backing is believed to also come from Syria.
Israeli supporters and alleged proxies
People's Mujahedin of Iran
- US officials confirm that MEK was financed, trained, and armed by Israel in killing Iranian nuclear scientists.
- According to a New Yorker report, members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq received training in the U.S. and Israeli funding for their operations against the Iranian government.
Kurdistan Free Life Party
Israel has provided medical treatment for Syrian civilians and rebels. Reports on alleged hospitalization of some members of al-Nusra Front caused strife amongst the Israeli Druze community.
In late April 2016, the security forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) apprehended a vehicle, they claimed was loaded with a large amount of Israeli-manufactured weapons in Syria’s southern Al-Swaida’a governorate. The weapons are very old and as seen most of them were made in the 70s and 80s and from the look of the ammunition it has been stolen as it suffers from neglect and poor condition.
Russian foreign policy in the Middle East during the early 2000s, in light of the Iran–Israel proxy conflict.
In his 10 September 2004 article Middle East Horizons of Russian Foreign Politics: Russia returns to one of the world's key regions, Mikhail Margelov, the Head of the Foreign Relations Council of the Russian Federation, wrote:
"President Putin called for the renewal of contacts with the countries with which Russia maintained long friendly relations and invested a lot of material and intellectual resources. The Arab countries constitute a large part of those counties. ... In general, the positions of Russia and the majority of Arab countries on key issues of development of the political situation in the region coincide."
According to March 2007 brief entitled Russia's New Middle Eastern Policy: Back to Bismarck? by Ariel Cohen (Institute for Contemporary Affairs),
"Syria ... was supplying Hizbullah with Russian weapons. In 2006, Israeli forces found evidence of the Russian-made Kornet-E and Metis-M anti-tank systems in Hizbullah's possession in southern Lebanon. The Russian response to accusations that it was supplying terrorist groups with weapons was an announcement, in February 2007, that Russia's military will conduct inspections of Syrian weapons storage facilities with the goal of preventing the weapons from reaching unintended customers. Predictably, such developments placed considerable strain on the already-deteriorating relations between Russia and Israel...
For several years Russia has been attempting to engage in military cooperation with both Israel and Syria. However, the levels of cooperation with the two states are inversely related and an escalation of arms sales to Syria can only damage the relationship with Israel. Russian-Syrian military cooperation has gone through numerous stages: high levels of cooperation during the Soviet era, which was virtually halted until 2005, and now Russia's attempt to balance its relationship with both Israel and Syria. However, Russia's recent eastward leanings might indicate that Moscow is prepared to enter a new stage in its military cooperation with Syria, even if this is to the detriment of its relationship with Israel.
- Arab–Israeli conflict
- Cold War II
- Iran–Israel relations
- Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict
- List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
- Arab Cold War
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