Thursday, May 23, 2024

Israel on Edge: Countdown to Confrontation with Iran

HomeWARIsrael on Edge: Countdown to Confrontation with Iran

Israeli officials are bracing for the possibility of a direct attack from Iran on government and military targets as soon as this weekend, according to Western intelligence assessments. Such an unprecedented assault could dramatically escalate tensions in the already volatile Middle East region.

The New York Times has learned from multiple sources familiar with the intelligence that one of the main scenarios Jerusalem and its allies are preparing for is bombardment from Iranian soil with drones and precision-guided missiles within the next 48 hours.

While the sources stressed that no final decision to strike has been approved yet by Iran’s highest leadership, they said the working assumption is that an attack is imminent in retaliation for last week’s deadly strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria. Tehran has blamed Israel for that attack and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to “punish” Israel, though he did not specify how.

“We’ve seen the threats coming from Iran and have made ourselves very clear where we stand in supporting Israel’s security,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday. “That is ironclad.”

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The potential Iranian reprisal would significantly ratchet up hostilities and risk triggering a wider regional war at a time of already heightened unrest in the Middle East. Israel’s conflict with the Iran-backed militant group Hamas escalated last October when Hamas forces invaded Israel, leading to over 1,200 casualties.

Other Iranian proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have also increased belligerence in recent months as part of what Tehran calls its “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and its allies.

Oil prices spiked nearly 3% to over $92 per barrel on the news of potential Iranian strikes against Israel as traders priced in more risk premium. Crude futures are already up 19% this year due to supply disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

While some analysts cautioned the fiery rhetoric could be bluster, the US and its partners are taking no chances and have begun shoring up defensive measures and moving additional military assets to the region. Intensive diplomatic efforts are also underway through backchannels to try to defuse the crisis before it explodes.

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Former US officials Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk have been engaging in urgent outreach, including through a long-established Swiss communication channel with Iran, according to one source. They have also been in close consultations with Israel as well as regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

A new worldwide threat assessment released Thursday by the US Defense Intelligence Agency outlined Iran’s formidable missile capabilities that could potentially be employed in any strike on Israel.

“The regime has a substantial inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking targets as far as 2,000 kilometers from its borders,” the report stated.

Any Iranian barrage would likely involve a combination of missile and drone attacks based on its current arsenal, the sources said. While Israel has deployed a multi-layered air defense system to protect its cities, the intensity and geography of the suspected Iranian plan presents an exceptional challenge.

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At the same time, Iran’s leadership must weigh the consequences of such an unprecedented assault, which could invite overwhelming retaliation from the United States and United States’ allies. Israel has remained characteristically opaque, neither confirming nor denying involvement in last week’s Damascus strike in line with its policy of ambiguity around external operations.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron bluntly warned Tehran on Thursday that an attack on Israel would inevitably “escalate and drag in a wider array of actors.” For its part, Israel has made clear it has no interest in allowing Iran to entrench itself in Syria or develop a nuclear weapon.

With tensions at a boiling point, the next 48 hours could prove pivotal in determining whether the escalating crisis can be de-escalated through diplomacy or whether a new, wider conflict ends up being ignited.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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