🔒 Escalating tensions: What all-out war between Israel and Iran could look like

As tensions escalate between the US, Europe, Israel, and Iran, the fear of open war looms large. Following the April 1 attack in Syria that claimed several Iranian officers’ lives, the delicate balance between Israel and Iran is shattered. With Iran’s unprecedented direct military response on April 13, utilizing drones and missiles, the spectre of full-scale conflict emerges. Amidst technological superiority and regional alliances, the prospect of a devastating war threatens the stability of the Middle East.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Tony Capaccio ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The US and its European allies fear that an April 1 attack in Syria that killed several Iranian officers could push Israel and Iran to the verge of something they’ve avoided for decades: open war. Until now, Iran, with one exception, has used proxies to attack Israel, while Israel has avoided airstrikes on Iranian soil. That all changed on April 13 when Iran began its military response.

How might a war between them be fought?

Iran opened its attack by launching more than 100 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, toward Israel, according to a person familiar with the Israel Defense Forces; they’ll take hours to reach Israeli airspace. Iran also confirmed missiles were part of the attack, a much more serious move. Israel is expected to attempt to intercept both; the US may also participate, having just reiterated its “ironclad support” for the country’s security.

The details of Iran’s current capabilities contained in a US Defense Intelligence Agency assessment released with little fanfare on April 11 suggested that any Iranian attack on Israel would likely be a combination of the two. 

“Tehran’s missile force is increasingly augmented by Iran’s UAVs and serves as the regime’s primary conventional deterrent against attacks on its personnel and territory,” the agency said. It added that Iran has a “substantial inventory” of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking targets 2,000 kilometers, or about 1,250 miles, away — putting Israel well within range. 

Israeli fighters would be expected to strike back, including those in its fleet of stealthy F-35I Adir and non-stealthy F-15I fighters. An F-35 made aviation history when the Israeli Air Force announced in November that it had shot down a cruise missile from the southeast headed toward Israeli airspace.

Israel scrambled navigational signals over the Tel Aviv metropolitan area early this month in preparation for an Iranian attack, a showcase of its capabilities. It did so again on April 13 after Iran began its attack.

A more remote possibilty remains; Iran could also direct proxies to deploy militants on the ground from Syria or Lebanon. The one precedent for Iran attacking Israeli territory came in 2018, when Tehran fired rockets from Syria on positions in the Golan Heights. 

Another likelihood is cyber war. More than a decade ago, malware known as Stuxnet compromised operations at an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in what’s suspected to have been a US and Israeli operation. Iran has also launched attacks of its own, including a hack that sought to cripple computers and water flow for two Israeli districts, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The Israeli Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets fired from Gaza City, Gaza.

How do Israeli and Iranian military capabilities compare?

Israel’s forces are vastly superior to Iran’s when it comes to technology. Iran, however, has massive stockpiles of cheap but effective weapons in its arsenal.

Since 2022, Iran has provided more than 1,000 Shahed-136 UAVs, as well as Shahed-131 and Mohajer-6 UAVs, to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In May, Iran began assisting Russia in establishing a Shahed-136 UAV production facility in Russia, according to the DIA. So it’s safe to assume that Iran has hundreds if not thousands of one-way drones in its inventory to attack Israel.

Israel would counter ballistic missiles with its Arrow interceptors and drone attacks possibly with David’s Sling air defense systems and perhaps with a system called Drone Guard made by ELTA Systems.

Who are their allies? What roles might they play?

Iran’s most important allies are the Shiite militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that it supports with money, weapons and training. The Lebanese militia Hezbollah would be positioned to play the most significant role. It’s fought repeated battles with Israel and has been regularly firing missiles, mortars and rockets into northern Israel since war broke out in October between Israel and the Iran-backed militant Palestinian group HamasHezbollah’s arsenal contains more than 70,000 rockets and missiles, including long-range and precision-guided missiles, according to Israeli intelligence. 

An escalation of its attacks on Israel could test the country’s defenses at a time when it was also confronting Iran and Hamas.

Iran’s only state ally in the Middle East is Syria. The government of President Bashar al-Assad would be unlikely to be of assistance given that it’s still struggling to gain control over the entire country following the outbreak of civil war in 2011. 

Iran has good relations with Russia, though its war in Ukraine would likely limit its ability to help, and with China, which has bought Iranian oil though it remains sanctioned by the US and allies. 

Israel has the US on its side. Already the US is expediting shipments of munitions to Israel, to help it fight Hamas. Among the US forces in the Middle East region are two Navy destroyers that moved to the eastern Mediterranean in early April, according to a Navy official: the USS Carney and the USS Arleigh Burke, both capable of air defense.

Early in the Israel-Hamas war, the Pentagon moved its newest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, and its battle group into the eastern Mediterranean. It has since returned home. The Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is on its way from operations against the Houthis. Each bristles with F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets and other advanced aircraft. In addition, 2,000 Marines were put on heightened alert for potential mobilization.

How might Arab states react?

An Israel-Iran war would put many of the countries in the region in a difficult position. Four Arab countries made peace deals with Israel in 2020 via the so-called Abraham Accords. Their distrust of Iran was part of what brought them together. But it’s unlikely any Arab state would stand with Israel in a confrontation against a fellow Muslim country, let alone one as powerful as Iran. 

Iran and Saudi Arabia last year restored diplomatic relations after a seven-year freeze. Saudi Arabia has been exploring the possibility of normalizing ties with Israel as part of a broader deal in which it hopes to attain US security guarantees, and it would likely try to avoid become embroiled in the conflict.

Read also:

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Visited 591 times, 3 visit(s) today