Iran-Israel Conflict: 5 Key Questions You Must Know for Prelims and Mains

By Roshni Yadav

The Iran-Israel conflict has become a point of discussion in global politics and is an essential topic to be covered for your exams. Here are five important Q&As that you shouldn’t miss.

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What is the issue?

On April 14, Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles towards Israel, in retaliation for an Israeli attack on its consulate that occurred in Damascus, Syria, two weeks ago. Several senior Iranian generals were killed and Iran vowed to respond. As this conflict is a major issue in the news, aspirants must understand it from both factual and analytical perspectives.

Q1. What is the history of Iranian-Israeli cooperation and conflict?

Answer: Given the current state of conflict between Israel and Iran, people may easily overlook the years of cooperative relations between these two nations. Thus, knowing about the historical ties between Iran and Israel becomes crucial.

(i). Pre-1979 Iran-Israel ties: In 1948, the opposition of Arab states to Israel led to the first Arab-Israeli war. Iran was not a part of that conflict, and after Israel won, it established ties with the Jewish state. It was the second Muslim-majority country to do so after Turkey. In this phase of relations, As an analysis from the Brookings Institute (‘Iran’s revolution, 40 years on: Israel’s reverse periphery doctrine’) notes, Israel tried to counter the hostility of Arab states at the time with the “periphery doctrine” under its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.

(ii) The 1979 Revolution: In this phase, a religious state was established in Iran after the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The regime’s view of Israel changed, and it was seen as an occupier of Palestinian land. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini termed Israel “Little Satan” and the United States the “Great Satan”, seeing the two as parties interfering in the region. Iran also sought to grow its presence in the region, challenging the two major powers Saudi Arabia and Israel – both of whom were US allies.

(iii) A Shadow War after 1979: After 1979, the ties between the countries worsened. While Israel and Iran have never engaged in direct military confrontation, both have attempted to inflict damage on the other through proxies and limited strategic attacks. Israel has attacked Iranian nuclear facilities from time to time. In the early 2010s, it targeted several facilities and nuclear scientists in a bid to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. In 2010, the US and Israel are believed to have developed Stuxnet, a malicious computer virus. Used to attack a uranium enrichment facility at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, it was the “first publicly known cyberattack on industrial machinery”, according to Reuters. Iran, meanwhile, is seen as responsible for funding and supporting several militant groups in the region that are anti-Israel and anti-US, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This support was why concerns of a widening conflict or a confrontation have been raised in the last few months.

Question 2: What key events or factors led to the current escalation in the Iran-Israel conflict?

Answer: Although Iran and Israel have a long history of bitter conflict and covert military actions against each other, this is the first time Iran has launched a direct attack of this scale aimed at targets within Israel. The following are the key points:

(i) Airstrike on the Iranian Embassy: Israeli war jets attacked an Iranian consulate building in Damascus, Syria, on April 2. This attack became the immediate cause of the escalating conflict between Iran and Israel.

(ii) Assassination of Iran’s Army General: In January 2020, Qasem Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike on the premises of Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Soleimani was a popular leader in the Iranian military, widely seen as the second-most powerful figure in the country behind the Supreme Leader of Iran. The Iranians retaliated with Operation Martyr Soleimani.

(iii) Iranian support to Hamas: The US and Israel accuse Iran of having a hand in the Hamas attacks. A.K. Ramakrishnan writes, “It (Iran) has rejected accusations that it was involved in the planning and operation of the Hamas attack; Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations has written to the Secretary-General denying any direct involvement of his country. However, Hamas has indeed received Iran’s support over the years, and Iranian officials have acknowledged this on several occasions.”

Question 3: What will be the impact of the Iran-Israel conflict globally?

Answer: The situation in the Middle East remains tense as Israel and Iran engage in direct strikes, escalating the conflict and causing wider ramifications.

(i) Regional Instability: Sanjay Bhattacharyya writes- “The conflict does not augur well for regional peace, stability, economic growth, and development. Israel, as a major economic and technological power, stands to lose much in a prolonged war. Many Arab countries, which sought a brighter future in closer cooperation with Israel, also wish to see the end of the conflict.”

(ii) Economic Impact: Conflict in the region also affects others across the world, not merely in terms of increased oil prices but also the weakening of supply chains. Any major supply disruption in the wider region as a result of the escalating conflict between Iran and Israel could impact supplies as well as prices. With the Suez Canal-Red Sea shipping route already impacted by attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, a major disruption around the Strait of Hormuz could take a massive toll on global and regional oil flows.

(iii) Impact on Global South and Global Governance: The Global South and global governance would also be impacted by continuing instability in the Middle East.

As the current escalation can have wider ramifications, it is crucial that the international community urges all parties to avoid further violence and instead engage in diplomatic negotiations to resolve the current escalation and prevent wider ramifications.

Sanjay Bhattacharyya writes– “The two-state solution is the only way ahead for long-term security, peace and stability. It is not an easy goal, but both sides are familiar with the challenges and opportunities. The cycle of violence must end and the rights and aspirations of the people must be met.”

Question 4: What is India’s stake and stand on the Iran-Israel conflict?

Answer: India is friendly with both countries and has been able to balance its relationship with both for years.

India and Israel

(i) Economic Relations: India established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. Since then, trade between the two countries has been rising significantly. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) brief on foreign relations, India is Israel’s second-largest trading partner in Asia and the seventh-largest globally.

(ii) Strategic Relationship: Shubhajit Roy writes- “India has a very deep strategic relationship with Israel, especially in the context of defence and security partnership. In the last decade or so, it has grown and has been made public — unlike in the past.”

(iii) Cooperation in Defence Sector: Shubhajit Roy writes- “Israel has also emerged as a major defence supplier, along with the US, France and Russia, and New Delhi remembers that it has stepped up to help during times of crisis, including the Kargil war in 1999.”

India and Iran

(i) Economic Relations: In 2022-23, Iran was India’s 59th biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $2.33 billion.

(ii) Strategic Relationship: Shubhajit Roy writes- “India has managed to maintain a strategic relationship with Iran, as Tehran has been one of the major suppliers of crude — which has suffered setbacks due to sanctions. Besides, both countries have shared concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Chabahar is another strategic economic project, which acts as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

In the context of such deep ties with both Israel and Iran, New Delhi has difficulty in choosing sides.

How will an escalation between the two countries have direct and tangible consequences for India?

Shubhajit Roy writes- For New Delhi, a potential escalation as a result of the tension means an impact on mainly three accounts: its people, its economic interests and strategic needs.

(i) Firstly, while there are about 18,000 Indians in Israel and about 5,000-10,000 Indians in Iran, about 90 lakh people are living and working in the Gulf and West Asia region. Any conflict that expands will end up posing a risk to the Indian community that is based in the region.

(ii) Secondly, “India’s economic interests are tied to energy security — the West Asia region contributes to India’s 80 per cent of oil supplies, which a potential conflict will impact.”.

Sukalp Sharma writes- “India currently does not import Iranian oil as Tehran is under sanctions from the United States (US). However, another major buyer — China — does import large volumes of Iranian oil. If the conflict leads to Iranian supply getting hit, India’s competition with China for oil barrels from other suppliers — particularly Russia — is bound to intensify. India and China are currently the biggest buyers of the discounted Russian crude.”

According to the think tank Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI), there is unlikely to be any rise in petrol prices in India as a result of ongoing tensions in the Middle East. However, there could be some impact due to tensions in the Red Sea, which lies at the crucial trade route connecting Europe and Asia. Roughly 12 per cent of global trade is dependent on this route.

Do you Know?

India is the world’s third-largest consumer of crude oil and depends on imports to meet over 85 per cent of its requirements.

(iii) Thirdly, India has invested in a strategic relationship with major Arab countries, Iran, and Israel. New Delhi sees the region as its extended neighbourhood, and it has been working with all sides in the turbulent region to push for the India-Middle-East-Europe Economic corridor, which has strategic as well as economic benefits for Delhi. A conflict has the potential to unravel the consensus that has been built around the peace in the otherwise combustible region.

In this context, India’s position that there should be “immediate de-escalation” and “step back from violence” and “return to the path of diplomacy” is, therefore, crucial to its national interest.

Question 5: What are the important groups in the region and places for map work in this news?

Answer: Since the October 7, 2023, attacks on Israel, there have been concerns over a widening war in the region beset by years of conflict between countries on religious and ethnic lines. The presence of militant groups also adds to the instability and tensions in the Middle East, as they form an anti-US, anti-West “axis of resistance”.

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