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Roving Periscope: A ‘peaceful’ war Israel and Iran reluctantly fight under domestic compulsions

Roving Periscope: A ‘peaceful’ war Israel and Iran reluctantly fight under domestic compulsions

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Around the year 540 BC, Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, one of the largest-ever domains anywhere, defeated the Babylonians and released the hapless Jews held captive for five decades, allowing them to return to Israel, that ensured they developed their religion, Judaism. The grateful Jews never forgot this benevolence and cited it in the Old Testament (Ezra 1: 1-4).

Nor did Persia—now Iran—despite its mass conversion to Islam, ever forget this symbiotic relationship with Israel. But religion is not the only deterrent. Nuclear-armed, they are like pinpricking cousins who, despite bravados, are reluctant to go at each other’s throats. They are only grandstanding, just not attacking each other to inflict damage or kill. It’s all competitive fireworks—as of now.

That explains why they are now ‘attacking’ each other so reluctantly. Both regimes are under domestic political pressure to respond. Unlike the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian or Hamas-Israeli conflicts, the Iran-Israel skirmishes are not even territorial.

Now recall the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), one of the bloodiest after the Second World War. Both are Islamic countries, although Iraq is predominantly Sunni and Iran is Shia. Their long war killed millions on both sides.

In contrast, the latest Iran-Israel conflict has not killed anyone. Seems they are carefully targeting only unpopulated areas of each other!

Their official statements also make an interesting read.

After Israel launched a missile attack on Iran on Wednesday, less than a week after Iran’s rocket and drone barrage, Tehran said it has no plans for ‘immediate retaliation’ against Tel Aviv. An Iranian official even “cast doubt whether Israel was behind the attack in Isfahan,”—despite some Israeli politicians practically accepting responsibility!

Even the Iranian media’s response has been subdued, indicating Tehran’s disinterest in going to war and making do only with threats, the media reported.

In most official comments and news reports, there was no mention of Israel and Iran’s state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.” He said there had been no damage from the attack. An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

In Israel, authorities were officially mum, but politicians and former officials spoke out about the strike.

The Israeli response was believed to have been tempered by international pressure to ensure the reply did not further escalate tensions.

“Nobody wants war with Iran right now,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s confidant Natan Eshel was quoted saying. “We proved to them that we can infiltrate and strike within their borders and they couldn’t inside ours. The messages are more important than the grandstanding. We currently have more important tasks both in Gaza and Lebanon.”

Israel has not taken responsibility for a strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus on April 1 that killed several members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, including a top officer. Nonetheless, Iran warned the US to keep off, threatened Israel adequately, and responded Sunday night by lobbing over 300 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and armed drones at Israel—that hardly damaged much.
Nearly the whole barrage was shot down by Israel, with help from the US, UK, France, and Jordan. A small Israeli girl who was the only victim in the attack was badly injured by falling shrapnel; the targeted Nevatim air base also suffered light damage.

Zvika Haimovitch, a former commander of the IDF air defense array, told Channel 12 that both countries were allowing each other “room for cover and denial,” which would enable the situation to de-escalate.

Worried, world leaders from the Mideast to the US have urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to show restraint in the face of the Iranian “attacks,” but the Israeli leader said the country would have “little choice but to respond.”

Tehran has routinely accused Israel of attacks and sabotage activities targeting its nuclear and military sites in the past, including in Isfahan, home to some of its key nuclear enrichment and missile facilities.

But there are also apprehensions. Should the two countries take their war seriously, their peaceful conflict could turn into an Armageddon.


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