|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)
Massoud Rajavi (MIA)[a]
The Iran–Israel proxy conflict, or Iran–Israel proxy war and Iran–Israel Cold War, is a proxy war between Iran and Israel in the 21st century. 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.
The conflict gradually emerged from Iran's hostile stance toward Israel following the Iranian Revolution 1979, into covert Iranian support of Hezbollah during the South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000) and by 2005 developed into a proxy regional conflict. In 2006, Iran was actively involved in supporting Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War and in parallel began supporting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israel, on the other hand, initiated a campaign to harm the Iranian nuclear program, utilizing several anti-regime militias within Iran. Upon the onset of the Syrian Civil War, the conflict escalated and by 2018 turned into direct Iranian-Israeli warfare.
Key issues in the conflict include Iran's support of groups opposing Israel, Israel's support of anti-Iranian rebel groups, Iran's nuclear program, and Israel's ties with other rivals of Iran such as Saudi Arabia and the United States. The involvement of both countries in the Syrian Civil War has created additional possibilities for direct conflict between the two states.
Iran has provided significant support to Hezbollah Hamas and PIJ, whereas Israel has supported the People's Mujahedin of Iran and has conducted assassinations and attacks against Iranian targets directly. Israel has also conducted cyber warfare against Iran, and has publicly advocated for international military action against Iran.
Ruhollah Khomeini was critical of Israel before he became Iran's Supreme Leader, and criticized Pahlavi dynasty Iran's ties with Israel, viewing Israel as a supporter of the Pahlavi regime. Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Khomeini's new government adopted a policy of hostility towards Israel. Iran withdrew recognition of Israel as a state, and severed all diplomatic, commercial and other ties with Israel, referring to its government as the "Zionist regime" and Israel as "occupied Palestine".
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,".
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, the 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.
Israeli aircraft or drones attacked a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) position in Qousaya, located in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, close to the border with Syria on Sunday night, 26 August 2019, according to Lebanese media reports. The attack came a day after two drones exploded in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
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 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.
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 incidents 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 and April 2015. Some of those reports were confirmed by the Syrian Arab Republic, whereas others were 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 the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, allegedly targeting Israeli IAF aircraft, which Syria claimed were on their way to attack targets in Palmyra in Syria. After the incident, the State of Israel 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.
Beginning in January 2017, the Israeli Air Force began flying almost daily attack missions against Iranian targets in Syria, dropping about 2,000 bombs in 2018 alone. Some Iranian targets were also attacked by Israeli surface-to-surface missiles or in raids by Israeli special forces. According to former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, the decision to strike Iranian bases in Syria was made after Iran changed its strategy in 2016 as the US-led military intervention against ISIL was drawing to an end, planning to exploit the power vacuum to establish hegemony in Syria, building bases and bringing in foreign Shiite fighters. Although the full extent of the campaign would not be revealed until 2019, by early December 2017 the Israeli Air Force confirmed it had attacked arms convoys of Ba'athist Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah nearly 100 times during more than six years of the conflict in Syria. In January 2019, outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot claimed that up to that point, only a few dozen Iranian military personnel had been killed in the attacks, as Israel had taken care to primarily target Iranian infrastructure while sparing personnel so as not to give Iran any pretext to retaliate. In July 2019, it was reported that Israel had expanded its strikes against Iranian missile shipments to Iraq, with Israeli F-35 combat planes allegedly striking Iranian targets in Iraq twice.
On September 16, 2019, air strikes, targeting three positions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and allied Iraqi militias, killed at least 10 pro-Iranian militiamen in Albu Kamal, Syria. The strikes were allegedly blamed on Israel. According to the time, the increase of Iran-Israel tension concurs with discussion of a possible rapprochement between Iran and the U.S.
Israeli airstrikes reportedly targeted Iran-backed militias in Iraq during 2019.
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.
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.
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.
Israel's closest military ally, the United States, has a long history of violence against Iran, including the August 1953 overthrow of the democratic government of Iran by U.S. and U.K. covert operatives, and the decades long U.S. support for the authoritarian rule of the Shah. The U.S. provided major military and other support to Saddam Hussein's Iraq for decades after Iraq attack Iran, and in 1988, the United States launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iran, the largest American naval combat operation since World War II. The United States has military bases that virtually encircle Iran.
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.
Israel–Russia relations improved after the Russian military intervention in Syria in September 2015. From then until July 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin met a total of 9 times. Prior to and immediately after the 2016 United States presidential election, Israel began lobbying the United States to strike a deal with Russia over restricting the Iranian military presence in Syria in exchange for removing U.S. sanctions against Russia.
In 2019, Russia rejected an Iranian request to buy S-400 missile defense system. Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, said: "If Russia decides to provide Iran with S-400, it will be a direct challenge to Saudi Arabia and Israel, so it will be against Russia’s own national interests."
Iran's annual financial aid to Hamas is believed to be around $20 million, which helps the group run its government in the Gaza Strip. Both parties enjoyed warm ties since 2006 when Hamas won an election against the Western-backed Fatah movement. But the crisis in Syria has led to problems between them.
...proxy conflict between Israel and Iran...
...Iran believes that a popular referendum would lead to the Jewish state's political dissolution.
Israel and Iran have been urged to step back from the brink after their most serious direct confrontation, with Israeli missiles being fired over war-torn Syria in a "wide-scale" retaliatory attack many fear could drag the foes into a spiralling war.
....the fighting has also diluted the resources that used to go exclusively to facing Israel, exacerbated sectarian divisions in the region, and alienated large segments of the majority Sunni population who once embraced Hezbollah as a liberation force... Never before have Hezbollah guerrillas fought alongside a formal army, waged war outside Lebanon or initiated broad offensives aimed at seizing territory.
...Hasan Nasrallah has called the deployment of his fighters to Syria a 'new phase' for the movement, and it marks the first time the group has sent significant numbers of men outside Lebanon's borders.
And if there is one thing that ideologically and diametrically opposed Hezbollah and Israel agree on, it is Hezbollah's growing military strength.
Hezbollah, stronger than the Lebanese Army, has the power to drag the country into war without a government decision, as in 2006, when it set off the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers.
... Hezbollah, which has a fighting force generally considered more powerful than the Lebanese army.
From 2000 to 2006, Iran contributed a hundred million dollars a year to Hezbollah. Its fighters are attractive proxies: unlike the Iranians, they speak Arabic, making them better equipped to operate in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.