Rising Tension between Israel and Iran

31 Jan 2023

Rising Tension between Israel and Iran

By Sima Shine

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University

January 31, 2023



The level of tension between Iran and Israel is rising following the reports of an attack in Isfahan on a factory for the development and production of missiles. They were joined by reports of two attacks on convoys on the Iraq-Syria border, which included reports that a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards and his bodyguards were killed.

Initial leaks tried to attribute the attack to the United States, but this is contrary to Washington's fixed policy, whereby it itself announces whether it attacked and takes responsibility. As in the past, American officials were quick to leak that in their estimation Israel was behind the attack in Isfahan and that in both incidents, including at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing, the US was not involved.

Iran accused Israel of the attack, and as expected, threatened a harsh response. Condemnation of the Israeli attack was also voiced in Moscow. The attack took place in the wake of a series of developments, such as the continued supply of UAVs by Iran to Russia, which in the future will probably be followed by a supply of missiles; a severe crisis between Tehran and Baku regarding Azerbaijan’s tightening relations with Israel; and a series of visits by senior US officials to Israel – the National Security Advisor, the head of the CIA, and the Secretary of State. These developments place the Iranian issue high on the agenda on the visits by American officials, who may have preferred a different list of priorities.

Israel understands that Iran is indeed considering possible responses and will examine them on the basis of the damage they will cause and above all on the basis of the operational ability to carry them out. In theory, the Iranian toolbox includes attacks from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and possibly even Yemen. Each area is complex, whether due to Israeli supremacy in the Syrian arena; Hezbollah's reluctance to complicate further a drowning state of Lebanon; or Iraq's unwillingness to be a battlefield between Iran and Israel. As in the past, Tehran has options in the cyber field at its disposal, which until now have been of limited effectiveness; attacks on vessels in the open sea; and of course terrorism against Israeli and Jewish sites and figures. If successful, these may potentially lead to escalation.