The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Flashpoint in Middle East

Seoul must prepare against all possibilities in face of tensions after Iran‘s strike on Israel

By Korea Herald

Published : April 16, 2024 - 05:30

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Iran launched a massive missile and drone strike against Israel early Sunday in retaliation against Israeli airstrikes on an Iranian consular building in Damascus, Syria, early this month that killed two Iranian generals. It was Iran’s first direct attack on Israeli territory after decades of a shadow war.

Israel said its defense systems had successfully intercepted the attacks, resulting in minimal damage within its borders. The US and other members of the UN Security Council urged restraint, and Iran signaled that it would not strike further unless attacked.

However, tensions in the already precarious Middle East have escalated further, as Sunday’s salvo from Iran came a day after Iran seized a container cargo ship allegedly linked to Israel in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The world is anxiously watching, hoping Israel does not decide to strike back at Iran, as that could involve other neighboring countries and lead to an all-out war in the Middle East.

The attack on Sunday was well telegraphed, with Iran’s foreign minister saying it had given neighboring countries 72 hours‘ notice, and is widely interpreted as a warning shot from Iran that it will no longer rely on proxies to fight Israel in their shadow war that has silently raged since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Iran stressed that it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus attack, not civilians or “economic areas.”

Over the past decades, Iran has mostly used foreign proxies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia to strike Israeli interests, while Israel carried out mainly targeted assassinations of Iranian military leaders and nuclear scientists. The two sides have avoided all-out war because they do not share a border. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq lie between them.

Iran, dominated by Shiite Muslims, has prioritized Sunni Islamic Saudi Arabia and Turkey as potential enemies. While Iran’s weapons are known to be decrepit as international sanctions have battered the country’s economy, Israel is unofficially considered a nuclear state and has high-tech weapons and defense systems such as the Iron Dome.

Having suffered terrorist bombing attacks that killed over 100 in January, which Tehran believes Israel was behind, and the April 1 bombing in Damascus that killed about 10 including a senior commander of the overseas operations unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran felt the need to send a message to its people and the world that it will not just sit back. Some say Iran launched the missiles and drones toward Israel on Sunday to raise instabilities in the Middle East, hoping to benefit from a hike in oil prices, as crude oil accounts for nearly 60 percent of Iran’s total exports.

The prolonged war between Israel and Hamas is already dealing a blow to neighboring countries. The United Nations Development Program said that some 230,000 people may fall into poverty in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

The South Korean government should closely analyze developments in the Middle East and prepare against all possibilities, as a further escalation of the crisis could strain supply chains and shoot up international oil prices even more. A possible blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most strategic oil chokepoint, would disrupt global maritime transport and cause logistics and shipping costs to jump. In addition to ensuring the safety of Koreans residing in or visiting the region, Seoul must have emergency plans ready to minimize the impact of high oil prices and the Korean won’s further descent against the US dollar on the economy.

The government and think tanks here must also prepare against all security risks in this part of the world, as North Korea continues to deepen its ties with Russia and China.

The presidential office and the ruling party, which are still trying to process their crushing defeat in the general election last week, must make genuine efforts to communicate with opposition leaders to attain their cooperation. They will have no time to waste over partisan bickering at home in the face of international security and economic woes.