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Israel-Iran War Not Just Now

Simon Mohsin

Simon Mohsin

Wed, 17 Apr 24

Israel on April 1 launched missiles at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus, killing two generals and five other senior officers. Iran responded by launching missiles and drones at Israeli targets. They seem to have inflicted little damage and, Israel did not really need outside help. the United States and the United Kingdom used naval assets armed with anti-missile systems to intercept Iranian missiles over Syria, Iraq and Jordan. It was a signal to Iran that the attack on Israel could invite U.S. and British intervention. The U.S. has a long and unpleasant history with Iran, and it wanted to remind Tehran that it would face more than one enemy if it confronted Israel.

Tensions are high in the Middle East. Concerns are about whether Iran and Israel will engage in a direct war or conflict. If that happens, the global economy which is already under strain will suffer more. Although there are concerns that the two enemies are likely to engage in war, the likelihood of such a situation occurring are low. There are reasons for it. One is that there is an absence of strategic feasibility for the west, mainly for the US for allowing such a situation to manifest. The U.S. has adopted a strategy designed to use force without risking casualties of its own. This strategy has been on full display in Ukraine, where Washington has played a significant role not by committing troops but by arming Ukrainian forces with weapons, using political signals and the potential of increased military presence to try to shape Russian action. The policy stands in stark contrast to the one adopted in Vietnam, where the U.S. absorbed massive casualties and incurred severe political repercussions domestically. The policies during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were variations of that strategy.

The priority here for the U.S. is not to side with Israel but to threaten Iran. The United States regards Iranian power as a threat to American interests. So the U.S. intervening to save Israel was primarily to deter expansionary behavior from Iran. Put differently, its strategy in the conflict in the Middle East is similar to the one it has pursued in Ukraine – strengthening its allies with powerful weapons while avoiding casualties. We now see something similar seeming to emerge in the Middle East. Just as the U.S. interest in Ukraine is less about Ukraine than about containing Russia, the U.S. intervention in the Middle East is less about simply supporting Israel than about containing Iran. Intercepting some Iranian missiles doesn’t do much to increase Israel’s defensive capability, but it does much to demonstrate U.S. intentions going forward.

If the U.S. can weaken Iran, then the complete influence of the U.S. on the Middle East will be established. All know that Iran is a threat to the U.S.’ domination over the Middle East. Thus, it is a priority for the U.S. to deter Iran’s influence in the region. Moreover, no other Middle Eastern country, other than a Houthi groups of Yemen and Iran, are as vocal against the U.S. and Israel for the atrocities being carried out in Gaza. Thus, the U.S. has been trying to strengthen its allies in the Middle East, that are also competitors of or don’t like Iran, so that they can curb Iran’s rise and expansion of influence. Just the way it tried to do against Russia with Ukraine. And, the other western powers will not come forward against Iran without the U.S. directly leading them, if at all. So, they too will follow U.S. strategy for now. So, it is unlikely that Israel will engage in a direct war with Iran. Another reason is that if Israel goes to war with Iran, it will only increase sympathy and support for Iran worldwide. This is because Israel’s attack will only reinforce the global outcry against Israel for its genocide in Gaza.

Another reason for both countries to avoid direct was is because the countries are not adjacent. For carrying out an effective war strategy both countries would need to use the land of the other’s neighbors. Those members of the Middle East that are against Iran may have allowed the U.S. to use their land, but allowing Israel led war to be carried out through their landmass would only rile up the Muslim population of these countries. The governments of these countries are always in fear of losing their control, thus they have all but sold themselves to the U.S. If they allow Israel to gain a strategic advantage even over Iran using their own landmass, then they would certainly face uproar and protest from their own people. If the people rise in protest, the governments are uncertain that how the U.S. will respond, because the U.S. had mostly allowed the Arab Spring to flourish and supported those protesting rather the governments of the respective countries. It is likely that the U.S. do the same again.

Moreover, Hizbullah is another reason that Israel would not want to engage in a direct war for now. If Israel engages in a war with Iran on one side, Hizbullah will certainly carry out a large scale attack on Israel from the Jordan side. Thus, Israel needs to weaken or demolish Hizbullah first before engaging in an all-out war with Iran. Irrespective, a conflict with Iran is a good strategy for diverting the world’s attention from Gaza. So, Israel will make full use of this opportunity. Thus, Israel will continue small scale attacks like that in Damascus against Iran. It might even carry out such attacks against Hizbullah to keep the tension of Israel-Iran war alive. However, we can’t completely rule out that Israel may do something very drastic and attack Iran forcing the U.S. and the west to come and engage in the conflict mainly to support and defend Israel. The way Netanyahu and his war cabinet has been going on with their extremist ideology, it is not completely unrealistic that Netanyahu makes such a move. The U.S. has elections coming up soon. Washington would want to avoid any such situation before elections. Thus, the U.S. will leave no stone unturned to stop Netanyahu from making such a move. Europe will do the same with its economy already under strain for the Ukraine situation.

In all of this, the U.S. remains in the most advantageous position. The U.S. has been trying to use the Sudan issue to divert everyone away from Gaza. It is true that Sudan’s issue warrants importance, the way the U.S. is trying to abuse it is clear that it is just a ploy to divert attention from Gaza. Iran’s recent attack has offered the U.S. a new opportunity to divert the attention, especially of the non-muslims that are protesting the U.S. role in Gaza. Iran has been well established as a villain in the U.S.

Iran’s problem is that it has no real ally in the region, rather some proxies. Iran’s reserve force is reportedly 41 million whereas Isreal has 3 million. Israel may have nuclear weapons ready for launch. Attacking Iran’s nuclear facility may also create similar havoc. Moreover, the reality of engaging with multiple enemies and not only Israel is daunting for Iran. If Iran engages in war then the people of Iran will certainly support its government, a situation that the U.S. wishes to avoid and tries to exacerbate continuously, as has been evident through the U.S. support for the anti-hijab and anti-moral police protest. When the U.S. attacked Iraq, a significant population was against Saddam, and yet the U.S. did not achieve the aspired results in Iraq. The flimsy and unstable condition that Iraq is in now, it has adversely impacted the entire region as has the Syrian situation. If an attack on Iran comes down to manifesting the same reality then the Middle East will turn into a powder keg, beyond any stable and consistent influence and control. A reality that everyone wants to avoid.

Author: Political and International Affairs Analyst.

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