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Middle East Anarchy: Western Support for Israel Fuels Regional Tensions

Zeauddin Ahmed

Zeauddin Ahmed

Sat, 4 May 24

Eleven people lost their lives in an Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, the capital of Syria. Among the deceased were Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the senior commander of the elite Quds Force, and his deputy, Brigadier General Mohammad Hadi Haji-Rahimi. Despite the presence of US and Russian military bases in Syria, Iran denies having military bases there. However, Iranian troops sent to provide advice to President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the Syrian civil war remain stationed in the region.

The US and Israel claim that these military advisers are training Syrian armed Shiite militias backed by Iran. These militias are accused of launching rockets from Syria into Israel. Consequently, the US and Israel frequently carry out airstrikes targeting Shiite militias within Syria. In this instance, Israel targeted not the Shiite militias, but rather the Iranian military advisers themselves. Israel asserts that Iran's consulate building in Syria does not adhere to diplomatic conventions, as it has been repurposed by members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a military base.

Israel's assault on the Iranian consulate constituted a breach of international law, yet neither the US nor its allies condemned the attack. To my knowledge, there is no precedent of bombing the embassy of a foreign country and causing casualties, as was the case with Iran. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi sought refuge in Egypt. Despite tensions and the seizure of the US embassy in Iran by revolutionary forces, which led to the prolonged hostage crisis involving 52 diplomats held for 444 days, the embassy itself was not subjected to direct attack.

According to the Vienna Convention, embassies are afforded special protection, and attacking them is prohibited. There is an obligation to safeguard diplomatic missions, ensuring their security. Embassies and diplomats benefit from numerous rights and privileges, including immunity from host country law enforcement. Diplomats cannot be arrested or prosecuted for any crime without consent.

As an example, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 after leaking classified information from various countries, including the United States. He resided in the embassy until 2019, during which time he also welcomed two children.

Syria was tasked with safeguarding the Iranian embassy within its borders. However, amidst the devastating impact of ISIS incursions and a protracted civil war, Bashar al-Assad's government faced imminent collapse without support from Russia. With Syria's diminished ability to resist the influence of powers like the US and Israel, it has been compelled to remain silent. Syria finds itself in a state of profound exhaustion, having endured numerous conflicts, including several unsuccessful engagements with Israel.
Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights since 1967, followed by its annexation in 1981, stands as a persistent challenge to regional stability. The situation was further complicated when US President Donald Trump signed a declaration recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, perpetuating a state of upheaval and injustice in the region. In the face of such upheaval, there seems to be little recourse but to endure the circumstances in resigned silence.

The complexity of the situation in the Middle East is indeed multifaceted, and blaming only Israel or the US provides an incomplete picture. Turkey's interventions in Syria, particularly targeting Kurdish groups, contribute to regional instability. Additionally, Iran's recent display of military capabilities, including launching drones and missiles towards Israel, underscores the tensions in the region.

It's worth noting that while Iran may perceive itself as powerful, the effectiveness of its military actions is limited, as demonstrated by the high rate of interception of its drones and missiles. The interception of these threats is not solely the work of Israel; the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and even Jordan have played roles in neutralizing these aerial threats.

The dynamics between Israel and various Middle Eastern countries, including those with predominantly Muslim populations, are indeed complex. While historically Israel has had strong ties with the United States, recent developments suggest a shift in regional alliances, with some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, reportedly warming to Israel.

Moreover, the Middle East has frequently been used as a theater for broader international conflicts, with various countries allowing their territories to be used for military operations by foreign powers. This includes instances such as the US using Saudi Arabian soil for the invasion of Iraq, Egyptian operations supporting American troops, and Pakistan's involvement in facilitating US military actions in Afghanistan.

Regarding Israel's actions against Iran, the targeting of Isfahan, particularly its nuclear facilities, sends a strong message regarding Israel's ability to strike sensitive Iranian targets. Israel's proficiency in circumventing Iran's defenses is indeed widely acknowledged, particularly in terms of its robust air defense systems. This underscores the need for Iran to enhance its military capabilities, including investments in defense technology, to effectively counter potential threats.

However, the escalation of military investments comes with significant costs and risks, especially in light of the United States' stance on preventing Iran from prevailing in a conflict with Israel. This stance can serve as a deterrent for Iran to engage in further militarization.

The silence of Muslim countries regarding the US embassy in the Gaza war, despite the tragic loss of civilian lives, including thousands of children, is concerning. It reflects a broader pattern of geopolitical considerations and alliances that may prioritize stability or other interests over humanitarian concerns.

Anwar Sadat's statement during the 1973 war highlights a geopolitical reality that persists to this day. While countries like Egypt may be willing to engage in conflicts with Israel, they often consider the repercussions of directly confronting a power like the United States. This calculus influences strategic decision-making and shapes regional dynamics.

Iran's reluctance to escalate tensions further by firing additional missiles is understandable, particularly considering the vulnerability of its nuclear facilities in the event of a full-scale conflict. The delicate balance of power and the potential for devastating consequences compel caution from all parties involved.

The ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran, characterized by proxy conflicts and occasional direct confrontations, underscores the complex and volatile nature of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Entities such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq contribute to this dynamic through sporadic rocket attacks on Israel.

Furthermore, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires by an Islamic jihadist group affiliated with Iran serves as a reminder of the global reach of regional conflicts and the enduring tensions between Israel and its adversaries. Israel's airstrikes, including targeted killings by the Mossad, against individuals associated with Iran's nuclear program and Hezbollah leaders, contribute to the ongoing conflict. These actions are often perceived as acts of self-defense by Israel, garnering support from the Western world. In contrast, Iran's retaliatory actions, such as missile strikes against Israel, are condemned as aggression, leading to further economic sanctions on Iran. This double standard in international reactions underscores the polarization in favor of Israel and the challenges faced by Iran, which views Israel as the "little devil" and the United States as the "big devil." Iran's isolation under the weight of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies has intensified over recent decades, exacerbating tensions in the region.

Indeed, the United States and other global powers are wary of the potential consequences of a war between Iran and Israel, especially given the ongoing economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. A conflict in the Middle East would likely disrupt air and sea lanes, leading to increased transportation costs as planes and ships navigate around potential missile threats. The closure of strategic chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz by Iran would further exacerbate the situation, bringing trade and commerce to a halt and causing fuel prices to skyrocket.

Humayun Ahmed's depiction of characters venting anger by breaking objects mirrors the recent actions of Iran and Israel, where limited military strikes serve as outlets for frustration without escalating into full-scale war. Both sides seem more concerned with saving face than inflicting significant damage. Israel, in particular, has refrained from boasting about retaliation.

Prior to the attacks, both countries communicated their intentions to neighboring nations and the US, emphasizing the limited and controlled nature of the strikes. This consensus helped prevent further escalation, with America also concurring with the approach. Afterwards, like the actors of the traveling jatra, the top leaders have to say 'Nahi Chhorenge' to appease the people of their respective countries by waving their arms and legs, but at least this time it's game over. This is politics. The main crisis in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - its end is essential.

Author: Former Executive Director, Bangladesh Bank and Former MD, Mint.

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