Sunday, July 21, 2024

Middle East crisis: Israeli raids on the aid convoy call for condemnation and apology from Netanyahu


The Israeli bombing of the Iranian embassy building in Damascus, which killed senior Iranian military and intelligence officials, is a major escalation of a long-simmering undeclared war between Israel and Iran.

Iran promises major retaliation, and the risk of miscalculation is ever present. But given the risks that both countries bear, neither Israel nor Iran wants a major war to break out, even as they press for advantages in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Instead, the strike is living proof of the regional nature of the conflict as Israel attempts to reduce and deter Iran's allies and proxies who threaten Israel's security from every direction.

Often called the “war between wars,” Israel and Iran are the main rivals, fighting in the shadow of the most visible hostilities across the region.

The Iranian officials killed Monday were deeply involved for decades in arming and directing proxy forces in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as part of Iran's clearly stated efforts to destabilize and even destroy the Jewish state.

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supposedly approved such a sensitive attack, the successful elimination of such key Iranian military figures amounts to a political coup. This comes at a time when the intensity of the demonstrations demanding his resignation has increased, with the war against Hamas continuing and the Israeli hostages remaining in Gaza.

By demonstrating its ability to penetrate Iranian intelligence, Israel is trying to strike the operational part of Iran's regional proxies, or the so-called axis of resistance to Israel, with the aim of disrupting and deterring them, even as the war in Gaza continues.

Ali Fayez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said that since the war began in October, Israel has begun targeting key Iranian officials responsible for relations with its proxies, not just the advanced weapons provided by Tehran.

But no matter how many experienced generals Israel eliminates, “there is no one irreplaceable in the Iranian regime,” he said. “Iran knows that this is a risky game and that it has a price attached to it.”

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Some worry that the price may be borne by Israel's allies. Ralph Goff, a former senior CIA official who served in the Middle East, called the Israeli strike “incredibly reckless,” adding that “the Israelis are writing checks that CENTCOM forces have to cash,” referring to the military’s Central Command. American.

“It will only lead to escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” for US forces in the region who could be targeted for retaliatory strikes by Tehran’s proxies, Mr Gove said.

Mr. Netanyahu has maintained for years that Israel’s main enemy is Iran and that a strike could help him “rehabilitate his reputation as ‘Mr. Netanyahu’.” “Security is the answer,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. However, it may not be enough, she said, given Israel's involvement in Gaza, Hamas not yet defeated, and Iran and its proxies not being reduced.

Iran has vowed retaliation and retaliation for what it called an unprecedented attack, but since October 7, “Iran has made clear that it does not want a regional war,” Ms. Vakil said. “It sees that this conflict with Israel will continue over a longer period of time.”

US officials do not believe that Iran initiated the Hamas attack or was even informed of it in advance. Susan Maloney, director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, said that Iran still considers Gaza “a victory for it, because it isolates Israel and puts it on the defensive in the region and the world.”

She said the ongoing war and its civilian casualties make it “almost unthinkable to create the vision for the Middle East that Israel, the United States and the Saudis had hoped to engineer before October 7,” a move that opposes regional recognition of Israel by Arab countries. of growing Iranian influence.

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However, Ms. Vakil said, “It will be difficult for Iran to ignore this strike,” because it is a “direct attack on its territory,” an embassy building, and the killing of three senior commanders of Iran’s Quds Force, foreign military and intelligence. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps service.

Iran said the Israeli raid killed Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, along with his deputy, a third general and at least four other people, including senior officials of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, an Iranian branch also fighting in Gaza.

The killing of General Zahedi, who was said to be responsible for Iran's military relations with Syria and Lebanon, is considered the most significant assassination of an Iranian leader in years.

General Mohammad Reza Zahedi of Iran, who was killed on Monday in an Israeli air strike in the Syrian…Fars News Agency, via AFP – Getty Images

Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, described General Zahedi's death as “a massive blow to Iran's direct capabilities in the region.” Mr. Amidror said he helped oversee Iran's attempt to build a “ring of fire” around Israel through its armed proxies while keeping Tehran's involvement at bay.

But how and when Iran chooses to respond will increase the risks. The most visible recent example is its response to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, four years ago by the United States. Then Iran launched a major missile attack on an American base in Iraq, but after warning of the attack in advance. The Pentagon later said there were no immediate casualties among US forces, although more than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries.

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An anxious Iran, which was on high military alert, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, believing it to be an enemy plane.

“But one of the lessons from Soleimani is that even if you kill someone important, the network and the redundancy that Iran has created with the groups will continue well,” Maloney said.

Iran recently tried to calm tensions in its relationship with the United States after a drone attack in January on a US military base on the Jordanian-Syrian border that killed three American soldiers.

But Iran may be more willing to risk military escalation with Israel.

It could choose other options – a major cyberattack on Israeli infrastructure or its military, a barrage of missiles from southern Lebanon, a similar assassination of an Israeli commander, an attack on an Israeli embassy abroad, or another sharp acceleration of the nuclear enrichment program. .

The latter option would be a kind of direct response to Mr. Netanyahu, who has long warned of the risk of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and pledged to prevent that from happening. (Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, even though it has enriched uranium to a level close to weapons-grade.)

Or Iran can bide its time. Mr. Amidror, the former Israeli national security adviser, said he doubted that the strike would lead to a broader escalation between Israel and Iran, such as an all-out war involving Hezbollah along Israel's northern border.

“Their interests haven't changed in the aftermath. They'll be looking for revenge, but that's another thing entirely,” he said, and it shouldn't be limited to the immediate area.

A previous example he cited was the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires by the Islamic Jihad movement, which killed 29 people and was in response to Israel's assassination of Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi.

Aaron Puckerman Eric Schmidt contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Washington.