Expanding war in the Middle East would be a disaster, but it can still be avoided

(CNN) — There are growing fears that the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could spark another all-out war in the Middle East.

“We feel it and we are afraid,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week. “We don’t want the war to escalate (…). We don’t like regional wars because it’s dangerous for everyone. It’s dangerous for Lebanon, it’s dangerous for Israel and the countries surrounding Israel,” “Regional wars are dangerous for everyone,” he said, adding: “Wars are bad for everyone.” “

But the only thing that can prevent such a catastrophe is that a broader conflict may not serve the vital national interests of any of the region’s major powers.

While major states and extremist groups appear to be moving toward the brink, there is hope that the economic, political, and military consequences of the escalation will be so severe that they will stop short of the brink.

Almost every day brings another violent incident. On Thursday, for example, the United States launched a strike in Baghdad that killed a leader of an Iran-backed militia that Washington accuses of attacking U.S. military personnel in the region. U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria responsible for controlling the Islamic State have been repeatedly targeted by rockets and drone attacks by Tehran’s proxies.

Fighting on the Lebanese border between Israel and Hezbollah, another pro-Iran group, is intensifying. In another alarming sign, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant told U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein on Thursday that the time has passed to create a “new reality” on Israel’s northern border and allow residents to return to their homes. Running out. Meanwhile, Israel’s alleged attack on senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut sparked anger among Hezbollah leaders who control the area where he died.

In another shocking incident, U.S. forces sank three ships belonging to Houthi rebels in the Red Sea this week, following a series of attacks on commercial ships. Central Command said the U.S. helicopter was attacked first and acted in self-defense. The United States and about a dozen allies have established a maritime task force to protect commercial vessels on key shipping lanes in the region after some shipping lines sent ships on longer, less economical routes around Africa.

This week’s twin bomb attacks near the grave of former Iranian intelligence chief Qassem Soleimani, claimed by Islamic State, have simultaneously shaken an already tense region and may increase the Iranian government’s concerns about planning further actions in the Middle East internal pressures faced.

On January 3, 2024, in Rafah, southern Gaza, clashes between Israel and Palestine continued. A woman looked out the window as the displaced Palestinian Jabaliya family took shelter in front of a building after being bombed by Israel. Palestinian extremist organization Hamas. (AFP photo)

Why could a wider war be avoided?

Many of the region’s powerful powers – including Israel, Iran and Hezbollah – would probably most like to see high tensions cease before war breaks out. However, the United States is concerned that all this playing with fire could trigger another conflict in the Middle East that would bring down the United States. This is a situation the Biden administration is keen to avoid, especially in an election year.

Former director Norman Roule said: “Major regional or external actors have no strategic drive to trigger a regional war, if only because the objectives of such a conflict are unclear and would immediately change their important political and Economic stability.” “At the same time, Iran and its proxies have multiple incentives to maintain or even increase the current targeting of The intensity and frequency of Israel’s actions.”

“The concern should be that any of these activities could generate incidents that require retaliation or participation by other actors, who then exploit each other, leading to the traditional conflicts we all want to avoid.”

The situation is very dangerous as rapid deterioration can occur at any time on many fronts. Hezbollah has thousands of missiles that can target Israeli civilians, meaning intense fighting could quickly become very dangerous. A mass-casualty attack by Iranian proxies against U.S. forces would make it politically and militarily imperative for President Joe Biden to take more forceful military action than he has taken so far. Biden would face a similar decision if a U.S. or allied ship was seriously damaged in the Red Sea. An Iranian destroyer entered the Red Sea this week, raising the possibility of miscalculation by rival navies operating closely in troubled waters.

The scale and brutality of Hamas’s actions and Israel’s response devastated large swaths of Gaza’s civilian communities, setting off a chain of events along the Middle East’s fault lines. The subsequent shock ended a period of relative calm in the region, during which the Trump and Biden administrations and their allies had sought to forge closer ties between Gulf states and Israel. The resulting tensions appear to have dashed hopes the White House would tacitly and informally reduce confrontation with Iran, even as Biden’s political opponents accuse him of not being tough enough on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program.

Geopolitical circuit breaker?

Key players avoiding conflicting interests can act as a circuit breaker. Given the likely costs of a regional war and its likely global economic, military, and political repercussions, every great power has good reasons to avoid reaching this point:

Israel He is already embroiled in a raging war in Gaza that his government says will last for months. An all-out war with Hezbollah could subject Israeli citizens to bombings far worse than last year’s Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities. In that sense, the attack on Aluri – which Israel was behind, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN on Wednesday – may have been a bet that it would not provoke a massive Hezbollah reaction. Yet at the same time, while the rest of the world fears a broadening of the conflict, Israeli leaders believe they have become embroiled in what is effectively a regional war, given the multifaceted threats they face.

USA He is reinforcing a strategy he has employed for weeks: trying to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is once again traveling to the region, facing growing pressure to ease tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, with Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon fearing a catastrophe could exacerbate its already fragile political, economic and humanitarian situation. American troops — in Syria, Iraq and at sea — appear to be exposed to pain. As for Iranian proxies, the Biden administration appears to be seeking to re-establish a level of deterrence without activating a regional powder keg.

washington Its allies have also just issued a statement warning Yemen’s Houthi rebels that there will be consequences if they continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea, a shipping lane vital to the global economy. CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Kevin Liptak reported Thursday that the White House’s patience with the rebels is running out. But a direct attack on a ground-based launch site would not only plunge the coalition deeper into the conflict but could also threaten a truce to end Yemen’s bloody civil war. Biden is in political trouble. Republicans have repeatedly accused him of being too soft on Iran and its proxies. But any deterioration in the regional situation could also put pressure on Republican claims that the 81-year-old Democratic president lacks leadership. The danger for Biden is that the United States will continue to fail to impose its will on the Middle East over the past two decades. Preserving American power is easier said than done.

Iran You may gain more by leveraging a broad network of groups agent Israel and the United States would bear lower costs than engaging in direct conflict. The latter could create military and economic instability and increase political pressure on the clerical regime, which was already growing after the bombings. But there is a danger that such political tensions will force leaders to believe that taking a more aggressive stance abroad can alleviate difficulties at home. Just 15 months ago, Iran’s clergy faced a wave of anti-government protests triggered by the death of a woman in the custody of the country’s feared moral police.

Wali Nasr, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that he is very concerned about the current tensions. But he added: “I don’t think the Iranians want to expand the conflict,” noting that some in Iran believe Israel is trying to incite Iran into direct confrontation. “I think the calculation, at least by the Iranians and Hezbollah and other governments in the region, not necessarily Israel, is that the United States does not want a large-scale war. President Biden does not want a large-scale war,” Nasr said.

That said, these calculations may change if Washington cannot prevent Israel from expanding the conflict. The attack on the Hamas leader in Beirut therefore appears to be a risky move by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, of which the United States says it had no prior knowledge. Its increasingly dangerous relationship with the United States is likely to sour after the White House called for a reduction in the intensity of operations in Gaza but was repeatedly rebuffed.

Hezbollah is the most powerful political actor in Lebanon. It is effectively an extension of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Although it has a large number of rockets aimed at Israel, its power may be greatly reduced if an all-out war breaks out. The fall of Hezbollah would mean a significant decline in Iran’s regional influence. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned on Wednesday that there would be punishment for the death of Hamas leader Aruri and that if Israel launched a war in Lebanon, the response would be “limitless.”

But Lebanese Foreign Minister Bou Habib told CNN he was confident the militias would not escalate the war with Israel. “We have a lot of reasons to think that won’t happen, they (and) we don’t want, all of us as Lebanese, we don’t want any war,” he said. “We can’t order them. We’re not going to pretend that, but we can convince them. I think it’s moving in that direction.”

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