Extended war in the Middle East would be a disaster, but it could still be avoided

(CNN) — Concerns are growing by the day that the flare-up of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could spark another full-scale war in the Middle East.

“We feel it and we are afraid of it,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week. He said, “We don’t want any escalation of the war…. We don’t like a regional war because it’s dangerous for everyone. Dangerous for Lebanon, dangerous for Israel and the countries around Israel.” War is bad for everyone.”

But the only thing that can prevent such a disaster is that a more widespread conflict may not be in the vital national interest of any major power in the region.

And although major states and extremist groups appear to be moving toward the edge, there is still hope that the economic, political, and military consequences of escalation will be so severe that they will be stopped before they get there.

Almost every day brings another violent incident. For example, this Thursday the United States carried out a strike in Baghdad that killed a leader of an Iran-backed militia, which Washington blames for attacks against US military personnel in the region. US troops tasked with controlling ISIS in Iraq and Syria have repeatedly been the targets of rocket and drone attacks by Tehran’s proxies.

Fighting is intensifying across the border in Lebanon between Israel and another pro-Iranian group, Hezbollah. In another alarming sign, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant told US envoy Amos Hochstein on Thursday that time was running out to create a “new reality” on Israel’s northern border that would allow residents to return to their homes. Meanwhile, Israel is suspected of attacking senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut, sparking anger among Hezbollah leaders who control the area where he died.

In another worrying incident, the US military sank three Houthi rebel ships in the Red Sea this week, following a series of attacks on commercial ships. Central Command said American helicopters were attacked first and acted in self-defense. The United States and about a dozen allies have launched a maritime task force to protect commercial vessels on vital shipping routes in the region after some shipping companies sent their 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 ISIS – meanwhile have shaken an already tense region and could increase internal pressure on Iran’s government as it faces further Is planning the steps. Widespread in the Middle East.

A woman looks out the window of a house in front of the building where the displaced Palestinian Jabalih family was taking shelter after being hit by Israeli bombardment in Rafah, southern Gaza, on January 3, 2024, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Among the Palestinian extremist group Hamas. (AFP photo)

Why could a widespread war be avoided?

Several of the region’s powerful powers – including Israel, Iran and Hezbollah – may have the greatest interest in preventing high levels of tension just before war. However, the concern for the United States is that all this playing with fire could trigger another conflict in the Middle East, which could drag the Americans down. It’s a scenario the Biden administration is desperate to avoid, especially in an election year.

Former director Norman Raoul said, “There are no strategic drivers for key regional or external actors to launch a regional war, if only because the objectives of such a conflict would be unclear and would immediately alter their vital political and economic stability.” ” From CNN’s Jake Tapper of US National Intelligence for Iran: “At the same time, Iran and its proxies have many incentives to maintain and even increase the intensity and frequency of current actions against Israel.”

“The concern should be that any of these activities generate an incident that requires retaliation or participation by other actors who then take advantage of each other, leading to the conventional conflict we all want to avoid. “

The situation is very dangerous as there can be a rapid deterioration on any front, at any time. Hezbollah has thousands of missiles that can target Israeli civilians, meaning intense fighting could soon become very dangerous. A mass-casualty attack by Iranian proxies against US forces would create a political and military imperative for President Joe Biden to take far stronger military action than has been taken so far. Biden would face a similar decision if an American or allied ship is seriously damaged in the Red Sea. And the entry of an Iranian destroyer into the Red Sea this week has increased the potential for miscalculation with rival navies operating closely in troubled waters.

The scale and brutality of the Hamas operation and Israel’s response, which has destroyed vast areas of civilian neighborhoods in Gaza, has triggered a cascade of incidents embedded across the fault lines of the Middle East. The ensuing shock ended a period of relative peace in the region, during which the Trump and Biden administrations and their allies had sought to forge closer ties between the Gulf states and Israel. The resulting tensions appear to have dashed hopes in the White House for a reduction in tacit, informal hostilities with Iran, although Biden’s political enemies accuse him of not being tough enough on the Islamic republic and its nuclear program. Is.

A geopolitical circuit breaker?

The interest of key actors in avoiding conflict can act as a circuit breaker. Given the potential costs of regional war and the global economic, military, and political consequences it would cause, each power has good reasons to avoid reaching that point:

israel He is already embroiled in a fierce war in Gaza that, according to his government, will last for months. A full-scale war with Hezbollah could lead to far more bombardment of Israeli civilians than Israeli cities suffered from Hamas rocket attacks last year. In that sense, the attack on Arouri — which Israel was behind, a US official confirmed to CNN on Wednesday — could be a bet that it would not provoke a large-scale Hezbollah response. Yet, at the same time, while the rest of the world is worried about an escalation of the conflict, Israeli leaders believe they are already involved in a regional war that is multi-front facing them. In view of the dangers of.

usa He is intensifying a strategy he has been pursuing for weeks: trying to prevent the situation from getting out of control. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is once again visiting the region, facing growing pressure to ease tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, in a situation that Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon fears could lead to a catastrophe Which could worsen the already delicate political, economic and humanitarian situation. US forces – in Syria, Iraq and at sea – appear painfully exposed. As far as Iranian proxies are concerned, it appears that the Biden administration wants to re-establish a level of deterrence without activating the regional powder keg.

Washington And its allies also recently issued a statement warning the Houthi rebels in Yemen that they would be threatened if they continue attacking shipping in the Red Sea, a shipping route that is vital to the global economy. CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Kevin Liptak reported Thursday that the White House’s patience with the insurgents is about to end. But direct attacks on their ground launch sites would not only drive allied forces deeper into the conflict, they could also threaten a ceasefire that would halt Yemen’s bloody civil war. Biden is in a political bind. Republicans consistently accuse him of being too soft on Iran and its proxies. But any deterioration in regional standing could also weigh on GOP claims that the 81-year-old Democratic president lacks the ability to lead. The danger for Biden is that the last 20 years will be filled with repeated failures by the United States to impose its will in the Middle East. Asserting American power is easier said than done.

iran You can achieve much more by using your wider network of groups Representative Imposing lower costs on Israel and the United States than engaging in direct conflict. The latter could prove militarily and economically untenable and increase political pressure on the clerical regime, which was already increasing after the bomb attacks. But there is also a danger that such political tensions will compel leaders who may believe that a more aggressive stance abroad will ease difficulties at home. Just 15 months ago, Iranian clerics were facing anti-government protests sparked by the death of a woman in the custody of the country’s feared morality police.

Vali Nasr, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that he is deeply concerned about the current tensions. But he added: “I don’t think the Iranians want to escalate the conflict,” while some in Iran believed Israel was trying to provoke Iran into a direct confrontation. Nasr said, “I think the calculation at least among the Iranians, Hezbollah and probably other governments in the region, not necessarily Israel, is that the United States does not want a major war. President Biden does not want a major war. Are.”

That said, these calculations could change if Washington cannot prevent Israel from escalating the conflict. The attack against the Hamas leader in Beirut, about which the United States said it had no prior knowledge, therefore appears to be a risky move on the part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. This comes after calls by the White House to reduce the intensity of operations in Gaza, which have been repeatedly rejected, threatening to worsen the increasingly fraught relationship with the United States.

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 vast arsenal of rockets targeting Israel, its power could be significantly reduced in the event of a full-scale war. The weakening of Hezbollah would mean a significant decline in Iran’s regional influence. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned on Wednesday that the death of Hamas leader Arouri would not go unpunished and that if Israel launched a war in Lebanon, the response would be “unlimited.”

But Lebanese Foreign Minister Bou Habib told CNN he believes the militia group will stop escalating the war with Israel. “We have many reasons to think that it won’t happen, they (and) we don’t want that, being Lebanese we all don’t want any war,” he said. “It’s not like we can order them. We don’t flaunt it, but we can convince them. And I think it is working in that direction.”

(TagstoTranslate)Middle East

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