The January 4 attack in Iran on the 4th anniversary of Qasim Sulemani’s death is one of the latest in a series of events unfolding in the Middle East and predicting a heightened possibility of a wider war. Following the start of the Israel-Palestine war on October 7, the Middle East has begun to change in ways that may have profound consequences not only for the region, but also for the rest of the world as we know it. Israel is already executing a ‘One State’ solution with the US help. More recently, Israeli strikes in Lebanon are a calculated move to entice Hezbollah and involve it with Hamas. The Iran attack is part of the same move to force Iran to activate Hezbollah. If Iran falls for this bait, this will push Tehran into a direct war with Israel and the US, allowing the latter to settle previous scores with the former. This way, Israel feels, it can take out two enemies in the same war. The Houthis in Yemen are doing counterstrikes, potentially making the Red Sea yet another flash point. The US, on the other hand, is not only fully supporting Israel, but it is also considering directly targeting Houthis in Yemen. This would mean, by all standards, that Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, and Yemen are involved in the same war, and they are pitched against Israel, the US, and their global allies. A wider war is, thus, very much on the horizon.
The big question is: who benefits from this war? Certainly, not Iran and Palestine. Arab states in the Middle East, too, are unlikely to draw any benefits from it. In fact, this war has created complications for them to realise their dreams of modernisation. As predictions show, a wider war in the Middle East would have a devastating impact on the global economy. In the wake of a global economic meltdown, the demand – and consequently the price – of oil will drop, adversely affecting all oil-producing countries in the world, i.e., not only Arab states but also Russia. This would collectively damage the OPEC Plus, a pact between OPEC and Russia that Washington has been unable to break, despite repeated efforts, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict in February 2022. But such a global economic downturn will also benefit Washington in Ukraine as well, as it might impact Russia’s military capacity vis-à-vis the combined military might of Ukraine and NATO.
Similarly, China does not stand to gain from this war. China is arguably one of the biggest external economic players in the Middle East. Countries like Saudi Arabia seeking to modernize their economies are establishing geo-economic frameworks, such as Tourism as the “new oil”, that involve Beijing. A war in the Middle East will jeopardise this, if not bring all of this to a complete halt. Plus, a global economic meltdown in the wake of a wider war will also impact the economy of China, which arguably runs one of the largest supply chains in the world.
Therefore, the primary beneficiary of this conflict could be the US. There are various reasons for this. First of all, there is a reason why the US has not thus far sought to actively prevent the war from spilling over. In fact, the United States significantly increased its military presence in the Middle East after October 7. While Washington’s official narrative was that this deployment was meant to “deter” any wider regional conflict, there is little gainsaying that this deployment also gives the US the advantage to strike first. Indeed, the US will use this deployment against the Houthis and any other potential targets (in Lebanon and Iran).
Second of all, the US has proactively prevented any and all efforts at a permanent ceasefire. Instead, Washington has consistently defended Isarel’s “right” to self-defence. This, in Washington’s language, is the means to prolong the war. Prolonging the war only means creating conditions for the war to spillover – as it has spread thus far – and create a wider conflict.
Washington understands that such a war and the eventual economic meltdown will eventually impact its own economy as well. The inflation rate in the US is already close to 9 percent. But, given the geostrategic yield that a wider conflict could produce and how it impacts Washington’s primary rivals in the world, US policymakers appear to believe that the benefits of such a conflict outweigh the costs. This is most evident from the Biden administration’s consistent pursuit of US$14.3 billion for Israel. This is in addition to the annual US$3.8 billion that Washington provides to Israel. This money is obviously meant to help Israel fight a war for a long time. Helping Israel to prolong the war is the exact opposite of bringing the war to an end. Not bringing the war to an end is the same as creating conditions for it to become complicated – which it is getting now more than ever – and spread beyond the immediate region.
These outcomes are valuable for the US state, not just the Biden administration. For instance, even though Biden’s approval rate has gone down due to the war, his government is relentlessly pursuing these objectives. Even if Biden ends up losing the elections, his Republican predecessor – which might be Donald Trump – will be even more anti-Palestine. Trump, in fact, was the one who not only supported Israel’s bid to declare Jerusalem as the capital but also initiated the infamous Abraham Accords, a pact that, in many ways, produced the initial conditions for this conflict. The war, in simple words, is not only a logical outcome of US policies, but it is also developing in ways that benefit the US.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”