The ongoing military conflict between Hamas and Israel threatens to escalate regional tensions. It could trigger a more global catastrophe. It is widely acknowledged that the current war zone extends beyond the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a hard-line stance on the conflict with Hamas, advocating for their total destruction and the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians from Gaza. This position has drawn in other forces to the conflict.
Militant anti-Israel and anti-Western activity by pro-Iranian groups is observed in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The Israeli army, intelligence services, and Western coalition forces led by the United States must respond to the military actions of the anti-Israel “axis of resistance” coordinated by Iran.
As a result, the south of Lebanon, the waters of the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, as well as the cities of Yemen and the territories of Syria and Iraq, have become new theaters of combat between the opposing forces, where attacks are exchanged with a certain frequency, targeted and mass terrorist and sabotage actions are carried out, various military and diplomatic facilities are destroyed, and people are killed. It is important to note that in December of last year and early in the new year, there was an increase in reciprocal actions worldwide.
The January 3 terrorist attack in Kerman resulted in the deaths and injuries of many innocent people. Additionally, the Israeli Air Force and intelligence services have targeted and killed prominent IRGC officers responsible for coordinating anti-Israeli actions in Syria, Iraq, or Yemen.
Tehran responded to these challenges with retaliatory strikes by the IRGC, using ballistic missiles and combat drones. For instance, on January 15-17, attacks were carried out against targets in Syria and Iraq belonging to the United States, Israel, and ISIS (an international terrorist organization banned in Russia), as well as against the Baloch organization in Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force responded with retaliatory militant actions against the Sistan and Balochistan Provinces of Iran.
Given the internal and external contradictions that plague Syria today, it is possible that the country would support a friendly action by Iran against targets of ISIS (an international terrorist organization banned in Russia). Although Iraq understands Iran’s concern about the Kurdish-Israeli regional partnership and is unhappy with the presence of US military bases on its territory, it has officially protested the IRGC’s actions and withdrew its ambassador from Tehran. However, due to Iraq’s weakened state, Baghdad is currently limited to political and diplomatic statements as counteractions against Iran without the ability to undertake symmetrical or asymmetrical actions. Pakistan is markedly different in this regard.
First, the current domestic political situation in this country is marked by a severe power struggle between caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar and former head of government Imran Khan. Therefore, Islamabad could not ignore Iran’s uncoordinated action that violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. Otherwise, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar could have lost the support of his constituents.
Second, Pakistan’s army differs from the armies of Syria and Iraq. It is well-known that Pakistan received support from the US and NATO in its conflict with India, particularly during the time of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, when Delhi was aligned with the USSR. Pakistan’s army was built up by the United States, Britain, and other Western countries. Additionally, Pakistan was allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, while India also possesses nuclear weapons. Therefore, an Iranian attack on a country possessing nuclear weapons presents a challenge to the United States. Pakistan was compelled to respond.
Third, Pakistan has been a regional partner of China for a long time. China is motivated by Sino-Indian contradictions and tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, as well as Pakistan’s geography and the passage of important communications from China within the framework of the One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR). As a result, Islamabad had to “test the waters” of Beijing’s response to its retaliation against another Chinese partner, Tehran. After the force exchange, China urged both Pakistan and Iran to exercise restraint, while India expressed its support for Iran.
The similar motivation behind Tehran’s and Islamabad’s strikes against Baloch separatism and their terrorist structures can be viewed as a potential cause for war. However, Iran’s missile strikes on Pakistan have already escalated hostilities from the Middle East to the neighboring region of Afghanistan. This area also includes the Baloch issue, which could erupt at any moment and add a new regional dimension to the conflict. This is already a significant challenge to global catastrophe.
Just five days after the Iranian strike on the Mossad regional intelligence center in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, the Israeli Air Force launched another strike on an IRGC dormitory in Damascus next to the Iranian Embassy. As a result of this action, several IRGC officers were killed, including General Yousef Omidzadeh, deputy intelligence commander of the IRGC’s Al-Quds Force in Syria.
Israel’s confirmation of the losses of the Mossad in Erbil from the Iranian strike was evident with this terrorist attack. The attack was Tehran’s mirror response to the assassination of another IRGC senior commander, Reza Mousavi, an associate of the legendary Al Quds leader General Qassem Suleimani, in Damascus on December 23, 2023. The Israeli action will not go unanswered, as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has already stated. What can such a sequence of retaliatory actions lead to?
It is apparent that Benjamin Netanyahu is rapidly losing support among Israelis, with his approval rating now at a minimum of 15%. He appears to be intentionally attempting to provoke Iran (and, consequently, the US) into a major conflict in the Middle East, with the support of the US and the rest of the West, potentially leading to World War III.
World history demonstrates that the influence of an individual’s personality in politics can often be the catalyst for global catastrophes. The example of Hitler and Nazi Germany’s Third Reich from 1939 to 1945 serves as proof of this. I will not draw a comparison between Hitler and Netanyahu, as Turkish President Erdoğan did.
Today, it is evident to many Israelis and non-Israelis that the political experiments of the Benjamin Netanyahu administration to “grow” and support Hamas in the Gaza Strip against Fatah in Ramallah, and to pit the Gaza Strip against the West Bank to derail the process of establishing an independent Palestinian state, have failed. The significant funds and time that the Israeli authorities have spent on the Hamas project culminated in the infamous Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, 2023.
Israel has not fought a war this long with any enemy and suffered such significant physical, material, and moral losses. Today, despite the significant assistance from the US and other Western countries, the Israeli economy is losing billions of dollars every day due to the ongoing conflict. The issue of Israeli hostages has not been completely resolved. In response to the exchange of all hostages, Hamas presented its demands, which include a complete cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, international guarantees for the security of Palestinians in Gaza, the establishment of an independent Palestine, and an all-for-all hostage exchange.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly declares his opposition to recognizing the independence of the Palestinian state, even rejecting the proposal of the main ally, the United States, for an independent Palestine with strong security guarantees for Israel. This means not compromising for a “lean” or “lasting” peace with the Palestinians, but rather continuing the conflict with an uncertain outcome.
Why does Benjamin Netanyahu, who has lost influence and power in his society and become a rare Israeli leader of failure, not even consider the opinion of his main ally, US President Joe Biden, regarding the possibility of ending hostilities with a truncated recognition of Palestinian independence? It is evident that personalities, especially that of Biden himself, play a crucial role. On January 6 in Ankara, Washington, via Secretary of State Antony Blinken, gave the consent to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and leaders of several Arab nations that are still friendly to the United States, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar, to settle the Palestinian issue.
Tel Aviv understands that Israel, with a population of 9.7 million and a history dating back to 1948 as a Jewish state, cannot defeat Iran, which has a population of 86.6 million and a 6,000-year history of Persian statehood. If Netanyahu manages to involve the United States, a global nuclear-armed state, in a war with Iran, it would be a different matter. That is why Bibi is advocating for a global effort to counter Iran.
Admittedly, Benjamin Netanyahu supports military conflicts along the perimeters of Iran’s borders, whether in Iraq, Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, or Afghanistan. This behavior was encouraged by former US President Donald Trump. Specifically, under Netanyahu, Trump recognized the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel and Jerusalem as its capital. With these actions, Trump has emboldened Netanyahu’s lawlessness in and around the Middle East, a new wave of anti-Iranian actions using contiguous territory. Today, in a presidential election year in the United States, Netanyahu is anticipating retaliation from Donald Trump. Trump has made loud promises to voters about his personal role in global de-escalation and averting the threat of World War III.
Some foreign experts and publications (for example, Armenian sociologist Karen Sargsyan and Azerbaijani publication “Minval – LIVE”) claim that in their opinion, there is some kind of unspoken agreement between Iran and the US not to cross “red lines” and not to get involved in a global war against each other. Each of the mentioned sources comes to the same conclusion from different perspectives. Some, like the pro-American Karen Sargsyan, express delight, while others, such as the Azerbaijani “Minval – LIVE” express regret. Both sources agree that the current US strategy towards Iran avoids direct military conflict and instead relies on hybrid strikes, such as targeted actions and suppression of pro-Iranian groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. According to them, Iran eliminates a war with the USA and therefore, its strikes on US facilities in Iraq or Syria are typically carried out at night and with minimal casualties.
It is difficult to determine whether this is a fact or conjecture from Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues. All that matters is Netanyahu has misjudged his bets and is leading Israel towards a catastrophic regional conflict with significant global security challenges. For example, the same periodic attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea are a problem not only for Israel, but also for the West – world trade and the safety of shipping. Israel’s security cannot be guaranteed without respecting the rights and interests of the Palestinians. Perpetual war is not a viable solution.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv, headed by Netanyahu, continues to play with edge-tools by increasing the intensity of strikes targeted at the IRGC in an attempt to drag Iran and the US into a global war. A strategy to internationalize warfare might spark new battles in the Middle East, South Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”