Middle East on a tightrope

This article is a translated and updated version of the editorial of the Xekinima newspaper

The world seems to hold its breath reading the news about the situation in the Middle East. The latest reports, with the Israeli missile and drone attack on Iran, seem to signal that for the moment there is no further escalation. But this can change at any moment. Israel hit the Isfahan region of Iran, where crucial nuclear facilities are located, but it caused little damage.

This came as a response to Iran’s launch of at least 320 ballistic and cruise missiles and drones into Israeli territory on April 13th. Which, in turn, followed Israel’s attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus two weeks earlier (April 1st), which killed two senior members of the Revolutionary Guards and several other Iranian officials, as well as Syrian civilians.

The Iranian attack on Israel was intercepted by the Israeli army and its allies in the region, resulting in very little material damage and no human casualties. But it was an unprecedented action in the decades-long conflict between the two countries, marking the first time Iran has directly attacked Israel. It was designed to ‘send a message’ rather than cause major damage, as it was announced immediately after the launch (the projectiles took a few hours to arrive and were therefore easily intercepted) and was accompanied by a statement that for Iran the incident was now “deemed concluded”.

Israel the main culprit

Although Iran’s attack on Israeli territory is an unprecedented action by any standards, it was in fact something to be expected based on the “logic” by which relations between states operate within the system of competition and profit. An attack on the embassy of another state is tantamount to an attack on its territory. And when this attack results in the death of state officials, it is very difficult not to lead to a counter-attack.

Indicative of this is the admission of the British Foreign Secretary, D. Cameron, who, when asked by a journalist how Britain would react if another country flattened one of its embassies, replied that “it would respond very strongly”. He then went on to say that Iran “overdid it”, showing the double standards Western attitude.

In general, Israel’s ethnic cleansing operation in Gaza has opened up the prospect of a wider escalation in the region.

Differences on how to respond

A big discussion opened up after the Iranian missile launch as to what the Israeli government’s next move would be ranging from small-scale retaliation mainly against Iranian allied forces (e.g. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc.) to much larger attacks targeting Iran itself. It was clear, even before Israel’s latest response, and after that, that there are internal divisions in Israel over this issue.

On the one hand, National Security Minister Ben Gvir stated that “Israel should go crazy” and that “the concepts of restraint and proportionality are concepts that passed away on October 7”. On the other hand, Israeli intelligence and security expert Yossi Kuperwasser said that the priority is Gaza and maintaining good relations with the allies. In a poll indicative of the situation, 74% of Israelis opposed a counterstrike against Iran if it would undermine alliances with other countries.

However, the calls “to put Iran in its place” were not limited to Israel. Former US Ambassador to the UN and National Security Advisor during the Trump presidency, John Boltonspeaking to the BBC called the fact that Iran managed to launch this particular attack a “massive failure” for Israel and the US. He went on to say

“…I think that means by definition, Israel’s response — and there should be a response — should not be proportionate. It should be far stronger, because when deterrence fails to reestablish, if you have to teach the adversary that any gain they may hope to get by any future attack will be more than outweighed by the damage that will be called,”

pointing to Iran’s nuclear program facilities as a better target.

However, neither Iran nor Israel’s Western patrons (at least the most serious representatives of Western governments) want to escalate the situation, each for different reasons. Iran understands that a war with Israel would be militarily devastating and could turn it into a ‘new Ukraine’. The West, on the other hand, understands that a new huge war front will stretch its forces beyond their capabilities. But the Israeli regime cannot easily be controlled. Netanyahu and his other far-right allies are facing a huge internal crisis (with enormous pressures to resign) and tensions in their relations with their allies as the Gaza massacre causes a backlash and it is clear that they cannot achieve the goal of “eliminating Hamas”.

For the moment, it seems that the idea of a more moderate response, that is not ‘forcing’ Iran to further retaliate, prevailed and resulted in the ‘mild’ attack of Friday, April 19th. However, it is not clear if this was the ‘final word’ of the Israeli army. The attack already caused further frictions inside Israel. Ben Gvir tweeted on X the word ‘weak’ after the attack, getting a reply from the opposition leader Yair Lapid who said “Never before a minister has done such a heavy damage to the country’s security, its image, and its international status. In an unforgivable tweet of one word, Ben-Gvir managed to sneer and shame Israel from Tehran to Washington.”

There is no doubt that the entire region has entered a new phase of uncertainty, with the main culprit being the region’s “only democracy”, as Western governments refer to the Netanyahu regime. Israel’s Western allies are calling for “restraint”, fearing what a general conflagration in the region could lead to. It is clear, however, that they are largely responsible for the escalation so far, since for decades they have supported Israel in every murderous raid against the Palestinians and in every attack, large and small, against neighbouring Arab countries, which has now exceeded all precedents.

The Gaza massacre continues

Meanwhile, the massacre in Gaza continues, with the official death toll reaching 34,000, while no one knows how many more are buried under the rubble left by the Israeli army wherever it passes. Even mass graves were found in Khan Younis, after the Israeli army retreated. Attempts by residents of northern Gaza to return to what is left of their homes are being met with new attacks and killings of civilians by the Israeli army, which shows that it aim is not wiping out Hamas, as Netanyahu claims, but to completely clear the area of its former inhabitants. The entire population of Gaza is facing extreme hunger and thirst as humanitarian aid continues to arrive in dribs and drabs.

As for the West Bank, settler attacks on Palestinian villages are escalating after the discovery of the body of a missing Israeli teenager, whose death was blamed on “Palestinian terrorists”. In mid-April, Israeli settlers burned homes, wounded dozens of Palestinians and killed at least one in a series of raids on Palestinian areas.

The West: hypocrisy and authoritarianism

At the same time, the West continues to turn reality on its head, calling any reference to Palestinian rights and any criticism of the murderous Israeli army operation “anti-Semitism”. This is even though thousands of Jews living in Europe and the US play a central role in the movement to end the massacre in Gaza!

The recent shut down of a conference on Palestine in Berlin by the German police, which raided the venue and banned panelists from entering the country, is indicative of this. They even banned Yianis Varoufakis, president of DiEM25 to speak though zoom! These are new levels of authoritarianism in order to silence the anti-war movement. The discourse about “anti-Semitism” is particularly outrageous, when it comes from the representatives of a system whose policies pave the way for the rise of the extreme right internationally, and which in many cases turns a blind eye to openly fascist/neo-Nazi groups and organisations.

The only hope to put a break to this massacre is the international anti-war movement, the mass mobilisations of workers and youth from the Arab world and Israel itself to the rest of the world, demanding that the genocide in Gaza be stopped now.

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