Will Iran react to Israel?

Published April 14, 2024
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WILL Iran be provoked by Israel or exercise restraint?

This is obviously a question that many in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and beyond are asking as Israel desperately tries to suck in more players to escalate and widen the Gaza conflict so that Western support to it, which was showing signs of waning, is galvanised again.

Even Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s place of residence, has seen mass demonstrations in recent weeks, calling for his resignation and fresh elections. The number of demonstrators seems to be rising daily and includes those who are angry at his handling of the hostage crisis.

When the current conflict erupted, Netanyahu was facing corruption charges and, despite attempts to legislate his way out of trouble by tweaking the judicial system in the name of ‘judicial reforms’, it looked like he was going to end up in court, even prison. Many saw the Hamas attack as a godsend for him.

At this stage, Netanyahu and Israel’s strategy is clear. They want to continue their long-drawn-out ethnic cleansing with unqualified Western material support, following Hamas’s shocking daylong attack on Oct 7 last year, which killed about 1,200 Israelis, including some 400 security personnel.

The Israeli air attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus was an act of provocation designed to force Iran and its influential IRGC into retaliating.

Hamas also took about 240 Israelis back to Gaza as hostages in order to swap them for several thousand Palestinian prisoners, many being held without charge on ‘administrative orders’ in Israeli jails. A little over half of those hostages have been released, but over 130 remain captive in Gaza.

For over six months, Israel may have been carrying out a relentless pogrom in Gaza, with the death toll of children alone running at nearly 13,000 among the nearly 34,000 Palestinians killed so far, but it is beginning to realise its military campaign now has an end date slapped on it by its Western allies.

The West’s waning support doesn’t owe itself to any sudden awakening of the conscience, but is dictated by domestic politics, such as President Joe Biden’s desperate need for Muslim votes in states such as Michigan, and the support of countless progressive Americans who are outraged by the Gaza genocide and say they are unsure if they’ll vote for him in this November’s presidential election.

In contrast to its support over six months, recently the US has briefed journalists about “tough and candid discussions” during a phone call between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu, particularly over Israel’s planned invasion of camps in Rafah, currently home to some 1.7 million displaced Gazans.

Over several months, Israel has tried to provoke Hezbollah, seen as an Iranian proxy in Leba­non, in the north, but failed to draw it into a full-fledged confrontation. It has attacked not just south Lebanon and Beirut and hit Hezbollah targets, including commanders, but has also bombed targets in Syria, which forms part of the ‘axis of res­i­s­tance’ along with Iran, Hezbollah and Yemen.

However, all these blatant acts of provocation failed to draw Hezbollah and Syria into the Middle East conflict because the ‘axis’ powers possibly saw through Israel’s tactics and chose restraint, so the focus remained solely on Israel’s brutality in Gaza, which was slowly but surely beginning to change Western attitudes.

The US has remained a staunch ally, offering unconditional support to Israel’s ‘right to self-defence’ (a term that normally applies in the context of external aggression) against forces in areas under its own occupation, and has supplied unprecedented levels of arms, armament, fighter jets and bombs.

But adding to domestic political compulsions has been the recent killing of around half a dozen Western aid workers in a targeted strike on three vehicles belonging to the global relief organisation World Central Kitchen, which resulted in international anger and opprobrium; even Western governments sounded concerned and expressed unease at Israel’s continuing military campaign.

I have tried hard to ascertain the time of the WCK strike that killed seven Western aid workers on April 1 so as so ascertain whether the Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on the same day was a diversionary tactic. In any case, the two attacks served two different purposes.

The one major consequence of the WCK killings was that the relief organisation suspended its operations in Gaza. That fitted perfectly with Israel’s policy of depopulating the Strip through mass killings and widespread destruction of its infrastructure, including homes, schools, hospitals, libraries and universities, and by preventing food aid from reaching the Palestinians. The thousands of Palestinians who were being served hot meals by WCK must be going hungry again.

The outrageous Israeli air attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus was an act of extreme provocation designed to force Iran and its influential Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps into retaliating. Any retaliation by Iran, which the West sees as the bane of its existence, would pull not only Israel but likely the US and other Western military powers into at least an aerial campaign against it.

This would serve Israel’s cause no end, as on the one hand, it can continue its Gaza genocide and the land grab in the West Bank through more and more settlements, displacing thousands of additional Palestinians, and on the other, the West’s attention will be diverted to, and remain focused on, its favourite hate figures, ie, the Iranian clergy, and not on Israel’s mass murder.

As these lines are being written, the US has stated it will unequivocally support Israel in case of Iranian aggression, while calling on Tehran to desist. It has to be seen whether Tehran decision-makers can take a step back and think through the regional consequences before deciding on their course of action.

Or will the slight of the consulate attack and the killing of a senior IRGC commander force their hand? Any violent reaction would only be a bailout for an under-pressure Israel.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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