Iran hits back

Published April 17, 2024
Mahir Ali
Mahir Ali

FOR the first two weeks of this month, the Western media’s main focus was on how Iran might react to an egregious Israeli provocation. On the first of April, a direct hit on an Iranian consular building in Damascus next to its embassy killed 11 people, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammed Reza Zahedi, his deputy, and at least five IRGC advisers.

It was almost inconceivable that Tehran would not strike back, notwithstanding stringent cautions from Joe Biden and other Western leaders who did not clearly condemn a hostile action against a diplomatic facility. Any targeted nation would construe such an outrage as an act of war.

Israel customarily does not own up to lethal endeavours outside its borders. For more than a decade, Syrian sites — often involving suspected Iranian allies — have regularly been targeted. So have key individuals in Iran, notably scientists presumably associated with its nuclear weapons programme. Until last weekend, Iran had not directly responded beyond unleashing a salvo of the usual condemnation occasionally combined with empty threats about ‘destroying’ Israel.

The latter has been more surreptitious in expressing a reciprocal desire, but it’s hardly a secret that at least a segment of the Israeli ruling class has harboured a wish to directly immobilise Iran, regardless of the consequences. Israel’s American godfather, however, has been more reticent. Iran is a designated enemy for the US, undoubtedly, but a trickier target than Iraq. Even those who once saw the 2003 Western assault as justifiable comeuppance for the Baathist regime have mostly had second thoughts.

Israel’s provocations have widened the war.

Saddam Hussein was once viewed as a useful bulwark against the Islamic Republic — and, back then, the clergy appeared to have few qualms about accepting weapons from Israel or the US. Saddam, after all, had the blessing (and assistance) of most Arab states until he invaded Kuwait. Interestingly, the Gulf sheikhdoms’ affections for the Baathist dictator’s regime 40 years ago have seemingly shifted to the equally deplorable Likudite leadership in Israel.

None of the above, nor Iran’s status as the only substantial Middle Eastern power willing to challenge Israel, is intended to indicate any kind of affinity with the theocracy, an unfortunate outcome of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the despicable (and Zionism-friendly) Shah but lost track of its liberationist promise. The debates on the left circa 1979-80 revolved around whether the upheaval was progressive or retrogressive — and before long it seemed obvious that Iran had taken a step forward, but not in the right direction.

In the 45 years since then, hope has been crushed by the rulers, with women in particular and dissidents in general as the most obvious targets. They are even suspicious of Iran’s exceptionally talented filmmakers, some of whom regularly end up in prison or under severe restrictions. But then, the worst is invariably in store for the best, from Israel to Iran and beyond.

Notwithstanding the nature of its unworthy regime, Tehran telegraphed its response to the Damascus outrage 72 hours in advance by informing its neighbours, including those with close links to both the US and Israel. The latter had ample warning of the incoming drones and missiles, 99 per cent of which were claimed to have been downed before they reached their targets — with the assistance of the US, UK, France and Jordan.

Iran has declared in the aftermath of its weekend offensive — which was presumably intended to demonstrate its reach rather than its lethal capacity — that the belligerence could be over if Israel and the US did not retaliate. America is apparently reluctant, but Israel — particularly given Biden’s ‘ironclad’ guarantee of blind backing — may be less inclined towards restraint. The Netanyahu regime, after all, has gone out of its way to provoke Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian interests in Syria, the possible calculation being that a wider Middle Eastern conflagration would take some of the pressure off its unrelenting genocide in Gaza.

Israeli generals have usually been more reluctant than its politicians to find an excuse for broader aggression. And current indications suggest that most Israelis — including some of those who serve as cheerleaders for the atrocities in Gaza — are not keen on a regional war that would unsettle their lifestyles.

Do any of them also realise that their status quo is unsustainable? Or that the ‘two-state solution’ being paraded by their closest Western allies is likely a thing of the past? The future, near and far, is unwritten. One can only hope that both Iranians and Israelis will look forward to avoiding a devastating wider war — and that the latter will realise that murder in Gaza or the West Bank is reminiscent of the Holocaust in Europe 90 years ago.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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