Israel-Gaza War: Could Escalating Violence Set Israel And Iran On A Collision Course? – OpEd


The armed conflict between Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas and Israel began on October 7, 2023, with a coordinated surprise offensive on Israel. The attack commenced in the morning, with a barrage of at least 3,000 rockets launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip against Israel. Simultaneously, around 2,500 Palestinian militants breached the Gaza-Israel barrier. Subsequently, the war commenced, and Israel initiated retaliatory strikes.

Many experts believed that this conflict would be similar to previous ones, given its long and complex history. Over the years, there have been numerous events and wars, such as the Second Intifada (2000-2005), which was a period of intense violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Additionally, there was Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), during which Israel launched a military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks. Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) involved Israel conducting airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza to halt rocket attacks. Lastly, Operation Protective Edge (2014) was a major military operation by Israel in response to rocket fire from Gaza, lasting for 50 days.

In 2022 and 2023, Hamas refrained from engaging in significant confrontations with Israel. Instead, they covertly prepared for an offensive known as Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. They received support from Iran, which was in response to Israeli settler violence, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, as well as Israeli atrocities against Palestinians throughout the decades.

After a few days, the issue escalated from mere clashes to a full-blown war, eventually becoming a regional conflict. Many parties benefited from this conflict, but the people of Palestine suffered greatly, experiencing psychological harm and witnessing the destruction of their country. The Arab countries, recognizing the Palestinian issue as part of the larger Arab issue, took a stand and fought wars, such as the October 1973 war, in support of Palestine. They also made political efforts, including the Arab initiative, which aimed to establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, recognized by all countries.

However, international organizations, particularly the United Nations and the UN Security Council, have been unable to find a solution to the Palestinian issue or enforce the international resolutions issued in relation to it. These organizations seem to want Israel to remain in the region as a threat, making it difficult for Arab countries, given their circumstances and economic limitations, to wage war against Israel. Nevertheless, foreign countries are attempting to intervene in the issue to eliminate Iran. However, all parties involved – Israel, Iran, and the United States – have reasons to avoid an expanded war. Israel is currently focused on its military response in Gaza, while Iran may desire a clash with the United States. The United States has expressed its support for Israel and its military involvement, while Russia has confirmed its support for Palestine.
This raises the question: Does Washington want a regional conflict that destabilizes the region, disrupts oil markets, fuels extremism, and diverts attention from the war in Ukraine?

Before we can answer this question, it is important to consider the historical context. The war and partition decision in 1947 led to the establishment of the State of Israel by the Zionist movement, awarding approximately 80% of Palestine’s territory and expelling over 800,000 Palestinians from their homes between 1948 and 1967. The Zionist movement had ambitions for future expansion and implemented racist laws against the Palestinian minority.

The 1967 war provided the Zionist movement with an opportunity to fulfill another part of its original plan, which was to occupy the remaining territory of Palestine. Just as before, the Zionist movement pursued a policy of imposing a fait accompli, effectively annexing the land to Israel and reducing the Palestinian people to mere residents without any citizenship rights. Israel played a role in this and initiated a genocide against Palestine, aiming to displace Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and resettle them in Sinai.

However, the Egyptian Senate (the second division of Parliament) also held an emergency session, granting Sisi the authority to take any necessary action to support the Palestinians, protect Egyptian and Arab national security, and reject the resettlement of Palestinians in Sinai. 

The second question is: Are foreign forces currently exerting pressure on the Egyptian president to resettle the Palestinians in Sinai?

Following the devastating explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on October 17, which resulted in the deaths of numerous displaced Palestinians, anger spread among Arab countries, particularly due to the loss of innocent children’s lives. Protests erupted in cities across the Middle East, leading to the cancellation of a summit intended to bring together Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian leaders with US President Joe Biden after his visit to Israel.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in various Arab countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Tunisia, to express support for the Palestinians and condemn Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in response to Hamas attacks on Israel. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated its firm rejection of this brutal attack, which flagrantly violates international laws and norms, including international humanitarian law. King Abdullah II of Jordan condemned the violence against innocent civilians, the wounded, and the sick who were receiving treatment. The ongoing brutal aggression by Israel against Gaza, particularly at the Baptist Hospital, is unacceptable and must be immediately stopped.

The UAE has called on the international community to intensify efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire in order to prevent further loss of life. They also urged for all efforts to be made to achieve a comprehensive and just peace while preventing further violations. The Iraqi government spokesman, Bassem Al-Awadi, confirmed that the attack on the hospital is a war crime and accused Israeli forces of crossing all lines.

Despite contradictory explanations for the explosion and Washington’s assessment that Israel was not responsible, countries across the region, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, directly attributed the explosion to an Israeli airstrike.

The war in Gaza has already caused strategic calculations to shift for key actors in the region. This has raised concerns about regional escalation, especially after Iran’s foreign minister warned that as long as Israel’s campaign in Gaza continues, it is highly likely that other fronts will be opened. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has echoed these threats, stating that Iran will hold back militants if Israel’s attacks on Gaza persist. This increases the possibility of Israeli-Iranian clashes, as Iranian leaders’ public support for militia attacks leaves little room for deniability.

This is not the first time Israel and Iran have engaged in wars. Over the past five years, they have been involved in shadow wars. These conflicts intensified after the United States withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2018 and as the Iranian nuclear program made progress. The increasing frequency of attacks seemed like a controlled escalation, but the war in Gaza is disrupting their carefully calculated strategies.

The third question is whether Iran will continue to support Hamas.

As the war escalates and casualties increase, there are reasons to believe that Iran may retreat from its position. They are currently facing economic decline and their leaders are concerned about their survival, making them hesitant to risk direct conflict with the United States. In fact, Tehran and Washington recently had new diplomatic relations, albeit in the opposite direction, leading to a prisoner exchange agreement that resulted in the freezing of some Iranian assets. However, if Iran agrees to enter the war, an unexpected escalation from America may occur.

Messages from Iran’s leaders have served as an endorsement of armed groups that might want to join the conflict. Hezbollah also began firing rockets into northern Israel, testing previous Israeli red lines; Israel responded with counter-strikes on targets in southern Lebanon. If the escalation on the Lebanese border increases, it will be very dangerous, as Hezbollah has much more advanced military capabilities than Hamas. Accordingly, Israel has already ordered the evacuation of more than twenty towns near the border, either to prepare for or to try to prevent the emergence of a second front by reducing the possibility of civilian casualties. Also across the border in Lebanon, civilians evacuated towns in the line of fire.

The fourth question: Is the war between Hamas and Israel or Hezbollah and Iran?

If Israel’s priority now is Gaza, but the complication is through escalation on its northern border, Hezbollah may be wary of expanding its military operations and it is possible that a large-scale war could occur between Hezbollah and Israel that could attract the United States to enter the region and the entry of Russia. However, Hezbollah faces pressure at home, as the Lebanese people also remain frustrated with a set of serious internal crises that will not lead to military intervention, but the primary goals of Hezbollah’s attacks are its solidarity with Hamas and the distraction of Israeli efforts on Gaza, not the opening of a northern front, but this is what is required at this time.

Finally, the conflict between Israel and Iran can escalate into a full-scale war, destabilizing the region, disrupting global markets, and drawing in U.S. forces. It may even prompt Iran to weaponize its nuclear capabilities.

The war has not yet spread across the region, but the assumptions that supported the escalatory dynamic between Israel and Iran are illusory and prone to sudden disruption. Biden understands the risks and has rightly prioritized containing the Israel-Hamas war in his diplomatic efforts.

The problem is that this conflict cannot be contained if innocent children continue to die in Palestine. Even if all parties have an interest in avoiding a regional war, the present question remains: What is the fault of these innocent people? Where will reconstruction take place? Or is the goal to displace people and incorporate Gaza into Israel? There is no guarantee of hope for the citizens in the future. The situation on the ground is fluid, and changes in strategic calculations in Israel, Iran, America, and Russia may lead their leaders to believe that avoiding a broader conflict poses a greater risk to their survival than confronting each other in war.

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry is Co-lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield.

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