Urgency of Preventing Escalation and Widening of Conflict in Middle-East

Iran Bomb Blasts
Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd (AFP image)

Several leading Middle-East analysts have been warning about the possibilities of the Gaza war escalating and also an even wider regional conflict emerging. The killing of a Hamas commander in Beirut and an Iranian military leader in Syria (allegedly by Israel), attacks in the Red Sea on merchant ships by the Houthis and the US-led response, the growing tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border and the exchange of rockets between the Hezbollah and the Israeli forces, the attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria and the US response to this, the US bringing two aircraft carriers and their striking units within the regional waters—all these have been seen by some as signs which indicate the emergence of a wider crisis or even a wider war. However the risks of a wider conflict have increased much more with the powerful bomb blast in Iran, resulting in over 80 deaths, on January 3, on the sensitive occasion of the death anniversary of the Iran General Quassem Soleimani who as Quds leader had played a very important role in taking Iran’s influence to a wider Middle-East area, particularly through various militant organizations like the Hezbollah, and who was killed in a US air raid on Baghdad airport in 2020. Although on January 4, it was reported that the IS had taken responsibility for it, there still continued to be other allegations, including of Israeli involvement.

Trita Parcy of the Quincy Institute, USA, has stated, “This is a very dangerous time. A region-wide war appears more likely by the day.”

Al Jazeera senior political analyst Marwan Bishara has stated that there are ‘dark clouds’ gathering near the Middle-East after several days of escalating regional tensions. He said, “anything could happen now in this region. There is so much pent-up violence, so much pent-up tension, so many conflicts and so many moving parts. From the Red Sea to the Iranian Iraqi border to Yemen to Gulf, basically everyone in the region now is a candidate to further escalation.”

This is deeply worrying, and all possible efforts should be made to prevent a further escalation and widening of the present day main conflict or smaller conflicts in the Middle-East.      

Escalation and widening may be caused broadly in two ways. Firstly, there can be non-intentional widening or escalation. This may happen if and when in an already tense and sensitive situation an event or even at times a statement can have a different or a much bigger impact than was expected or intended. This can also happen when in situations of great tensions and deep suspicions, some action is misinterpreted, provoking a very hostile response that was not justified. Such possibilities increase because of a lot of disinformation being spread.

On the other hand, deliberate escalation or widening can also be caused if one of the bigger forces in the conflict, or one of the big leaders of this force, takes actions which are actually aimed in a conscious way to broaden or escalate the conflict. To give one example, Israel may do something which may increase further the hostility between Iran and the USA, or between Iran and Saudi Arabia, or it may do something that forces Iran into a more direct confrontation with it, thereby also drawing in the USA, as per expectation. A former Prime Minister of Israel has written recently that instead of allowing Iran-supported militias to bleed Israel and even USA as proxies of Iran, it is much better for these countries to confront Iran directly. To give another example of the possibilities of intended escalation, Hamas may do something that will escalate hostility either between Israel and Iran, or between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Terrorist organizations like the IS may have their own reasons for escalation and widening of conflict.

Some leaders may be guided even by personal self-interest while seeking war escalation and widening. Netanyahu, for example, will face a lot of domestic problems if war ends very soon, including very uncomfortable questions over the failure of intelligence prior to the October 7 attack, but if the war widens and then can end on a note of victory for Israel, then probably his domestic criticism will tone down a lot.

This being the year of Presidential election in the USA is also a factor to be reckoned with. The military-industrial complex is generally interested in wider and prolonged wars.

Whatever be the narrow calculations that could possibly instigate a widening of the Middle-East conflict, what should not be forgotten is that this is like playing with fire, and those who seek to injure others may themselves get very badly hurt in the efforts, as a widening conflict can also spiral out of control and have consequences very different from those which guided the instigators of the escalation.

What is clear beyond doubt is that the way forward is that of checking and controlling conflict at all levels, with the end as early as possible of the Gaza conflict and the Gaza humanitarian crisis being at the core of such efforts. Keeping in view this overwhelming aim, any evidence against those trying to escalate and widen the conflict should be examined carefully and exposed at an early date before such instigation can cause much harm. It is from this perspective that the early and unbiased identification of the culprits of the most terrible bomb blast on January 3 in Kerman, Iran, which has claimed over 100 human lives apart from injuring a large number of people, should be attempted.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.


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