Escalation—Will Middle-East Crisis Worsen Further?

Iran Embassy Bombing Damascus 1
Emergency services work at a building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024. [AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki]

Deeply worrying as the Gaza and the overall Middle-East situation already is, escalatory events continue to take place. Israel’s strike on an Iranian Embassy building in Damascus which killed several senior Iranian commanders was followed by provocative exchange of threats between Israel and Iran. On April 10 President Biden spoke of USA’s ‘ironclad’ commitment to the security of Israel against threats from Iran and its proxies. On the same day, quoting mostly anonymous officials, the Washington Post reported that Iran is edging closer to nuclear weapons capability by rapidly accumulating enriched uranium “some of it very close to weapons grade.” As is well-known, Israel already has nuclear weapons.

Any escalation of the Middle-East conflict, apart from its own grave harms including loss of life, will have very serious impacts on the already volatile situation of our conflict-ridden world, and all efforts to prevent this escalation should be made.

The first step is a careful examination of the possibilities of various aspects of escalation.

We may start with those aspects of the situation on which there can be near consensus among all those who care for peace and reducing human distress.

Firstly, the ongoing conflict of Gaza has intolerably high human costs and should stop immediately and permanently while all hostages are also released.

Secondly, there are powerful forces which are preventing this from happening, even though most people in world desire and demand this.

As long as this conflict continues, clearly there also remains risk of escalation at various levels involving many countries, proxies and militias.

Fourth, the most serious form of escalation is probably when Iran and the USA become more directly involved on both sides.

The most serious escalation result is a war between USA and Iran with several countries and militias of the region aligning on two sides.

Sixth, Iran being the weaker side of the two clearly does not want such a war.

 Seventh, Israel, particularly under the present leadership of Netanyahu, is likely to be supportive of such a war. This is based on its previous record as well as recent escalatory actions which show that it has no desire for immediate peace and may actually want a prolonged conflict (partly related to personal exigencies of Netanyahu).

The seven aspects of the situation mentioned above are well-established. The uncertainty relates mainly to whether at the present juncture (the months before US presidential election) the USA wants a war with Iran or not. This needs careful examination.

Most analysts are saying that just now the USA does not want to openly attack Iran, despite the various provocations of Netanyahu. They are supported by the fact of the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan ordered by Biden indicating a shift away from ‘boots on ground’ options to the strategy of bleeding perceived enemies using proxies, as seen in Ukraine conflict.

As against this, others point to the persistent demonizing of Iran by the USA indicating very hostile designs including possibility of attacking Iran, or fully supporting Israel to attack Iran, obtaining the collusion of close allies as well. The post 9/11 agenda of neo-cons involved attacking Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and some others but Iran was being mentioned even then as the biggest ultimate target. Iran’s oil and gas resources are huge. The USA with close allies has a past of ousting a popular, elected government there and imposing its own unpopular regime for years. The USA is completely committed to Iran not getting access to nuclear weapons. The nuclear accord reached with Iran was opposed by hardliners even at that time, and despite Iran adhering to it was withdrawn by President Trump unilaterally. Since then Iran has been demonized by the USA more and more as being a part of ‘the axis of evil’, whatever that means.

Hence those who feel that the USA may not hesitate to attack Iran also have their strong points, and this viewpoint cannot be ignored.

Here we need to further ask– what was happening in the Middle-East before the October 7 attack? A very important development was an accord reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and that too with the help of China. This upset US conventional approach to exercising control over Middle-East region. What is more, there was increasing talk of the China-Saudi Arabia oil trade not taking place in US dollars, something which threatens the petrodollar based huge financial advantages to the USA, something about which the USA feels very sensitive.

A few words about the October 7 attack are also needed here for better understanding of the wider situation. It has become increasingly clear that such a big surprise attack was not possible. All the weapon accumulation, training etc. was not possible in such a small place as Gaza in a secretive way. What is more there were many videos of training in circulation, documents, warnings from Israeli women surveillance officers about training taking place continuously near border fences, high level warning from Egypt—all giving advance warning about the impending attack and despite this, on the day of the attack, Israeli security forces were much below strength and the protection response was much below expectations. All this indicates the high probability that what was presented as a surprise attack to the world was in fact fixed in advance by a section of Hamas and a section of the Israeli security establishment, probably only a small section having highest-level approval.

If this was indeed so, and there is high probability of this, then from Israeli side there would be only one reason for accepting such high costs, and that would be to get a chance for ethnical cleansing in Gaza, and we have already seen how quickly such efforts were launched and how long these have continued despite all the opposition.

However if such advance planning and fixing was there, then it would be very important to know of the USA was informed, if rather if important sections of the US security establishment were informed about this by Netanyahu and his close colleagues in advance.

Certainly we do not have all the clues and answers in the complex situation, and will probably never have. But at least this much can be said that certainly there are big possibilities of serious escalation, including a real possibility of a war between the USA and Iran. Apart from what has been stated above, there is always the possibility of brinkmanship and prolonged tensions, as well as Israel’s provocative actions or irresponsible actions of various militias, also leading the USA to a war which actually it may not desire just now.

Hence the role of the peace movement is very important for preventing escalation in general and a wider US-Iran war in particular. While this role of the forces of peace is important everywhere, it is particularly so in the USA and its closely allied countries.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril, Earth without Borders, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.                         

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