The invisible war in the Middle East

Gaza finds itself caught between Netanyahu’s ambition to dismantle Hamas and Iran’s determination to maintain its influence through the “Palestinian card.”

The invisible war in the Middle East

Currently, there are two distinct levels of conflict and messaging: one in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, and the other in the broader region involving the United States and Iran.

Iran has recently intensified its aggressive actions, expanding its target range. Notably, it has begun targeting tankers and cargo ships in the Bab al-Mandab strait and near India's shores. Additionally, Iran persists in its efforts to smuggle weapons, including heavy arms, from Syria through Jordan, and to launch attacks near Egypt's border.

These recent actions should be understood within the broader context of the protracted conflict in the Gaza Strip, which has been ongoing for more than two months. Reports suggest that Iran was informed about Hamas's decision last Ramadan to intensify political, media, public, and military efforts to halt Arab-Israeli normalization and bring the Palestinian issue back to the forefront.

However, there are indications that Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah were taken aback by Hamas’s unexpected attack on October 7th. They reportedly criticized Hamas's leadership for not coordinating with them in advance regarding the timing, an aspect considered crucial in maintaining what is referred to as the “unity of arenas.”

Following the "October Surprise," Iran sought to recalibrate its strategy with meticulous calculations, particularly in response to the United States' military, diplomatic, and political backing of Israel. This support was aimed at helping Israel "restore deterrence" and engage in a critical conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a significant show of force, the US deployed destroyers and two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean and the Gulf, issuing a stern warning to Tehran: if Hezbollah initiated a full-scale war against Israel, the US would retaliate by bombing Iran.

Iran persists in its efforts to smuggle weapons, including heavy arms, from Syria through Jordan, and to launch attacks near Egypt's border.

Confronted with a dilemma — either "losing face or losing arms" — Iran opted for a series of military actions aimed at preserving its reputation across various Arab regions, including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This choice was made to avoid provoking America and Israel into launching operations that could significantly undermine its proxies.

This strategy manifested in a measured exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon and numerous assaults by pro-Iranian groups on American positions in Iraq and Syria. These actions were part of Iran's broader approach to maintain its influence and standing in the region while avoiding direct, large-scale confrontation with the US and Israel.

Two significant developments

More than two months into the crisis, with the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorating, over 20,000 civilians killed, emerging dissent in Western and Israeli circles, increased pressure on Iran from its allies, and Netanyahu's firm commitment to his objectives despite slow progress, Iran has entered a new phase marked by two significant developments:

Firstly, Iran's militias have made attempts to compromise Jordanian national security. This involves smugglers trying to transfer weapons and ammunition from Syria into Jordan. Additionally, there's been an attempt by the Houthis to strike near the Egyptian border adjacent to Gaza. Both Egypt and Jordan are struggling through a complex situation, balancing the aftermath of the Gaza conflict and their challenging economic circumstances.

They face considerable pressure from Israel and Western nations and are contending with the threat of displacement posed by the right-wing government in Tel Aviv. These actions by Iran and its proxies are unmistakable signals.

Secondly, Iran has intensified and broadened its targeting of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a critical global trade route. This escalation not only disrupts vital commerce but also impacts millions of consumers. The threat has expanded to the Indian shores, signaling opposition to the American-led alliance dedicated to ensuring the Red Sea's navigational freedom, which comprises around 20 countries. Additionally, it serves as a "message" to New Delhi, which has not joined the alliance and recently launched the "economic corridor" from India to Europe via the Middle East and Israel at the G20 summit in New Delhi. These actions demonstrate Iran's strategic influence on regional and global scales.

In the larger geopolitical landscape, Tehran aims to disrupt American efforts to establish security arrangements in the region and to soothe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stated objectives of "eliminating Hamas" and "dismantling its structure" in the Gaza Strip. If these goals were to be achieved, Iran would face a significant strategic setback, losing a vital element of its influence in the region. This would impact Iran's role in the "axis of resistance," where it risks losing the Sunni component, and would diminish its prominent position in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue.

Therefore, Gaza finds itself caught between Netanyahu's ambition to dismantle Hamas and Iran's determination to maintain its influence through the "Palestinian card." Simultaneously, the region is ensnared in a wider power struggle between the United States, which is gearing up for pivotal elections and seeking to establish a security framework, and Tehran, which is strategically leveraging its regional influence.

font change