Deadly attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel have turned attention toward Iran, with the potential to draw Tehran’s other proxies across the Middle East into an escalating conflict.
(Bloomberg) — Deadly attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel have turned attention toward Iran, with the potential to draw Tehran’s other proxies across the Middle East into an escalating conflict.
Israel didn’t initially think Iran knew in advance about the operation but as of Monday was reviewing evidence that it did, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer told Bloomberg Television.
“It’s still not clear to us that they might have done it, but I have to tell you they are working right now to bring more and more terror groups into this fight,” he said, also noting that Iran is a key sponsor of Hamas, providing money, equipment and training.
“Iran is involved, but a distinction must be made between the strategic aspect and the operational aspect,” said Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate. They are an organization “that is supported by Iran but does not take orders from it.”
A heightened war — even if not explicitly involving Iran — would likely sustain higher oil prices due to disruption to ships transiting the energy-rich Persian Gulf. It would also set back US-led diplomatic efforts to ease tensions in the region.
Hamas is just one of many Iran-backed groups across the region, stretching from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Yemen. These proxies have in recent years targeted US military facilities in Iraq, Aramco oil sites in Saudi Arabia and commercial ships in the Persian Gulf, while claiming a degree of separation from Tehran itself that’s helped to avoid escalation into all-out war.
This time, Iran has congratulated Hamas for its operation while denying involvement. But it’s also already bracing for threats — particularly from the US and Israel — who won’t believe that public position.
“Those threatening Iran will face a destructive response in case of any foolish move,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a press conference on Monday.
Israel now faces a balancing act as it tries to eliminate the threat in Gaza without opening another front with Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon — another Iran-backed force that’s usually presented a bigger military threat than Hamas.
“Hezbollah’s desire is to stay out of the war but broad destruction of Gaza could change those dynamics. Regional powers are attempting to mediate to prevent a large scale war from emerging.” said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa at political risk consultant Eurasia Group.
Israel will “carefully calibrate its response to any targeting by Hezbollah to avoid triggering a significant escalation that would further stretch the Israel Defense Forces,” said Sorana Parvulescu, head of geopolitical risk analysis for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at consultancy Control Risks.
The other issue with a heavy-handed Israeli response is that it could boost recruitment for Iranian proxies across the Middle East, Parvulescu said.
“It is highly likely that the ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran will intensify – we are watching for potential escalation triggers in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the wider region.”
–With assistance from Galit Altstein and Thomas Hall.
(Adds Israeli minister quote from second paragraph.)
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