Israel, Iran and US dragged toward war by monsters of their own creation
As the Gaza carnage soars, the regionwide threat posed by Tehran-backed paramilitary hordes and their immense missile arsenals is no longer an abstract one. Hundreds of thousands of radicalized transnational paramilitaries are goading themselves into a conflict — ostensibly with Israel, but also probably dragging in the US, its allies and the region.
Militias are already amassing along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel borders, where there are inexorably escalating missile assaults, skirmishes and airstrikes. Israeli military figures have long argued that a decisive confrontation with these factions would ultimately be necessary, particularly now that Israel’s leadership widely believes that Iran triggered this latest conflict via Hamas.
In Gaza, more than 8,000 have been killed, including about 3,200 Palestinian children. An eruption on Israel’s northern border would bring an exponentially greater conflict, with Hezbollah boasting of having 100,000 fighters and 150,000 rockets. Iraq’s Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi exceeds 240,000 fighters, with large affiliated forces in Syria and Yemen. And then there are 190,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps combatants, many already deployed throughout the region. This compares with 170,000 active Israeli military personnel and 460,000 reservists.
With 300,000 Israeli forces already committed near Gaza, this illustrates why a multifront war is Israel’s nightmare scenario, particularly with the West Bank in turmoil. US intervention could become inevitable once Iranian proxies wade in: Israel cannot fight everyone at once.
American nervousness about all-out conflict is manifested in the timid manner in which it passively observed 18 militant strikes against US targets in Iraq and Syria, before responding with two bashfully symbolic attacks against militant facilities on the Syria-Iraq border. White House spokesman John Kirby said: “Nobody’s looking for a conflict with Iran.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US had “no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities.” But as militia strikes continue, the US may be reluctantly sucked into an escalatory tit for tat.
Western nationals are being told to leave Lebanon. With the only currently functioning airport in Beirut issuing evacuation protocols, there is nationwide panic about being trapped in the line of fire of an Israeli invasion.
Hezbollah and Hamas’ very existence is the consequence of historic Israeli machinations
This conflict is only possible because all sides created and provoked dangerous phenomena they could not control. Hezbollah and Hamas’ very existence is the consequence of historic Israeli machinations. Hezbollah was founded in the smoking ruins of Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion and Hamas’ expansion was credited to Israel’s cultivation of Palestine’s Islamist movement as a counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s evisceration of the two-state solution decimated Palestinian moderate and intellectual opinion, leaving armed Islamists as the only entities with supposedly viable strategies for resisting occupation. Many Israeli and US columnists argue that Netanyahu and Hamas enjoyed a decades-long “symbiotic” relationship, cultivating each other for partisan political calculations. Malevolent mobs of murderous, messianic settlers, mobilized by extreme-right puppet masters, fomented boiling chaos in the West Bank that threatens to blow up in everybody’s faces. The only possible outcome of the Gaza carnage will be to provoke a desire for vengeance in entirely new generations.
Tehran has struggled to control the transnational hordes it cultivated. Capricious militia commanders such as Qais Khazali view perpetual provocation as an endlessly productive strategy, in careers built upon engineering anarchy and mayhem. Kata’ib Hezbollah has threatened attacks on the Gulf, the Houthis are launching drones over Egyptian and Saudi airspace and Iraqi militants are blocking oil supplies along the Jordan border, all fueling perfect storms of conflict regionalization.
Statements from Tehran urge de-escalation, while dealing in provocation. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian gloated that paramilitaries such as Hezbollah had their “fingers on the trigger” and boasted that their next moves would be “much more powerful and deeper than what you’ve witnessed.” Iran sank decades of investment into Hezbollah, which has played a leading role in training and mobilizing other regional militias. The methodology of mass-casualty suicide attacks, exploited ad infinitum by Daesh and Al-Qaeda, was pioneered by Hezbollah in the 1980s.
Tehran does not want to witness Israel dismembering and eliminating its biggest asset. Hezbollah has likewise warned that it will not stand idly by and witness the destruction of Hamas. As with other powers that manipulated Middle Eastern conflicts for their own amusement, Russia is gleefully pouring fuel on the fire, hoping that if the West is drawn into a widened conflict, Ukraine will be entirely forgotten.
As Israel’s Gaza incursions continue, Hezbollah has been mocked that, despite its “marching to Jerusalem” rhetoric, it appears highly reluctant to rush into precisely the kind of war it supposedly exists to fight. Hundreds of thousands of battle-hungry paramilitaries were likewise brainwashed that they represent the “Islamic Resistance,” tasked with liberating Palestine — whatever the actual Machiavellian objectives of their paymasters. Luckily, Hassan Nasrallah appears, for now, to be sufficiently pragmatic to take Israel’s apocalyptic threats seriously, although his efforts to displace the conflict to the Syrian border are unlikely to spare Lebanon. Nasrallah met representatives from Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, who begged him to enter the conflict, while agreeing to coordinate through a joint operations room.
In 2014, the US allowed the creation of the Iraqi paramilitary Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi as a hands-off means of combating Daesh, in parallel with US-backed proxies in Syria. But Western powers did nothing to prevent the Hashd behemoth doubling in size, even after Daesh’s defeat, despite repeated warnings about the perils such forces posed to regional stability. Like the nastiest slasher movies fevered imaginations can conjure up, this cowardly failure to slay undead demons of past conflicts is returning to haunt us for Halloween 2023.
Opportunistic posturing and provocation by transnational militias and their paymasters offer scant comfort to Gaza’s citizens, who are being bombed and starved into oblivion. Nobody wants an expanded conflict: not Israel, not America and certainly not bankrupt Iran. But all these parties have become impotent prisoners of the escalatory cycle they and their proxy legions are energetically fueling.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.