The land of wars, surprises and earthquakes

The land of wars, surprises and earthquakes

The land of wars, surprises and earthquakes
Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Reuters/File)
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The developments in the Middle East are not simple. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood unleashed an earthquake and, the very next day, it sparked a limited war launched by Hezbollah across the Lebanese-Israeli border. A decision is in place to prevent that war from spiraling out of control.
Soon after, pro-Iran factions in Iraq launched a battle to expel the Americans from the country. The confrontation there is on the verge of turning into a war or what looks like a war. Elsewhere, the Houthis played their card by threatening marine navigation in the Red Sea, even though they have claimed that their battle is against Israeli vessels or vessels headed to Israel. It is not simple to watch American and British jets launch strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen and to watch jets strike Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq.
Throughout all of this, Washington keeps saying it does not want a large-scale war in the region. Tehran is also making the same statements. In such a precarious region and amid such volatile conditions, the game could slip from the hands of the players to become greater and even more dangerous.
Amid the tragedy unfolding in Gaza, a story has been presented that is worth pausing to listen to. It says that Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, definitely planned a sophisticated operation that would revive the dormant scene. It adds that, in spite of the small number of attackers, Sinwar was hoping that they would abduct several Israeli soldiers to force Tel Aviv to negotiate their release and force it to ease the stifling siege on Gaza.
The story stresses that the Hamas fighters were surprised by the weakness of the Israeli security measures in the areas they attacked and the extent of the infiltration they achieved. They ended up abducting far more Israelis and left far more Israeli victims than they had anticipated.
The story also stresses that the Israeli authorities were taken by surprise by the extent of Hamas’ breach. They were left with no choice but to launch a wide-scale, destructive war. The shocks did not end there. Israel was also surprised at the extent, complexity and depth of Hamas’ tunnels and the movement’s ability to keep on fighting in spite of the massive losses incurred in its ranks and among civilians.
America itself was surprised by Hamas’ operation, which shook the settlements and settlers to the core and exposed the weakness of Israel’s security measures. Washington was quick to intervene and side firmly with Israel, sending its warships to prevent the war from spilling over into the region.
The story also says that Sinwar expected Israel’s response to be strong and for it to take a similar, or perhaps firmer, approach to those adopted in its previous wars on Gaza. He did not expect Israel to launch an all-out war aimed at eliminating Hamas completely from Gaza — and even eliminating Gaza itself by displacing its people.
On the other side, Iran was surprised by the war threatening to take Gaza out of the confrontation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which would effectively take the Palestinian ring away from the “axis of resistance” that is so important to Iran’s agenda in the region. The story adds that Iran’s decision to kick off the battle to expel the Americans from Iraq and Syria was aimed at exerting pressure on it to stop the war or reap compensation should Israel succeed in eliminating Hamas. Iran needed to up the pressure, so it turned to the Houthis to remind everyone that it controls the security of navigation in the Red Sea.

Iran turned to the Houthis to remind everyone that it controls the security of navigation in the Red Sea.

Ghassan Charbel

This is how the Middle East has found itself confronted with a series of wars even though all concerned have repeatedly stressed that they do not wish to expand them. The war of uprooting Hamas from Gaza and preventing it from playing any military role in the enclave. The war launched by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The war to expel the Americans waged by the Iraqi factions. The war of targeting vessels in the Red Sea.
The Biden administration concluded that the war in Gaza has become larger than Gaza and has started to threaten the American military and political presence in parts of the Middle East. It also realized that Iran is the thread that connects all these wars.
Many believed that the Biden administration, which is preoccupied with the upcoming elections, would make do with offering unlimited support to Israel. They believed it would not want to use force against the factions that are attacking its bases in Iraq and Syria.
The developments again surprised the players. America retaliated to the killing of three of its soldiers by carrying out attacks on “Iranian targets” in Syria and Iraq. America set the limit for itself in this war by choosing not to attack targets in Iran.
By reclaiming the role of policeman, which the people of the Middle East thought was done and dusted, America launched a war of deterring the Houthis in retaliation for their attacks in the Red Sea. The region now finds itself confronted with a different war, raising the question: Where are Iran’s borders in the region? Where are America’s borders? Iran attempted a coup against America’s military deployment in some parts of the Middle East and the US retaliated by seeking to “trim the nails of the Iranian proxies.”
Observers of the situation in Gaza believe that Hamas is beginning to realize that it will not be in power there in the “day after.” The search is now focusing on forming a “consensus” Palestinian government that is approved by the factions and in which the movement does not enjoy direct representation. This will be coupled with reforms to the Palestinian Authority, preparing it for the difficult role that awaits it. This scenario also envisages pledges to reconstruct Gaza and offer aid.
The most important point, however, is the conviction of Western countries that the establishment of a Palestinian state is necessary for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. It is important for Israel because it would never rid itself of future “floods” if a Palestinian state were not established side by side with it. Western officials also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state would deprive Iran of the Palestinian card that it uses to control decisions in several countries. Wars and their solutions are never simple.

Ghassan Charbel is editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
X: @GhasanCharbel

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