Between the American root and the Iranian, Israeli branches

Between the American root and the Iranian, Israeli branches

Since Oct. 7, there has been a race in Israel to announce the objective of displacing Palestinians en masse (File/AFP)
Since Oct. 7, there has been a race in Israel to announce the objective of displacing Palestinians en masse (File/AFP)
Short Url

The messages exchanged between Israel and Iran, especially over recent weeks, leave no room for reasonable doubt regarding the intentions of both sides. By this, I am referring firstly to their intentions regarding the Palestinian cause and secondly to the relations between Tel Aviv and Tehran.

The soft “bombardment” negotiations we witnessed were aptly directed by the US, which nearly delved into the details of the munitions that could be used and the sites that could be targeted. If not for the remnants of decency, an agreement on the scale of losses on both sides would have been reached.

The direct and indirect messages that Tel Aviv and Tehran sent conveyed that they are fully committed to complying with the so-called rules of engagement, allowing both to save face. Meanwhile, the former continues to displace and massacre the Palestinians, hollowing out their cause at an increasingly rapid pace. On the other side, Iran continues to make empty claims and score cheap points at the expense of the Arab political system and the international community, which have failed to bring about any substantial change in the region.

Since Oct. 7, there has been a race in Israel to announce the objective of displacing Palestinians en masse, through statements and systematic destruction, between Benjamin Netanyahu, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. Their colleagues, such as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, the “general of expediency and opportunism,” have joined in intermittently.

Tel Aviv and Tehran are fully committed to complying with the so-called rules of engagement, allowing both to save face

Eyad Abu Shakra

Indeed, things have been going according to their plan, unequivocally supported by the US, whose contributions range from supplying advanced weaponry to its stream of vetoes in the UN Security Council that have prevented the disruption of the Israeli war machine’s operations. Thus, nothing has undermined the momentum behind the effort to displace the Palestinians, whether it ends after the fall of Rafah or expands to reach the West Bank.

On the other hand, Iran’s retaliation — as we have seen for several months now — initially entailed Tehran’s militias in the Arab Levant instigating skirmishes and harassing targets, which was accompanied by rhetorical bravado aimed at projecting its presence and appeasing grievances. These actions have done nothing to change the equation in the Gaza Strip militarily.

However, it was natural that, over time, new considerations would emerge, recalibrating the rules of engagement at the local level … especially for the operational theater of each militia that takes its marching orders from Tehran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Four considerations were undoubtedly at the forefront.

One: The unease within Israel, particularly among the families of hostages and abductees, who are growing increasingly concerned for their fate as long as Netanyahu’s government remains in power. Indeed, these families have escalated recently, holding protests and sit-ins in streets and squares.

Two: The entire world is watching live coverage of Israel’s “starvation war.” Everyone is watching the brutal bombardment, the tragic scenes of Palestinian civilians suffering, especially children, and the horrific destruction that has been brought to the Gaza Strip, where hardly a school, university or hospital has been spared direct targeting. Despite the viciousness of the displacement plan, this devastation is beginning to create repercussions that cannot remain cost-free forever.

Three: Signs of timid awkwardness within US President Joe Biden’s administration have begun to emerge, especially in light of the unequivocal opposition voiced by many Muslim and Arab Americans, as well as liberal and progressive movements, in pivotal swing states during an election year. Here it must be said that, despite Donald Trump’s highly polarizing character, which makes it virtually impossible for a Democratic voter to change camps and vote Republican, the abstention of large numbers of Democratic voters in key states could cost Biden the election.

Four: The growing resentment among many in the Arab world, who have been shocked by the provocative public stances of fanatical extremists. This resentment has been compounded by the ongoing unprecedented pressure exerted by the Israeli lobby in the US and Western Europe. This lobby is pushing for the suppression of opposition, harassing anyone who dissents, whether in the media or on university campuses, and extorting them with accusations of antisemitism.

These four considerations required some sort of modification to the rules of engagement. This does not, however, prevent Netanyahu and his cronies from attacking and occupying Rafah. Thus, through what looks like telepathic communication, both the Israelis and Iranians began to modify the rules of engagement under the auspices of the US, which, contrary to the leaks and official statements from Washington, holds all the cards.

What we are dealing with here is two regional powers that are more complementary than confrontational

Eyad Abu Shakra

The fact of the matter, as the “messages” delivered by drones and missiles have shown, is that all of Tehran’s regional Arab tools, as well as those who make decisions of war and peace in Israel, comply with Washington’s vision and operate in accordance with its priorities.

Indeed, Washington was the conductor of this symphony of bombardment and counter-bombardment. It was consulted by all sides on how far they could take their escalation. Meanwhile, questions about Rafah were almost completely forgotten.

As an Arab military expert put it, these Israeli-Iranian messages seemed like a “simulation exercise by allied armies, with each side playing the role of friend or foe, meaning Israel played the role of an enemy in this simulation rather than being an enemy that must be destroyed.”

This analogy is accurate. In fact, what we are dealing with here is two regional powers that are more complementary than confrontational. Despite their claims to the contrary, they both refer back to the same global power and are fighting a common enemy: the Arab states. Neither of the two incurs any losses; only their common enemy loses out.

Based on the above, we must be forthright and acknowledge the following.

Firstly, the series of events that have unfolded since Oct. 7 confirm that Israel, with its own forces alone, may not consistently be able to successfully engage all of its surroundings.

Secondly, there can be no doubt regarding the complete and total alignment of the US and Israel — politically, militarily and in terms of mutual interests.

Thirdly, the Iranian leadership, contrary to the grandstanding of its mouthpieces, is not engaged in an “existential war” against Israel across the Middle East. Rather, its ultimate goal is to enter the equation and share regional influence with Israel and Turkiye.

Finally, no matter how far the rhetorical war of words is taken and how potent the dose of minor harassments and limited skirmishes becomes, there will be no confrontation between the US and Iran. In fact, Iran as an entity (though not necessarily as a regime) is of central strategic significance for Washington and its engagements with the Muslim world ... its precise calculations.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view