US will not support Israeli attack against Iran, but can the Israelis be curbed?

Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts

The fact that Iran provides weapons to Palestinians is not heinous at all, because a population under “belligerent occupation” (in the wording of the Geneva Conventions) has the right to “resist”. And Tehran’s decision to attack Israel in retaliation to the latter bombing its consulate is quite reasonable. Moreover, “the responsibility” (for the crisis) “lies more in Washington than in Tehran.” This is what Stephen M. Walt, renowned professor of international relations at Harvard University, wrote on Monday – that is not some “radical”, mind you. Walt’s piece is in itself an indication of how increasingly isolated Israel is becoming.

On April 1, Israel bombed Iran’s diplomatic compound in Syria, killing seven Iranian military advisers (three senior commanders included) and two Syrian civilians. Iran’s retaliation took a while, but it sure came: almost two weeks later, on Saturday night (April 13), the attack was launched. It involved over 30 cruise missiles, 120 ballistic missiles, and 170 drones, and lasted around five hours. The explosions were heard in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and in cities across the country, with air raid sirens sounding in over 700 locations. Most projectiles were successfully intercepted, with the help from the Unites States, France, the United Kingdom, and also Jordan, which shot down some of the missiles. Zero Israelis were killed, and there was some minor damage to military infrastructure in southern Israel.

US President Joe Biden responded on April 14 by saying that “Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks, sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel.” He added that he would “coordinate a united diplomatic response” to the Iranian attack – without any mention of military action, though. 

Further indication that thus far Washington has managed to curb Israel’s will to war is the fact that Netanyahu reportedly abandoned the idea of a retaliatory strike against Iran after a telephone call with Biden. The latter has insisted that the fact that Tel Aviv intercepted almost all of the 300 missiles and drones Tehran fired against them is already a victory. Others may see it differently of course. French entrepreneur Arnaud Bertrand nailed it thusly:

“Iran communicated about its plans for its strike 72 hours in advance to everyone, including America (via the Saudis). It was meant to be intercepted, a mere performative show, and despite this you still had 7 missiles pierce through Israel's defenses. Imagine the impact a surprise strike would have. I think Iran's message was therefore ‘we show that we can hit you - this time we warn you in advance so you can defend yourself, but next time we won't’.”

Paul R. Pillar (a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and at the Geneva Center for Security Policy), in his April 5 piece, pointed out that, by “imagining [what] if the roles were reversed”, one can grasp just how much Iranian authorities must felt pressured to respond with full force: “If Iran had bombed an embassy of Israel or the United States, a violent and lethal response would be not just expected but demanded by politicians and publics alike.” “Popular sentiment”, as he describes it, indeed can play a role in the calculations of decision-makers everywhere – including in Israel.

According to Pillar, the Hamas attack on southern Israel surprised Iranian leaders too, and since that episode, Tehran has displayed a high level of “restraint” – partially because of Iran’s “military inferiority vis-à-vis Israel or the United States and its profound economic problems.”

The paradox of Palestine is that while Palestinians civilians are indeed being massacred amid a humanitarian catastrophe, Israel in turn is not really winning militarily – not to mention politically and diplomatically. Israel’s unprecedented bombing of a diplomatic mission is not necessarily merely “one more manifestation of the uncontrolled national rage that has characterized Israel since the Hamas operation in October”, as Pillar puts it. It rather stands out as a clear attempt to provoke an Iranian response and get its American backer involved in a regional war. This did not quite work out as intended, though. In all likelihood, Tel Aviv either failed to “notify” Washington of their bombing of the Iranian consulate or did so with very little short notice. 

In the expert’s words: “the attack was part of an effort to escalate Israel’s way out of a situation in which its declared objective of “destroying Hamas” is out of reach, the worldwide isolation of Israel because of its actions in Gaza is becoming undeniable, and even its habitually automatic U.S. backing has patently softened. For Netanyahu personally, escalating and expanding the war, insofar as this also means continuing it indefinitely, is also his only apparent hope for staving off his political and legal difficulties.”

Basically, Walt, in his turn, reasons (in the aforementioned piece) that by offering unconditional American support to the Israelis there is thus little incentive for the Tel Aviv to exercise any restraint. Therefore, when Americans calls for restraint, they gets ignored by the Israelis. The result is that now even US authorities acknowledge there is a famine in Palestine. With Gaza devastated and over 30,000 Palestinians killed in such a short period of time (including more than 12,000 children and babies), it is no wonder Israel faces accusations of genocide during a war that cannot be described as “normal”.  By October 2023, the number of Gazan children killed was already greater than the number of casualties of children during the entire first year of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, according to the Euro-Med Humans Rights Monitor (it is now six times greater).

There has been an Israeli-Iranian “shadow war” indeed, however the record shows that more often than not the Jewish state has initiated most of the violence, while the Persian nation has mostly responded.

In July 2022, I wrote that an Israeli-Iranian war was almost inevitable in the coming years – and that Americans would not be ready to accept the possible global effects of such a war, in terms of destabilization and unpredictability – the American goals being all about containing the Islamic Republic without going to war. The problem, as usual, is that the Jewish state has its own concerns and agendas – not to mention popular sentiment. Washington is learning the hard way that being the patron does not automatically entail “obedience” or predictability from one’s protégé. In other words, “proxy” conflicts may get out of control. By arming and funding other nations (with radicalized leaderships), be it in the Middle East or in Eastern Europe, Washington plays a very dangerous game.

Source: InfoBrics

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