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February 24, 2024

Escalating Tensions in Israel-Hamas Conflict Raise Fears of Wider Regional War

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Jan 5, 2024

Iran’s “Axis of Resistance” Ramps Up Attacks Across Middle East

Over the past week, Iran’s network of allied militia groups across the Middle East, known as the “Axis of Resistance,” have conducted deadly attacks against Israeli and American targets. These escalating assaults are seen by experts as an Iranian effort to push back against growing pressure from Israel and the West.

On Monday, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired over 50 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, with Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting most of them [1]. This rocket barrage came after Israeli airstrikes targeted Hamas posts in Gaza in response to gunfire from the territory. The raids killed a Hamas commander.

Last Thursday, a drone attack targeted a weapons depot at a US base in eastern Syria being used by the international coalition to combat ISIS. US officials believe the attack was conducted by Iranian-backed militias [2]. That same day, mortars hit near the US embassy in Baghdad.

These incidents follow a series of attacks over the past two months against Israeli diplomatic targets in Turkey, including a November car bombing outside the Israeli embassy in Istanbul that killed a Turkish national. Israeli officials say Iran directed these operations through Unit 840, the clandestine operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) [3].

Date Attack Suspected Perpetrator
Jan 1 Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel Hamas, PIJ
Dec 28 Mortars hit near US embassy in Baghdad Iran-backed militias
Dec 27 Drone attack on US base in eastern Syria
Nov 13 Car bomb near Israeli embassy in Istanbul Unit 840 of IRGC

Experts see these attacks as part of Iran’s strategy of “resistance” against its adversaries, using proxy groups to strike Israeli and Western targets. The regime in Tehran feels emboldened by Russia’s faltering war in Ukraine and seeks to assert its influence across the region [4]. However, the brazen assaults also carry risks of provoking retaliation.

Israel and Allies Vow Forceful Response

In response to the recent attacks, Israeli officials have promised strong action against Iranian proxies. Israel “will not tolerate attacks on its sovereignty and will continue to prevent attempts to harm its civilians,” said an Israeli military spokesman on Monday [5].

Over the weekend, Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas sites in Gaza used for manufacturing rockets and drones. Israel holds Hamas, which governs Gaza, responsible for all violence emanating from the territory [6].

Prime Minister Lapid convened a security cabinet meeting on Monday to assess the situation with Iran and Gaza. Participants included Defense Minister Gantz and senior military officials. The Prime Minister reportedly instructed the military to prepare for an escalation while avoiding an all-out war if possible [7].

However, Israeli minister of diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, warned that Israel should prepare for the possibility of a broader conflict. In a radio interview Sunday, Shai stated that Israel is “on the verge of war” and said the country should brace itself for missile attacks from Lebanon as Iran brings more proxies into the fight [8].

The US State Department also issued a strong condemnation of the recent attacks. The Department spokesperson said Monday that the US “will not hesitate to respond firmly in defense of our people, our partners and our interests” if attacks continue [9].

Analysts say the statement signals that Washington and Jerusalem are closely aligned on dealing with the Iranian threat. With the Russia-Ukraine war still raging, Iranian leaders may be betting that neither America nor Israel wants to take action that could ignite a regional war.

“Tehran thinks Washington has its hands tied and is unable or unwilling to open another front,” said Dr. Raz Zimmt, an Iran expert at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies [10].

Proxy Network Gives Iran Strategic Reach

Iran relies on a network of allied militia groups and proxies across the Middle East to project power and advance its interests. This “Axis of Resistance” includes partners in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza.

Proxy Group Location

Hamas, PIJ | Gaza Strip
Hezbollah | Lebanon
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) | Iraq
Houthi Rebels | Yemen

Iran helps arm and finance these militias, providing them with missiles, drones and other advanced weapons. In return, the proxies serve as a deterrent force against Iran’s enemies by threatening attacks on Israel and Arab rivals in the Gulf. They also extend Iran’s influence in Arab countries [11].

The recent attacks show how Iran can use its proxy network to harass the US, Israel and Gulf states without directly engaging its own forces. This “war in the shadows” strategy carries less risk but still advances Iran’s goal of projecting power [12].

According to Israeli defense officials, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) coordinate closely with proxy militants through a body called the “Central Command Council of Resistance Factions.” This council includes commanders from Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups. It facilitates intelligence sharing, joint training and guerrilla attacks against shared enemies [13].

Iranian Axis Map

Iran’s Axis of Resistance extends through Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza [14]

This proxy network allows Tehran to keep pressure on adversaries and advance its interests while retaining plausible deniability. If open war erupts, these militias give Iran additional deterrent and retaliatory options through terrorism and rocket attacks on cities.

Tensions Likely to Remain High as Iran Seeks Leverage

Though neither Iran and its proxies nor Israel want all-out war now, the repeated low-level attacks and retaliations have created an environment ripe for unintended escalation. The various militant groups sponsored by Iran create “too many opportunities for an incident to spiral out of control,” warns Brookings Institution fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes [15].

Iranian leaders likely believe they can gain leverage in future negotiations by keeping pressure on enemies without triggering full-scale conflict. However, Israeli officials have lost patience with the attacks and see Iran as an existential threat. This makes miscalculation inherently dangerous.

“It’s a game of chicken on two sides,” says Iran expert Sanam Vakil of Chatham House, “and it’s incredibly hard to thread that needle” [16].

Unless Iran restrains militant groups like Hamas, PIJ and Hezbollah from further attacks, the risk of regional war spiraling out of control will remain dangerously high in 2024.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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