The Israel-Hamas conflict is intensifying as the Israeli Defense Forces are trying to seize and destroy terror cells in the Gaza Strip. The focus of hostilities will gradually shift from the proxies to real actors of the game plan.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military struck over 2,500 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, the press service of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.
“Since the beginning of ground operations <…> during the combined activities of ground, air, and naval forces in the Gaza Strip, over 2,500 terror targets have been struck,” the statement reads.
“IDF troops are continuing to eliminate terrorists in close-quarter combat and direct aircraft to strike Hamas terrorist infrastructure, weapons depots, observation posts, and command and control centers in the Gaza Strip. Overnight, IDF troops directed aircraft to strike a Hamas military compound containing command and control centers, observation posts, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” the press service said.
Earlier, in a release dated Oct 26, the US Secretary of Defence said that US military forces conducted self-defense strikes on two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.
The precision self-defense strikes are in response to a series of ongoing and primarily unsuccessful attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian militia groups.
Iran-backed militias in Iraq fell under the banner of “Islamic Resistance,” which claimed responsibility for attacking the military bases at al-Tanf and Malikiyah in Syria and the air base of Ain Al Asad in Iraq. One American national died in the attack, and 24 were injured.
US Struck In Self-Defense
The Defence Secretary emphasized that the air strike indicates its resolve to defend its interests without intending to engage in further hostilities. Reproving Iran’s designs of provoking its proxies against the US, the Defense Secretary said that the precision strikes were “separate and distinct” from the ongoing Israel-Hamas clash. “The US will not let Iran hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks,” the Defense Secretary asserted.
Altogether, there have been at least 13 attacks on US interests in Iraq and Syria in recent days. The Defense Secretary’s statement signifies two things: one is that the US counterstrikes’ were in self-defense and not designed to escalate the regional conflict, and the other is that the US holds Iran responsible for escalating violence by supporting and funding its militant proxies.
An unnamed US official had said that the US sees Iranian fingerprints all over the increased activity. Therefore, the US warned if attacks by Iran’s proxies continue, “we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people.”
Iran’s Split Personality
Tehran is ambitious to step into shoes larger than its size. The ever-growing closeness of the ultra-conservative Islamic theocracy of Ayatollahs that has had no qualms of conscience in killing nearly 400-odd Iranian girls for alleged violation of religious injunctions with Russia and China, two staunch atheistic states, is a strange and puzzling paradox of our times. It is a classic example of politicizing religion.
Will Iran become Islamic? This question is much debated in the circles of dispassionate scholars of social history. They are aware that Tehran uses varying degrees of control over the proxies it is patronizing, like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and an assorted group of militants in Iraq and Syria.
True, in the initial days of the ongoing conflict, the US intelligence sources did not indicate a direct role of Iran in the said attack. But in the words of Ryan Bohl, an outstanding authority on the subject, “That does not mean Iran has not influenced other incidents since.”
Iran’s Pinpricks Policy
The controversy about whether Iran is or is not in direct control of ordering the attacks by its military groups called Qods Force has to be laid at rest after the militancy-related events in Iraq and Syria, in which Qods was deeply involved, came to light.
The degree and content of influence of official support of Iran to these outfits is relative to a large extent. Houthis in Yemen are more like an independent ally of Iran. But they have an understanding of seeking Iran’s approval before carrying out attacks like the long-range missile that targeted Israel but was shot down by the American Navy.
Regarding Hezbollah in Lebanon, experts like Bohl, the senior Middle East and North Africa analyst, believe that the group “is a reliable proxy for Iran.” However, both Iran and Hezbollah are aware of their respective positions within Lebanon’s political configuration.
Since October 7, clashes between Hezbollah and the Israelis have become more frequent and intense on Israel’s northern border. However, we cannot confidently say that the armed group has decided to join the fighting. The ultimate decision of Hezbollah’s full participation in the war must still be waited and watched.
What Hezbollah is doing is something like pinprick attacks. In the opinion of Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf States Analytics, regardless of direct orders for pinprick attacks by Iranian proxies, it helps Tehran with its strategy in the Middle East and Africa by exposing the weak points of the Western powers and Israel.
This strategy suits Iran best, which hails it like something euphoric about almost in a revolutionary manner. Iran is gleeful at militia activity, which forces America into a retreat. Karasik concludes that “Iran’s strategy is patient and in sync with their proxy clients over a time horizon.”
Iran has studiously built proxies in the Middle East over a long period. Its thrust is on the US and its Western allies to realize that Iran’s preferences cannot be ignored. Iran would not want conditions created that would force the US to join the war.
Iranian stance and proxying policy are different from Qatar, which is another critical terror-proliferating state in the Gulf region.
Ayatollah’s policy is partially comparable to the policy of late President Zia of Pakistan towards its arch-enemy India. It is called the policy of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts.”
Pakistan engaged the militant groups — technically called non-state actors by Islamabad — to undertake the mission in Kashmir. Iran finds the policy progressively adaptable in the case of Palestine or elsewhere in the Middle East.
The White House understands the nitty-gritty of Iranian diplomacy vis-à-vis its militant proxies and their anti-US activities. President Biden disapproves of Israel launching a ground attack in the Gaza Strip, and Secretary of State Blinken does not support a ceasefire, arguing that it would give the Hamas and affiliates time to regroup and refurbish their arsenals. It shows that Washington is assessing more than one option regarding its futuristic policy in the Middle East.
Russia and China think that the creation of two independent and sovereign states of Israel and Palestine should be a viable solution to the nearly six-year-old dispute.
It has taken an enormous toll on life. Deepening animosity and hatred have sucked many neighboring nations into the vortex of a destructive situation in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Islamic states have politicized the dispute because they want to derive political leverage from it. The US, EU, OIC, and a host of organizations, religious, social, and political, all claim a stake in this problem.
Iran aspires to the leadership of anti-US and anti-secular motions. It has not been isolated as the Western powers think. Any solution to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East must include the containment of Iran.
The newly proposed land and sea connectivity between India and Europe (via Saudi Arabia and Haifa in Israel) should not be scuttled by combined Sino-Iranian machinations. In the words of President Biden, Iran should not be allowed to hide its hands after provoking the proxies into militant activities in the region.
US’ soft-paddling with Iran in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict is tantamount to surrender with dire consequences. Iran has become a weapons supplier to the proxies in countries surrounding Israel. Unless this threat is eliminated, there cannot be peace in the region.
Peace must come to the region. Nations have to live without hatred and animosity. Both countries must survive in whatever form they decide and cannot impose their will or diktat. Israel is a reality because the Israeli leaders and patriarchs have invested in the raising of a State even if the lands belonged to the Palestinians and were sold to the Jews.
The two nations may not be good friends, but they can at least live as harmless entities. The greater onus lies with the Palestinians, who must understand that no power on earth can evict the Jews from Israel. The writing on the wall has to be accepted.
They must also come out of the illusion of the so-called Islamic fraternity. Iran and Arabs, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi, North and South Yemenis, Afghans, Shia, and Sunni, and Sunnis and Ahmadis, to name only some, are living examples to show that religious commonality is an illusion and not a viable cementing force among communities.
What matters is the compatibility of the philosophy of life and human relations with equitable economic interaction. The Palestinians must refuse to be used as the cat’s paw or proxies in the name of religion by Islamic countries at war with the West.
They must come out of the medieval Crusades syndrome and chart their future as a modern state with scientific and technological perspectives. Riyadh, under the guidance of Crown Prince Salman, could be a role model.