Russia And Iran: At Least One Is Ready For Middle East Escalation
What happens next in the Middle East, including a possible expansion of the war at the Israeli-Lebanon border, will be determined by choices that are made in different capitals. Keep your eye on Tehran.
PARIS — Iran holds one of the keys to the Middle East crisis: it can decide to either limit the scope to a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, or transform it into a regional confrontation with the opening of a new front with Lebanon's Hezbollah.
The decision will be taken in Tehran, not Beirut.
Sergey Lavrov, the head of Russian diplomacy, is in Iran on Monday, as Moscow-Tehran ties have grown closer with the delivery of Iranian drones used by the Russian army against Ukraine. This visit gives the confrontation in the Middle East a dimension that is both more global and more worrying.
The signs of a wider confrontation are everywhere: the step-by-step escalation of exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, which has claimed several victims, the bombing of Damascus airport by the Israeli air force for the second time, and missiles fired in the direction of Israel by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen, which were then destroyed by the Americans.
In addition to this, a warning arrived Sunday from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Hezbollah would make the mistake of its life if it decided to go to war against Israel."
Feeding off the region's conflicts
For years, even decades, Iran's Islamic revolution has fed off the region's various conflicts. It saved Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, took advantage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to strengthen its influence there, supported the rebels in Yemen — It has also made Hezbollah the leading force in Lebanon, where it's even more important than the national army.
Iran can now reap the rewards of its "investments" by taking advantage of the destabilization generated by the Hamas attack on October 7, or it can raise the stakes by opening up new fronts.
But it can have no doubts today, especially with the very explicit messages from the Americans, that its territory, infrastructure and nuclear program would not emerge unscathed from a war extended to Hezbollah.
Is Iran prepared to pay this price, hoping to emerge as the leading force in the fight against the West in the Middle East? Nobody knows the answer, even if the passions generated in the Muslim world by the tragedies in Gaza are likely to weigh heavily in any decision.
Hezbollah fighters at the funeral of their comrade killed in clashes with Israeli's military
Marwan Naamani/dpa via ZUMA
Who's still talking about Ukraine?
For its part, Russia can rub its hands with delight. Who's still talking about Ukraine? Meanwhile, U.S. support for both Ukraine and Israel is becoming problematic — missiles destined for Ukraine have been diverted to Israel and thus are creating a competition of emergencies.
This crisis suits Russia well.
Politically, this new crisis suits the Russians well, as it illustrates the "double standards" reproached by the West since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
The so-called "Global South" is obviously not wrong to see a contradiction between the invocation of human rights and rule of law in Ukraine, and the denial of both to Palestinians for decades.
Last week, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Beijing, reaping the political benefits of the Middle East conflict. While there is no alliance or even bloc between Russia, China and Iran, there is a convergence of interests.
The fear is that those interests could ultimately converge around a desire for escalation.
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