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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.

photo of a crowd of people holding signs

Pro-Palestinian protest in Tehran on Friday

© Iranian Presidency/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


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.

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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.

photo of soldiers holding yellow flags in front of a coffin

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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What To Do With The Complainers In Your Life — Advice From A South American Shrink

Argentines love to complain. But when you listen to others who complain, there are options: must we be a sponge to this daily toxicity or should we, politely, block out this act of emotional vandalism?

Photo of two men talking while sitting at a table at a bar un Buenos Aires, with a poster of Maradona on the wall behind them.

Talking in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Martín Reynoso*

BUENOS AIRESArgentina: the land of complainers. Whether sitting in a taxi, entering a shop or attending a family dinner, you won't escape the litany of whingeing over what's wrong with the country, what's not working and above all, what we need!

We're in an uneasy period of political change and economic adjustments, and our anxious hopes for new and better leaders are a perfect context for this venting, purging exercise.

Certain people have a strangely stable, continuous pattern of complaining: like a lifestyle choice. Others do it in particular situations or contexts. But what if we are at the receiving end? I am surprised at how complaints, even as they begin to be uttered and before they are fully formulated, can disarm and turn us into weak-willed accomplices. Do we have an intrinsic need to empathize, or do we agree because we too are dissatisfied with life?

Certainly, agreeing with a moaner may strengthen our social or human bonds, especially if we happen to share ideas or political views. We feel part of something bigger. Often it must seem easier to confront reality, which can be daunting, with this type of "class action" than face it alone.

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