Conflict in Middle East

Bharat Dogra

The killing of a Hamas commander in Beirut and an Iranian military leader in Syria (allegedly by Israel), attacks in the Red Sea on merchant ships by the Houthis and the US-led response, the growing tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border and the exchange of rockets between the Hezbollah and the Israeli forces, the attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria and the US response to this, the US bringing two aircraft carriers and their striking units within the regional waters—all these have been seen by some as signs which indicate the emergence of a wider crisis or even a wider war. However the risks of a wider conflict have increased much more with the powerful bomb blast in Iran, resulting in over 100 deaths, on January 3, on the sensitive occasion of the death anniversary of the Iran General QuassemSoleimani who as Quds leader had played a very important role in taking Iran’s influence to a wider Middle-East area, particularly through various militant organisations like the Hezbollah, and who was killed in a US air raid on Baghdad airport in 2020. Although on January 4, it was reported that the IS had taken responsibility for it, there still continued to be other allegations, including of Israeli involvement.

“This is a very dangerous time. A region-wide war appears more likely by the day.”

Al Jazeera senior political analyst Marwan Bishara has stated that there is ‘dark cloud’ gathering near the Middle East after several days of escalating regional tensions. He said, “anything could happen now in this region. There is so much pent-up violence, so much pent-up tension, so many conflicts and so many moving parts. From the Red Sea to the Iranian- Iraqi border to Yemen to Gulf, basically everyone in the region now is a candidate to further escalation.”

Escalation and widening may be caused broadly in two ways. Firstly, there can be non-intentional widening or escalation. This may happen if and when in an already tense and sensitive situation an event or even at times a statement can have a different or a much bigger impact than was expected or intended. This can also happen when in situations of great tensions and deep suspicions; some action is misinterpreted, provoking a very hostile response that was not justified. Such possibilities increase because of a lot of disinformation being spread.

On the other hand, deliberate escalation or widening can also be caused if one of the bigger forces in the conflict, or one of the big leaders of this force, takes actions which are actually aimed in a conscious way to broaden or escalate the conflict.

Hamas may do something that will escalate hostility either between Israel and Iran, or between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Terrorist organisations like the IS may have their own reasons for escalation and widening of conflict.

Some leaders may be guided even by personal self-interest while seeking war escalation and widening. Netanyahu, for example, will face a lot of domestic problems if war ends very soon, including very uncomfortable questions over the failure of intelligence prior to the October 7 attack, but if the war widens and then can end on a note of victory for Israel, then probably his domestic criticism will tone down a lot.

The military-industrial complex of America is generally interested in wider and prolonged wars.

Whatever be the narrow calculations that could possibly instigate a widening of the Middle-East conflict, what should not be forgotten is that this is like playing with fire, and those who seek to injure others may themselves get very badly hurt in the efforts, as a widening conflict can also spiral out of control and have consequences very different from those which guided the instigators of the escalation.

The way forward is that of checking and controlling conflict at all levels, with the end as early as possible of the Gaza conflict and the Gaza humanitarian crisis being at the core of such efforts.

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 30, Jan 21 - 27, 2024