Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Eyad Abu Shakra

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : The Middle East Between the American Root and the Iranian and Israeli Branches

The exchanged messages between Israel and Iran, especially over recent weeks, leave no room for reasonable doubt regarding the intentions of both sides.
By the intentions of both sides, I am referring first to their intentions regarding the Palestinian cause and secondly to the regional map of bilateral relations between Tel Aviv and Tehran.
The soft “bombardment” negotiations we witnessed were aptly “directed” by the US, which nearly delved into the details of the munitions that could be and the sites that could be targeted. If not for the remnants of decency, an agreement on the scale of losses on both sides would have been reached.
The direct and indirect messages that Tel Aviv and Tehran have sent conveyed that they are fully committed to complying with the “rules of engagement,” allowing both to save face. Meanwhile, the former continues to displace and massacre the Palestinians, hollowing out their cause at an increasingly rapid pace. On the other side, the latter continues to make empty claims and score cheap points at the expense of the Arab political system and the international community, which have failed to bring about any substantial change in the region.
Since October 7th, there has been a race to announce the objective to displace Palestinians en masse, through statements, maps, and systematic destruction, between Benjamin Netanyahu, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Bezalel Smotrich. Their colleagues, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, "general of expediency and opportunism," have not shied away either, joining in intermittently.
Indeed, things have been going according to the plan unequivocally supported by the US, whose contributions range from supplying advanced weaponry to the stream of vetoes in the UN Security Council that prevent the disruption of the Israeli war machine's operations. Thus, nothing has undermined the momentum behind the effort to displace the Palestinians, whether it ends after the fall of Rafah or expands to reach the West Bank!
On the other hand, Iran’s retaliation- as we have seen for several months now- initially entailed Tehran's militias in the Arab Levant instigating skirmishes and harassing targets, which was accompanied by rhetorical “bravado” aimed at projecting its presence and appeasing grievances, with these actions doing nothing to change the equation in the Gaza Strip militarily.
However, it was natural that, over time, new considerations would emerge, recalibrating the "rules of engagement" at the local level... especially for the operational theater of each militia that takes its marching orders from Tehran and its IRGC. Four considerations were undoubtedly at the forefront:
1- Unease within Israel, particularly among the families of hostages and abductees, who are growing increasingly concerned for their fate with Netanyahu's government remaining in power. Indeed, these families have escalated recently, holding protests and sit-ins in streets and squares.
2- The entire world is watching coverage of the "starvation war" live. Everyone is watching the brutal bombardment, the tragic scenes of Palestinian civilians suffering, especially children, and the horrific destruction that has been brought up the Gaza Strip, where hardly a school, university, or hospital has been spared from direct targeting. Despite the viciousness of the displacement plan, this devastation is beginning to create repercussions that cannot remain "cost-free" forever...
3- Signs of timid "awkwardness" in the United States within President Joe Biden's administration have begun to emerge, especially in light of the unequivocal opposition voiced by many Muslims and Arab Americans, as well as liberal and progressive movements, in pivotal swing states during an "election year." Here it must be said that, despite Donald Trump's highly polarizing character- which makes it virtually impossible for a Democratic voter to change camps and vote Republican- the abstention of large numbers of Democratic voters in key states could cost Biden the election.
4- The growing resentment among many in the Arab world, which has been shocked by the provocative public stances of fanatical extremists, was compounded by the ongoing unprecedented pressure exerted by the Israeli lobby in the United States and Western Europe. This lobby is pushing for the suppression of opposition, harassing anyone who dissents and extorting them with accusations of "anti-Semitism" in the media and on university campuses.
These four considerations required "some sort of modification" to the rules of engagement that does not, however, prevent Netanyahu and his cronies from attacking and occupying Rafah. Thus, through what looks like telepathic communication, both the Israelis and Iranians began to modify the "rules of engagement" under the auspices of the US, which, contrary to the leaks and official statements from Washington, holds all the cards.
The fact of the matter, as the "messages" delivered with drones and missiles have shown, is that all of Tehran's regional Arab "tools", as well as those who make “decisions of war and peace" in Israel, comply with Washington's vision and operate in accordance with its priorities.
Indeed, Washington was the conductor of this "symphony" of bombardment and counter-bombardment. It was consulted by all sides on how far they could take their escalation. Meanwhile, questions about Rafah were almost completely forgotten...
As an Arab military expert put it yesterday, these Israeli-Iranian "messages" seemed like a "simulation exercise by allied armies, with each side playing the role of friend or foe, meaning Israel played the role of an enemy in this simulation rather than being an enemy that must be destroyed."
This analogy is accurate. In fact, what we are dealing with here is two regional powers that are more "complementary" than "confrontational." Despite their claims to the contrary, they both refer back to the same global power and are fighting a common enemy. Neither of the two incurs any loss... Only their "common enemy," the Arab states, loses out!
Based on the above, we must be forthright and acknowledge the following:
1. The series of events that have unfolded since October 7 confirm that Israel, with its own forces alone, may not consistently manage to successfully engage all of its surroundings.
2. There can be no doubt regarding the complete and total "alignment" of the United States and Israel- politically, militarily, and in terms of mutual interests.
3. The Iranian leadership- contrary to the grandstanding of its mouthpieces- is not engaged in an "existential war" against Israel across the Middle East. Rather, its ultimate goal is to enter the equation and share regional influence with Israel and Türkiye.
4. No matter how far the rhetorical war of words is taken and how potent the dose of minor harassment and limited skirmishes becomes, there will be no confrontation between the US and Iran. Actually, Iran as an entity (not necessarily as a regime), is of central strategic significance for Washington and its engagements with the Muslim world... its precise calculations.