American and Israeli hubris over the last decade has allowed Iran to dictate the rules on engagement in the Levant and the Middle East. The crises in Syria, Iraq and now Gaza are cases in point.
So Hamas has broken a ceasefire to kidnap an Israeli soldier. It happens in wars: ceasefires are often broken and soldiers captured. The best response Israel can do at this stage, as counterintuitive this will seem to its current leaders and their myriad supporters in Israel and across the world, is to immediately accept a new ceasefire. Then, Israeli officials should explain to their people what everybody seem to know at this stage but few dare talk about, that the real battle in Gaza is actually part of a larger regional proxy war with Iran. For this reason, Israeli officials should tell their people that rather than rush into undertaking actions designed to satisfy a certain popular need for revenge, Israel needs to take the time and think in strategic terms, lest it keeps playing into Iran’s hands.
A full-scale invasion of Gaza will lead to more casualties on both sides, but Israel, not Hamas, nor Iran, will be the one to shoulder the public responsibility for each and every one, and Israel will be the one that will to pay the price: an increased international isolation, with all its usual economic and political consequences, none of which is good.
In its essence, the current regional showdown is a head-game, a three-dimensional game of chess in fact, as such, each move needs to be carefully considered. Israel has already erred when she allowed herself to be goaded into this conflict, she shouldn’t commit the additional error of making it worth. Rather than give Iran a new front to play in, Israel, and the U.S., should make sure that Iran is losing the war on the other fronts.
Moreover, and through increased and more targeted sanctions, Iran’s leaders should be made to feel the pain in a more direct manner, and not only by proxy. Removing Iran’s man in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and her genocidal ally in Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, will serve as major blows to Iran’s regional ambitions, just a full-scale invasion of Gaza will allow her to divert international attention away from where her main agenda is currently unfolding.
Failure to act seriously against Iran until now has allowed her to unleash a series of events that are paving the way as we speak to the emergence of radical Sunni and Shia enclaves that will continue to be sources of violence and instability for decades to come posing security risks on an international scale.
Of course, the United States and Israel are not blameless in this. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was completely unnecessary, and was awfully mismanaged to boot. Still, and through the Surge orchestrated near the end of the G. W. Bush administration, and the sanctions issued against the Assad regime, an attempt at recalibrating the situation in Iraq and Syria was made. But the policies later adopted by the Obama administration, especially after the beginning of the Arab Spring, undermined all these efforts. Moreover, the siege imposed against Gaza by the Israeli government, and their repeated rebuff of peace offers by the Palestinian Authority simply served to allow for the emergence of groups far more radical than Hamas, at least in Gaza if not the West Bank, and continues to offer justifications for anything Hamas has done since or is currently doing.
In short, its rhetoric notwithstanding, Iran’s policy sought to exploit the American and Israeli misadventures in the region and projected power in such a manner that enabled further fragmentation along communal and ethnic lines. Rather than trying to curb the tide of fragmentation, Iran encouraged it. Whether this was done by design from the very beginning or came as a result of Iran’s leaders’ inability to think outside their communal identity is irrelevant now. For now, an element of intent and design is surely involved. Iran wants regional devolution, and Iran is actively enabling genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass dislocation in Syria and across the region. Now Iran wants Israel to do the same in order to divert international attention away from its much larger crime. As the world watches Gaza, Iran is reshaping the rest of the Levant.