Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives for a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, March 25, 2024

Countries Scramble To Avert Iran, Israel Escalation

Thursday, 04/11/2024

Top diplomats and generals across the Middle East were hustling Wednesday night to avert a regional conflagration, as Iran was said to be readying for a retaliatory strike on Israel.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken called to reassure Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant of American unwavering support, while foreign ministers of Iraq, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia called their Iranian counterpart, apparently to convey a message from the Biden administration that asked Iran to de-escalate.

Tensions between Iran and Israel have reached new heights following Israel’s airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1, which killed two top Revolutionary Guards commanders. After a brief period of vague statements, Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, blunted their words and vowed to hit back at Israel.

"The evil regime made a mistake and must be punished, and it shall be," Khamenei said in his Eid al-Fitr sermon Wednesday, marking the end of Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan. “When they attack the consulate, it is as if they have attacked our soil."

A few hours later, reports emerged of American and allied intelligence pointing to an “imminent” Iranian attack against Israel, potentially from inside Iran, not through allied armed groups in Iraq or Lebanon.

US President Joe Biden took no time to publicly react to the reports. “We also want to address the Iranian threat to launch a significant…attack in Israel,” he said, standing alongside Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida on the White House lawn. “Our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad. Let me say it again, ironclad. We’re gonna do all we can to protect Israel’s security.”

While warning Iran that it may have to face not just Israeli army but American military might, the Biden administration is trying hard to stop a full-blown regional war that on Thursday seemed as likely as ever.

“We’ve been clear that we do not want this conflict to escalate or spread further in the region,” a Biden spokesperson said Wednesday. “We’ll continue to undertake diplomatic efforts to ensure that remains the case… We also retain a military presence in the region to deter those who seek to take advantage of the conflict.”

Some experts say that two clear “punishment” calls by Khamenei in a matter of days may signal a firm ‘intent’ to target Israeli interests directly. This could come in the form of precision missiles or one-way drone attacks on Israel territory or its diplomatic missions across the region.

If the Biden administration fails to dissuade Iran from such attacks, it will likely turn to Israel to try and prevent a response –that could trigger a vicious circle of retaliations. However, Thursday morning, all seemed quiet in Tehran, with little provocative talk of an attack. Instead, Khamenei in a speech called for Muslims to blockade Israel and exert pressure.

“If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran,” Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, wrote on X, leaving little doubt that the Middle East is closer than ever to a full-scale regional war.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in indirect conflict since October 7th, with Israel targeting IRGC-affiliated targets in Syria, and Iran’s most powerful ally Hezbollah launching attacks across the Lebanese-Israeli border. Israel’s attack on Iran’s consulate in Damascus elevated the level of hostilities and raised concerns that direct confrontation between the two countries might be unavoidable.

Shortly after that attack, reports emerged of Iran sending messages to the Biden administration, blaming the US for not pressuring Israel –while US officials publicly confirmed that they had been kept in the dark and made aware of the Israeli operation only when warplanes were nearing their targets.

Khamenei faces a dilemma of escalating the conflict and risk its consequences amid Iran's isolation and economic crisis, or do nothing and lose credibility among its domestic and regional followers.

More News