Israel-Hamas war, sparking fears of wider regional conflict


HAZIFA, Israel: While concern over the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip mounts, another undercurrent of alarm is growing in Washington and other Western capitals: Israel’s bombardment could spread into a wider regional war — one involving regional superpower Iran or its proxy forces.

On Sunday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on X that Israel had “crossed the red lines, which may force everyone to take action.”

Many experts believe there is little desire in Washington and Tehran for a regional conflict. But the scope for miscalculation is huge, and the intensity of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which, according to Palestinian health officials, has killed more than 8,000 people, including thousands of civilians and children, could easily push the situation spiraling out of control.

“There’s a real risk of escalation,” said Sanam Vakil, the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

Since Hamas launched its attacks, Tehran-backed Hezbollah militants have been regularly trading rocket fire with Israel across its northern border with Lebanon. More than 40 Hezbollah fighters and seven Israeli soldiers have been killed in the past three weeks, each side says.

Israel presses ground campaign against Hamas in ‘second stage’ of Gaza war

Iran also warned last week that it could launch a missile at the port city of Haifa in northern Israel if the country’s military pursues a full-scale ground offensive into Gaza.

Further afield, a series of drone and rocket attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria by Iran-linked militias have led the U.S. to respond by dispatching two carrier groups to the Mediterranean Sea. It also scrambled a pair of F-16 fighter jets Friday to bomb Syrian weapons and ammunition facilities.

“Washington asks us to not do anything, but they keep giving widespread support to Israel,” Raisi, the Iranian president said on social media. “The US sent messages to the Axis of Resistance” — the name given to Iran’s proxies — “but received a clear response on the battlefield.”

Iran and Hezbollah most likely don’t want a wider war, Vakil said; instead, they are likely to be threatening conflict to forestall a full Israeli ground invasion.

But, she said, the militias sponsored by Iran operate with some degree of autonomy from Tehran, adding another layer of uncertainty to the mix. Iran, which also backs Hamas, said that it wasn’t behind the rampage on Oct. 7 but that it supported the attack.

On both the Israeli and the Lebanese sides of the border, there are fears of a repeat of the 2006 war that ended in the deaths of more than 1,500 Lebanese people (most of them civilians) and hundreds of Israeli soldiers and the destruction of huge swaths of Lebanon’s economic infrastructure.

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