By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2901

Blame Israel for the threat of war with Iran

Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus on 1 April
Issue 2901
Palestine Israel Zionism

Binyamin Netanyahu is to blame for the crisis between Israel and Iran

The deadly chess game between Iran’s Islamic Republican regime and Israel’s far right government still has to play out. Responsibility for this crisis lies squarely with Benjamin Netanyahu.

On 1 April Israeli forces bombed an annex of the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing among others two senior officers in the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Attacking diplomatic installations is a clear breach of international law.

It also was an escalation of the so-called “shadow war” that has reigned between the two states ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Paul Pillar was in charge of US intelligence in the Middle East from 2000 to 2005. He explains that “the attack was part of an effort to escalate Israel’s way out of” the failure of its genocidal war in Gaza. “Escalation has two elements,” he said. “The main one is to provoke Iran to hit back.

“This can enable Israel to present itself as defending rather than offending and to push debate away from the destruction it is wreaking on Gaza and toward the need to protect itself against foreign enemies.

“The other element is to increase the chance of the US getting directly involved in conflict with Iran.”

The Pentagon made known its “frustration” that it wasn’t given advance notice of the 1 April attack, which could provoke counterattacks on its bases in the region. According to the Washington Post newspaper, defence secretary Lloyd Austin “complained directly to his Israeli counterpart, defence minister Yoav Gallant”.

In the struggle for prestige between Israel and Iran, Iran had to retaliate. But it doesn’t want all-out war. This could reverse its recent reconciliation with the Gulf states.

Pillar points to “an asymmetrical pattern of Israel initiating most of the violence and Iran mostly responding”. Iran’s response came last Saturday night, when it launched over 300 missiles and drones directly at Israel, for the first time.

According to Israel, almost all were intercepted, with Western help. British foreign secretary David Cameron foolishly claimed Iran had suffered “a double defeat”.

As the security expert Emile Hokayem pointed out, “Israel owes this success to ample warning from Iran and to the help of the US, Britain, France, Jordan and other Arab states”. “The operation has exposed its security dependency on the very partners it has slighted in recent months,” he said.

I’m sure Iran expected its missiles and drones to be largely intercepted. “A regime insider” told the Financial Times newspaper, “This is meant to serve as a deterrent and a signal to the US and Israel that ‘enough is enough’.”

The bombardment was a show. In an all-out war, Iran would seek to overwhelm Israeli defences by launching far more missiles and drones. Military experts point out that the Iranians will have gained useful information for future attacks by observing the Israeli reaction this time.

Joe Biden for one is keen to declare victory and draw a line. After sending two missile defence warships to help support Israel, he advised Netanyahu following the attacks to “slow things down and think through” his response.

A “senior official” told the Washington Post, “Nobody wants to run up the escalation ladder here.” They “emphasised that the United States would not be part of any Israeli offensive attack against Iran”.

Biden’s priority is to confront China. Last week he proclaimed the US’s “ironclad” commitment not just to Israel, but to the Philippines. It has territorial disputes with China.

Meanwhile, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces says the eastern frontline in the war with Russia has “significantly worsened”. The US needs war with Iran like a hole in the head.

Netanyahu? Not so much. As Hokayem points out, for him, “This is a net win. The Iranian attack has galvanised Western support after weeks of mounting criticism of the brutal campaign in Gaza.

“The concern now is that Israel’s sense it has prevailed in this round may make it less rather than more risk averse. It is possible that Netanyahu will tell the US—if you don’t let us go after Iran, let us invade Rafah.”

So, unless the US starts finally to put serious pressure on Israel, expect another twist upwards in the spiral of violence.

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