Iran, not Gaza, is at the center of the Middle East chaos, experts say

Semafor Signals

Insights from Semafor, The New Yorker, Reuters, and Haaretz

The News

Multiple military escalations and airstrikes across the Middle East are amplifying concerns about the region edging closer to a larger war.

At the center of the chaos is Iran which is using its military proxies in Yemen and Lebanon to fight Israel, while also attacking Pakistan and Iraq to combat separatist militant groups.

Some security experts in the West argue that Iran’s attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan are not directly connected to the Israel-Hamas war, and instead stem from Tehran’s internal security concerns about the yearslong threat of violence by Islamic militants and separatist groups. Other analysts counter that Iranian foreign policy is deeply rooted in anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiment, with the Gaza war acting as a catalyst for Iran’s aggression across the region.


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Iran has internal security concerns, but they’re still rooted in anti-Israel rhetoric

Sources: Semafor’s Global Security Editor Jay Solomon, Reuters, Vox, The New York Times

Iran’s strike on Pakistan was motivated by “domestic pressure” to strengthen its internal security “rather than its ambitions for the Middle East,” Reuters reported, citing Iranian officials and analysts, and the “tit-for-tat blows” between Iran and Pakistan are occurring “far from [the Gaza] war zone,” the outlet said. But while Iran’s widening attacks “may seem disconnected from the war in Gaza… they’re not,” Semafor’s Global Security Editor Jay Solomon argued, pointing to Iran’s decades-long accusations that the U.S. and Israel are “supporting Sunni extremist groups” like al-Qaida and the Islamic State to contain Tehran.

There might not be “a direct link” between the war and the Pakistan strikes, Vox reported, but it could be Tehran’s attempt to dissuade Pakistan from helping the U.S. counter Iran in the region, and “to signal its own military capabilities.” Weakened by sanctions and domestic rife, Iran usually “outsources” its conflicts to proxies and chooses not to directly engage with the U.S. and Israel, the New York Times wrote. “If they are to avoid fighting the Americans and Israelis on Iran’s soil, they’ll have to do it elsewhere,” one Middle East analyst told the Times. “And that’s in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan.”

Middle East rulers fear resurgence of Islamist groups fueled by anti-Israel sentiment

Sources: The New Yorker, The Economist

“The merger of multiple wars was almost inevitable,” a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt told the New Yorker, because “the dearth of viable ideas and -isms” created a political vacuum that was filled by extremist movements that were viewed as more legitimate than what secular non-Islamic states had to offer the region. The resurgence of theological politics was particularly seen in ”failed states" with dim economic prospects: Iranian-proxy groups filled the gap in Yemen and Lebanon, and the Islamic State in Syria, according to the Economist. But in more developed countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, “Islam has become increasingly depoliticised,” the magazine wrote, as citizens rejected political Islam in the face of globalization. However, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has now put Middle Eastern rulers on alert for an Islamist resurgence, with one Chatham House analyst saying the Gaza War could be the “kiss of life” for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

‘Outdated’ US policy has made Iran dominant force in the Middle East

Sources: The Guardian, Haaretz

“Iran is in the driving seat now” as U.S. President Joe Biden pursues an “outdated and out of touch” policy of unconditionally supporting Israel that has failed to solve the decades-long Palestine dispute, wrote foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall for The Guardian. Tehran’s proxy militias across the region are “willing to outlast the US,” and the U.S. bombing of Houthi bases will only “fuel Tehran’s anti-western, anti-Israel region-wide resistance narrative,” he wrote. Not everything is an “overspill of the Gaza war,” Haaretz columnist Alon Pinkas argued, and the common factor across the conflicts in the region is Iran, not Gaza. Which is why the U.S. should focus on “co-opting regional allies” instead of “trying to extinguish local flare-ups,” Pinkas wrote.