By Kostas Raptis
The new (and bloodiest of all previous) flare-ups of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has entered its second month, and eyes are turning to the possibility, more and more likely, of an expansion of hostilities at the regional level.
The puzzle pieces that will need to be connected are as follows:
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s Middle East tour was fruitless, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the scenario of a humanitarian truce, and the Arab interlocutors of the head of the State Department coldly welcomed the idea of taking over the responsibility of managing the Gaza Strip on next day. In fact, the 87-year-old Mahmoud Abbas (whom Blinken met for the first time this month) stated that the Palestinian Authority is willing to take over the administration of the enclave only in the context of a comprehensive political solution to the Palestinian issue with the end of the occupation of the “Palestinian State”.
The US aircraft carrier Dwight Eisenhower is now in the eastern Mediterranean, as is the Gerald Ford, in an apparent sign of deterring Hezbollah and Damascus, while the US is also sending a nuclear-powered submarine to the Persian Gulf, targeting Iran. At the same time, the Biden administration has sent CIA director William Burns to the Middle East since Sunday and is continuing the arms assistance to Israel.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that he received in Tehran Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, with whom he had a recent rivalry over the Syrian issue. At the same time, the leader of Hezbollah (and ally of Iran) Hassan Nasrallah announces his new speech on Saturday, a day, incidentally, of a meeting of the Arab League.
The foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia had a new telephone conversation, while on Sunday an extraordinary meeting of the Arab Cooperation Organization is convened in Riyadh, which it chairs. The once-strong divisions that permeated the Islamic world appear to be receding, while the Chinese-brokered Iranian-Saudi reconciliation last March is gaining momentum.
At the operational level, the exchange of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah continues on the border between Israel and Lebanon, while civilians are leaving their homes on both sides of the border. The (basically pre-emptive) strikes by the Shia militias of the “Iraqi Resistance” on US military positions in Iraq and northeastern Syria also continue, while it has made its appearance since last week with rocket launches in the direction of southern Israel and the Yemen (where the Ansarullah organization dominates). All of these Iran-allied organizations are believed to have stronger weapons capabilities than they have already disclosed.
The role of the EU in the equation is negligible. Russia, again, advances its pro-Arab turn at the rhetorical level and seizes the opportunity to agree with Marshal Haftar on the creation of a naval base in eastern Libya.
In Israel itself, the cost of the ground operations, which are not expected to end soon, and the political deadlock that entails a possible end to the hostilities in a state of quasi-“tie” favors nothing but a “flight forward”, which after all reserves the possibility to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip (by offering Israel control over its underwater deposits, but mainly by relieving it of the worsening demographic correlation in the entire area under its control), but also to drag the USA in, as already sought since the beginning of the century in a direct conflict with Iran.