Friday, May 17, 2024

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Biden Issues Urgent Warning of Imminent Iran Attack on Israel

Tehran vows retaliation for alleged Israeli strike on Iranian consulate in Damascus, raising fears of a regional conflict.

Iran embassy, Damascus
Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria allegedly attacked by Israel

The long-simmering tensions between Iran and Israel have reached a boiling point, with the possibility of a direct retaliatory strike by Tehran looming large. President Biden made it clear Friday that Iran’s planned attack against Israel could happen soon. 

While Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the strike, both Iran and Syria have accused the Jewish state of carrying out the attack and vowed retaliation. The loss of such prominent figures, particularly Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a top Quds Force commander, has sparked outrage in Tehran and heightened the urgency for a decisive response.

Biden and Blinken Warn Iran

Joe Biden
Photo: Prachatai

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been at the forefront of these diplomatic efforts, engaging with his counterparts in China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in the hopes of defusing the escalating tensions. Blinken’s message has been clear: escalation is not in anyone’s interest, and Iran must be urged to exercise restraint.

“We have also engaged with European allies and partners over the past few days and urged them as well to send a clear message to Iran that escalation is not in Iran’s interest, it’s not in the region’s interest, and it’s not in the world’s interest,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Germany, whose Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit China next week, has also been in contact with Beijing regarding the situation with Iran, where China wields considerable influence.

The delicate balancing act for Western powers lies in denouncing China as a trade risk while simultaneously urging it to leverage its diplomatic sway with countries like Iran, which are isolated by Western sanctions.

The backdrop to these frantic diplomatic maneuvers is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Tehran-backed Palestinian organization Hamas, which erupted in October 2022 after a deadly terror attack by the militant group. Israel’s campaign against Hamas has also drawn in Iran’s proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, further exacerbating the regional tensions.

The spark that has ignited the current crisis was the April 1st airstrike on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus, which killed several high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders, including two generals. Tehran and Damascus have accused Israel of orchestrating the attack, a claim that Jerusalem has not denied.

In the aftermath of the Damascus strike, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed that Israel “should be punished and will be punished” for the killings. This prompted a stern response from Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who warned that “if Iran attacks from its territory—Israel will react and attack in Iran.”

Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Photo: khamenei.ir

Heightened Security in Israel

Israeli officials have warned of the high likelihood of an Iranian retaliatory strike, potentially involving a barrage of drones and missiles targeting military installations within Israel. According to U.S. officials cited by CBS News, the attack could involve over 100 drones and dozens of missiles, posing a significant challenge for Israel’s air defenses.

In response, Israel has heightened its security, calling up reserve units to bolster air defense systems and canceling leave for combat soldiers. The Israeli military has also conducted comprehensive assessments of its readiness for various scenarios, with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi stating, “The IDF is well prepared in attack and defense against any threat. We are at war and have been on high alert for about six months.”

The high-level diplomatic engagements and the heightened state of alert within the Israeli military underscore the gravity of the situation. CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla has met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi to discuss “readiness for an Iranian attack against the State of Israel, which may lead to regional escalation.”

Gallant has struck a defiant tone, declaring that “our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true, they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties. We stand shoulder to shoulder.” He has also vowed that “we are prepared to defend ourselves on the ground and in the air, in close cooperation with our partners, and we will know how to respond.”

Iran’s Potential Response to Damascus Attack

Military analysts and officials have cautioned that while neither side appears interested in provoking an all-out war, misunderstandings could inadvertently lead to a broader conflict.

Iran’s response is widely expected to be measured, aimed at restoring a semblance of deterrence following the loss of high-ranking officials. However, the nature and location of the strike will be crucial in determining Israel’s response.

“If we manage to intercept most of what’s incoming, that would be excellent — it would moderate our need to respond offensively,” said Danny Citrinowicz, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.

An attack launched from Iranian territory would be considered an escalation by Israel, potentially prompting a more robust military response. Israel has warned that such an action would be seen as “clear evidence of Iran’s intentions to escalate the Middle East and stop hiding behind the proxies,” according to IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari.

Regional and Global Implications

The potential for a direct confrontation between Iran and Israel has rippled through the region and beyond. Several countries, including India, France, and Poland, have issued travel advisories, warning their citizens against visiting Iran, Israel, and neighboring countries because of the volatile situation.

The United States has also taken precautionary measures, restricting personal travel for its employees in Israel and their family members outside of major cities.

Moreover, any escalation in hostilities could have broader implications for global markets and trade routes. The ongoing conflict in Gaza has already contributed to higher oil prices due to disruptions in the Red Sea because of attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. And an escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran would almost certainly spike global oil prices. 

Calls for Restraint and Diplomacy

Amid the rising tensions, international leaders have called for restraint and a return to diplomacy. U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong have urged Iran to use its influence in the region to promote stability rather than escalate the conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, while acknowledging the diplomatic efforts, maintained that “legitimate defense with the objective of punishing the aggressor becomes a necessity” when international laws and conventions are violated.

As the powder keg of tensions between Iran and Israel ramps up, the international community must act urgently to prevent a regional conflict with potentially catastrophic consequences. Diplomacy remains the only viable path forward, with key global powers like the United States, China, and European allies intensifying their efforts to de-escalate the situation and persuade both sides to exercise maximum restraint. 

Failure to do so could unleash a spiral of violence that would reverberate far beyond the borders of Iran and Israel, potentially hitting global markets and disrupting critical trade routes. The stakes are high and world leaders must demonstrate principled leadership to avert a crisis that could plunge the Middle East into all-out war.