Rai’s Call for Lebanon’s Neutrality Strains Relations with Hezbollah

Maronite Patriach Beshara al-Rai receives French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Bkirki on July 23. (French FM Twitter)
Maronite Patriach Beshara al-Rai receives French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Bkirki on July 23. (French FM Twitter)
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Rai’s Call for Lebanon’s Neutrality Strains Relations with Hezbollah

Maronite Patriach Beshara al-Rai receives French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Bkirki on July 23. (French FM Twitter)
Maronite Patriach Beshara al-Rai receives French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Bkirki on July 23. (French FM Twitter)

The Hezbollah party appears unresponsive to Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai’s call for Lebanon to remain neutral from regional developments.

A joint committee, formed in the 1990s, comprised of representatives of the Patriarchate and the party usually assumes the role of bridging divides between the two sides. The committee became more active after Rai became patriarch. Prior to that, relations between the Patriarchate and Hezbollah were often strained during the term of his late predecessor Nasrallah Sfeir, who was a vocal critic of the party and its weapons and the Syrian regime.

The committee does not appear to be holding a meeting any time soon even though both parties involved have said that nothing is holding them back. The criticism expressed by Hezbollah supporters on social media of Rai’s call for neutrality, however, tell a different story and may delay the committee meeting even further.

Maronite Bishop Samir Mazloum said the committee may meet at any moment. He told Asharq Al-Awsat there was no reason for it to cease its meetings or dialogue. Contacts with Hezbollah and other sides take place from the Patriarchate’s position of openness to everyone, he went on to say.

Moreover, Rai’s call for neutrality was not directed at Hezbollah, he added. “The suggestion benefits all Lebanese without exception. Rai was seeking rapprochement between parties.”

Information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat revealed that the committee last met some four months ago. The panel does not have a specific schedule for its talks.

Sources close to Hezbollah said that it used to meet every 15 days, every month or every three months. As of yet, there appears to be no meeting scheduled for the near future, they told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Relations between Hezbollah and Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, are “generally good”, they stressed, citing visits and communication between the two sides over several issues. “Today, however, we are separating the positive relationship with Bkirki from the proposal on neutrality, which we prefer not comment on,” they stated.

Political analyst and Hezbollah expert Qassem Kassir said the party has taken the decision not to officially comment on Rai’s call. It is seeking greater clarifications about his proposal, which is seen as still vague.

The party has left it to President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and its allies, such as MP Gebran Bassil, former minister Suleiman Franjieh and others to comment on the suggestion, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Hezbollah today is more concerned about the living and economic crisis sweeping Lebanon, Kassir remarked. He speculated that party chief Hassan Nasrallah may address the call for neutrality during a speech on August 13 to mark the anniversary of the end of the July 2006 war.

This is not the first time that relations between Rai and Hezbollah become strained. Back in 2014, the party was critical of the patriarch’s decision to travel to Jerusalem to meet with Pope Francis, saying that such a visit may have repercussions. It marked the first time a Maronite patriarch visited Jerusalem since Israel’s formation in 1948.



Iran Trims Military Presence in Syria

File photo of Iranian military leaders in eastern Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
File photo of Iranian military leaders in eastern Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
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Iran Trims Military Presence in Syria

File photo of Iranian military leaders in eastern Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
File photo of Iranian military leaders in eastern Syria (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)

Iranian forces have pulled out of bases in Damascus and southern Syria, moving away from the border with the Golan Heights. This suggests Iran might be stepping back from its confrontation with Israel, but it's not clear if this is a temporary move or part of a bigger regional shift.

The withdrawal follows strikes targeting key figures in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Iran says it’s a precautionary move after recent attacks it blames on Israel.

In early April, a missile attack, which Tehran accuses Israel of mounting, hit the Iranian consulate, killing seven Revolutionary Guard members, including senior commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the highest-ranking Iranian military official in Syria.

Iran responded with a drone and missile strike on Israel, its first direct assault. Israel reportedly retaliated with strikes inside Iran.

This shift marks a change in Iran’s military presence in Syria, potentially signaling a new approach to the region’s dynamics.

Recent reports, some citing Iranian sources, suggest Iran is reducing its presence in Syria. However, Iraqi politicians, including a key Shiite leader, reject the idea that Iran is giving up on Syria’s strategic importance in its conflict with Israel.

One politician suggests that Iran’s presence in Syria has always been limited, despite talk of Iraqi militants filling the gap left by Iranian forces.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat under the conditions of anonymity, the Iraqi politician said that “despite Iraqi militants’ readiness to fill the void left by Iranian military personnel, the operation could be a camouflage.”

They also pointed out that “Iran's presence – in the commonly understood field sense – has been limited from the start.”

According to a source close to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, fighters from the group and Iraq have replaced Iranian forces in areas around Damascus, Daraa, and Quneitra.

Two other sources familiar with Iraqi factions say Iran has asked for fighters with Syrian experience, but it’s unclear if they’ve been sent yet.

“Kataib Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Forces have received requests from Tehran to send fighters with previous field experience in Syrian territories,” the sources, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

These discussions raise questions about Iran’s intentions in Syria.

A former Iraqi official, familiar with Syrian affairs and who had met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad several times between 2015 and 2019, says Iran suspects that Syrian security officers collaborated against Iranians and leaked their movements to others.

The official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Iran is investigating, and tis close to a conclusion,” but “is taking precautionary measures,” noting that “the reduction in military presence only involves high-ranking figures openly linked to the Revolutionary Guard.”

On April 13, Iranian media quoted Gen. Morteza Qorbani, a senior advisor to the Revolutionary Guard commander, saying that an investigation was ongoing into whether the whereabouts of Zahedi had been leaked.

“Spies are rampant in Syria and Lebanon, and enemies can track individuals through satellites and communication networks (...) It only takes one infiltrator to pass information to enemies,” said Qorbani.

Iran’s suspicions focus on 18 commanders assassinated in attacks attributed to Israel.

According to Bloomberg, a Syrian defector claimed to have spoken with an Iranian official about this.

The defector’s statement suggests that Iran and Syria are jointly investigating security breaches. At one point, Iran conducted a separate investigation with Hezbollah to avoid dealing with Syrian intelligence.

An Iraqi official told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran admits to facing challenges in Syria. Iraqi groups have been advised by Tehran to enhance phone security or shut them down completely, a tactic also used by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Despite suspicions of Syrian security betraying Iran, it’s not prompting Iran to leave Syria.

“Assad offers little strategic value except Syria’s position, crucial for affecting Israel’s security. Iran won't give that up, even if Assad asks them to leave,” revealed the official.

Reports suggest Assad was unaware of security breaches targeting Revolutionary Guard leaders. Iranian forces started withdrawing from Syrian provinces earlier this year, with recent acceleration.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Iranian advisors left various areas, including Baniyas, in March.

Iran still has forces in Aleppo (north) and Deir Ezzor (east), key areas of its influence in Syria.


Tehran, Tel Aviv Exchange Displays of Power During Gaza Conflict

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stands before the coffins of seven Revolutionary Guard officers killed in the Iranian consulate strike in Syria. (EPA)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stands before the coffins of seven Revolutionary Guard officers killed in the Iranian consulate strike in Syria. (EPA)
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Tehran, Tel Aviv Exchange Displays of Power During Gaza Conflict

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stands before the coffins of seven Revolutionary Guard officers killed in the Iranian consulate strike in Syria. (EPA)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stands before the coffins of seven Revolutionary Guard officers killed in the Iranian consulate strike in Syria. (EPA)

Since the start of the Gaza conflict following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, Iran has been visibly involved in the regional crisis. This involvement spans its support for allied militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as political, diplomatic and military actions under President Ebrahim Raisi.

Two hundred days into the war on Gaza, tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran have intensified. This escalation signals a shift from years of a shadow Iranian-Israeli conflict towards a potentially direct confrontation, primarily driven by Iran.

In the early days of the war, Iranian officials hinted at their ability to escalate the conflict and confront Israel by unifying fronts if Gaza continued to be targeted. This was seen as a political maneuver.

While Iran implied involvement in the confrontation, Western reports, especially American ones, differed on Iran’s role in Hamas’ Oct. 7 Al-Aqsa Flood Operation that sparked the war.

In the blame game and attempts to involve international parties, based on Israeli sources, some Western newspapers accused Iran of orchestrating the attack. On the other hand, media outlets and agencies turned to Iranian sources to challenge the Israeli narrative.

As Iran tried to leverage Israel’s surprise over the Al-Aqsa Flood, Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders sent a strong message. They mentioned Iran’s motives for the attack, including revenge for Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani’s killing in a US strike in early 2020. Yet, Iran swiftly denied any direct link to Hamas’ attack to avoid upsetting the delicate balances it has achieved in the region.

Diplomatic moves

Iran has been quick to amp up its regional diplomacy under Raisi, aiming to improve ties with neighboring countries and counter its international isolation, especially after the Ukraine conflict complicated efforts to revive its nuclear deal with Western powers.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s recent statement at Tehran University, suggesting that Iran must be consulted for any Palestine agreement, has meanwhile raised eyebrows.

Abdollahian’s visits to Jeddah, Geneva, and New York for Palestine-related conferences have sparked questions in Iranian media about the authorities’ delayed actions on pressing domestic issues, including nuclear negotiations to lift US sanctions.

However, the aftermath of the war has somewhat eased Western pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, with Western powers avoiding turning to the UN Security Council or issuing condemnations of Iran because they don’t want to deepen the crisis with Tehran amid the Gaza conflict.

Iran has highlighted its ties to powers around Israel while pursuing diplomacy. It continues to support Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, with top Iranian officials, like the foreign minister, visiting Doha, Beirut, and Damascus to coordinate with the two groups.

Iran also backs armed groups linked to Tehran, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi militias in Yemen and Iraqi armed factions.

The Iranians see the Gaza war as the greatest evidence of coordination between diplomacy and field activities by the Revolutionary Guard and allied groups. However, Tehran officially denies direct involvement in decisions or operations of these groups, though it still supports their actions.

Maritime developments

In early November, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for disrupting Israel’s key supply routes by blocking maritime access for energy, food and trade.

Following his statement, the Houthi militias in Yemen began attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea.

These attacks sparked renewed tensions at sea. The US and UK responded with strikes on Houthi positions to deter further assaults. Meanwhile, Western and regional powers formed maritime alliances to safeguard navigation routes.

The Revolutionary Guard further heightened tensions by announcing Iranian naval escorts to the Red Sea and threatening to block key waterways like the Bab el-Mandeb and the Strait of Gibraltar, as well as disrupting navigation in the Mediterranean.

They also formed a “Naval Basij” unit comprising maritime units of groups loyal to Iran.

Israel strikes back

As tensions rose in the Red Sea and Iran-aligned factions targeted US forces, Israel launched two precise airstrikes in December. The first, in Damascus on December 2 killed two Revolutionary Guard officers: Brigadier Generals Panah Taghizadeh and Mohammad-Ali Ataie Shourcheh.

They were reportedly killed during “advisory operations” at a military base in the Sayyida Zainab area.

On December 25, Razi Mousavi, the logistics chief for the Revolutionary Guard in Syria and Lebanon, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his home in the Sayyida Zainab area. The strike came shortly after he left his office at the Iranian embassy compound.

The third strike occurred in the Mazzeh area on January 20, killing Brig. Gen. Hojjatollah Amidwar, the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence chief in Syria, and four other Iranian officers.

Later, the Revolutionary Guard reported the deaths of three more officers in separate operations in Damascus, Homs and Deir Ezzor between February and March.

Losses and heightened tensions

As tensions rose, Damascus saw the deadliest blow to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the ongoing power struggle between Tehran and Tel Aviv.

The Iranian consulate in Mazzeh was struck, killing Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, commander of the Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria and Lebanon, along with Hezbollah’s advisory council member and five other senior Guard officers.

Iran promised retaliation, sparking intense speculation, and Khamenei declared the consulate Iranian soil and pledged a response.

Israel remained quiet after all the attacks, while Iran launched over 300 missiles and drones two weeks later. Israel claimed to have intercepted most.

Khamenei stated Iran aimed to show its power.

In response, Israel threatened retaliation deep in Iranian territory. Western powers tried to discourage Israel, but it struck a military airport near Isfahan. Satellite images showed damage to the S-300 radar system protecting nuclear facilities.

The exchange continues, with its lessons likely to keep tensions high between Israel and Iran, even after the dust settles in the Gaza conflict.


After 200 Days of War, Where Have the Gaza Ceasefire Negotiations Reached?

Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
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After 200 Days of War, Where Have the Gaza Ceasefire Negotiations Reached?

Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)
Relatives of Israeli prisoners demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand that the government reach an agreement to release the detainees held by Hamas. (AFP)

Two hundred days since the eruption of war in the Gaza Strip, ceasefire efforts are still ongoing even though it remains to be seen whether mediators in Egypt, Qatar, and the United States will be able to resolve the crisis.

Since its start on Oct. 7, the war has only stopped for one week, following an Egyptian Qatari-mediated agreement in November during which Hamas released more than 100 of its hostages and Israel freed about three times this number of Palestinian prisoners.

Since that “lone truce,” the mediators have been pushing for another “broader and more comprehensive” agreement, but their efforts have not borne fruit so far. Expert in Israeli affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Dr. Saeed Okasha attributed this failure to “miscalculations on the part of both sides of the conflict.”

“Tel Aviv accepted the first truce, believing that it would help in relieving pressure, and then quickly decide the battle in its favor. For its part, Hamas hoped it would be able to build an international drive to end the war, believing that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accepting of the deal would weaken his position and damage his image before the international community because he views the movement as terrorist,” Okasha told Asharq Al-Awsat.

During the past months, the hope of achieving a “truce” rose at times and faded at others, as the mediators’ efforts stumbled at continued “Israeli intransigence” and “conditions” that Hamas was not willing to abandon.

At the end of January, hope was pinned on the “framework of a three-stage truce agreement, each lasting 40 days.” The framework was agreed upon at a meeting in Paris that was attended by the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, the United States, and Israel, in addition to the Qatari prime minister. They expected that the proposal would ultimately lead to talks over ending the war completely.

But this framework, which was described as "constructive" by officials in Israel and the US, did not translate into reality after six rounds of indirect negotiations, which moved from Paris to Cairo to Doha and then back to Paris.

Towards the end of the month of Ramadan, Cairo hosted a new round of negotiations during which the Director of the CIA, William Burns, presented to Hamas a proposal to restore calm. It called for a six-week truce during which Hamas would release 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of 800 to 900 Palestinians arrested by Israel, the entry of 400 to 500 trucks of food aid daily, and the return of the displaced from northern Gaza to their homes.

However, the mediators were unable to convince both parties to accept the deal, so the negotiations reached a “dead end.” Here, Okasha said: “Neither party wants to make concessions, because that means losing the battle.”

He noted that Tel Aviv is seeking to achieve a military victory by invading the city of Rafah, while Hamas is heading toward “political suicide.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry confirmed in an interview with CNN last week that the talks “were continuing and have never been interrupted” even though “an agreement has not been reached yet.”


Israel ‘Stuck’ in War After 200 Days

Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border (AFP)
Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border (AFP)
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Israel ‘Stuck’ in War After 200 Days

Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border (AFP)
Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border (AFP)

Despite 200 days passing since Israel’s war on Gaza, few in Israel, except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claim a clear victory. Even the usually boastful army now speaks more modestly.

Expectations have shifted from “destroying Hamas” to “weakening its rule” and from “forcefully freeing captives” to “negotiating their release.”

While Netanyahu insists on the narrative of overwhelming victory, top experts are warning of significant failure, with some even suggesting defeat.

Ron Ben-Yishai, a security expert at the “Yedioth Ahronoth” newspaper, cautioned that Israel was at a strategic deadlock. He noted that regarding prisoners, Israel has lost its leverage over Hamas.

Regarding the invasion of Rafah, Netanyahu is still in talks with Washington about the scope of Israel’s actions, with no American approval yet.

Concerning the “day after,” Israel is still uncertain, with its proposals seen as impractical. Although Hamas has lost much of its military power, it still controls many areas.

Tensions are also rising on the Lebanese front, but there’s no clear path to war or a political deal, with everyone waiting for Gaza’s fighting to end.

As for Iran, Israel struggles to form a regional alliance due to its lack of progress on the Palestinian issue, which is seen as crucial for resolving other problems.

Ben-Yishai affirmed that Israel must soften its stance on Palestine and heed calls from Washington.

Without strategic cooperation with the Biden administration, not only will Israel remain stuck but also face defeat in the war, he warned.

In a recent piece for Israeli daily “Haaretz,” Israeli thinker Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes that war is a tool to achieve political goals.

Harari argues that the success of war should be measured by whether these goals are met. He pointed out that after the Oct. 7 tragedy, Israel aimed to free captives and disarm Hamas, but it also needed to strengthen alliances and establish regional stability.

However, he criticizes Netanyahu’s government for focusing on revenge rather than these broader objectives, failing to release all captives or eliminate Hamas.


Israel's Strike on Iran: Limited Hit, Major Message

Tensions had been simmering for years between Israel and Iran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Tensions had been simmering for years between Israel and Iran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
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Israel's Strike on Iran: Limited Hit, Major Message

Tensions had been simmering for years between Israel and Iran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Tensions had been simmering for years between Israel and Iran. ATTA KENARE / AFP

Israel's apparent strike on Iran was deliberately limited in scope but sent a clear warning to the country's leadership about Israeli abilities to strike at sensitive targets.
Tehran refuses to recognize Israel, and for decades the two countries have waged a shadow war marked by covert Israeli operations inside Iran, and Iranian backing for anti-Israel militant groups including Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But while the surge in tensions over the past weeks has calmed for now, the shadow war has entered a new phase, carrying more than ever the risk of open conflict between the foes, analysts say.
The current escalation comes against the background of Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel followed by the Israeli bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.
It began when Israel was blamed for carrying out an air strike on April 1 against Iran's consulate in Damascus, killing seven Iranian officials from the Revolutionary Guards.
Iran responded with its first-ever direct attack on Israel, involving hundreds of drones and missiles, though almost all were shot down by Israel and its allies.
Amid fears of a major Israeli retaliation to that attack, which could itself provoke another Iranian response, Israel instead chose a much more limited option in the face of US pressure.
'Remind Iran'
According to The New York Times, which cited Israeli and Iranian sources, the target was the radar system of a Russian-supplied S-300 missile defense system at an airbase in the central province of Isfahan, the region that hosts the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
The origin of the strike is not entirely clear, but it included at least one missile fired from a warplane outside Iran and small attack drones known as quadcopters that could have been launched from inside Iran itself and were aimed at confusing air defenses, the reports said.
Israel, in line with its usual policy, has not confirmed or denied carrying out the strike on Iran or the April 1 attack in Syria.
"The purpose of the operation was precisely to remind Iran what Israel could be capable of," said Arash Azizi, senior lecturer at Clemson University in the United States.
"The choice of the airbase near Isfahan was significant because this is the main source of air defense support for all the nuclear installations in the province," he told AFP.
Israel is long believed to have carried out sabotage operations inside Iran through its Mossad espionage agency.
Most famously, according to US media reports, Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in 2020 by Mossad using a machine gun that had been assembled close to his home by its agents and then fired remotely after they left.
According to some outlets, including television channel Iran International, Israeli agents have even captured and interrogated Revolutionary Guards inside Iran to obtain intelligence.
There have also been suspicions, after mysterious explosions around sensitive sites, that Israel has already carried out drone attacks inside Iran, but this has never been confirmed.
'Rubicon crossed'
Iranian officials have been at pains to almost laugh off the Israeli strike, with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian telling NBC News the weapons used were at the "level of toys".
Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, praised the country's armed forces for their "success".
But Alexander Grinberg, expert on Iran at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said Israel's choice and designation of target was in itself indicative of the presence Mossad has inside Iran.
"Israel's message is 'We can strike anywhere in Iran' given that Isfahan is in the center of Iran, relatively far away, and Israel knows exactly where it can strike," he said.
Grinberg said it was logical that Iran has not confirmed that the air base was hit: "From the moment you recognize the true scale of damage, you admit the power of the enemy."
Holly Dagres, non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, said if Israel's attack involved small quadcopters, "these small drones were likely launched from inside Iran".
This would highlight "yet another instance in which Mossad has a presence on the ground and how Iran is its playground", she said.
While the current escalation phase appears to be over, Israel could yet launch more retaliation against Iran, and tensions may also surge again if Israel launches its long-threatened offensive on Rafah in Gaza.
"In some ways, we are now back to the pre-April 1 rules of operation: the realm of gray area and unattributable operations, sabotage," said lecturer Azizi.
"That suits both Iran and Israel well. But the rubicon crossed on April 1 still matters and makes the stakes higher," he added.


Terry Anderson, AP Reporter Abducted in Lebanon and Held Captive for Years, Has Died at 76 

Former US hostage Terry Anderson and his fiancee Madeleine Bassil arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on December 10, 1991. (AP)
Former US hostage Terry Anderson and his fiancee Madeleine Bassil arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on December 10, 1991. (AP)
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Terry Anderson, AP Reporter Abducted in Lebanon and Held Captive for Years, Has Died at 76 

Former US hostage Terry Anderson and his fiancee Madeleine Bassil arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on December 10, 1991. (AP)
Former US hostage Terry Anderson and his fiancee Madeleine Bassil arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on December 10, 1991. (AP)

Terry Anderson, the globe-trotting Associated Press correspondent who became one of America's longest-held hostages after he was snatched from a street in war-torn Lebanon in 1985 and held for nearly seven years, has died at 76.

Anderson, who chronicled his abduction and torturous imprisonment by Hezbollah in his best-selling 1993 memoir "Den of Lions," died on Sunday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

Anderson died of complications from recent heart surgery, his daughter said.

"Terry was deeply committed to on-the-ground eyewitness reporting and demonstrated great bravery and resolve, both in his journalism and during his years held hostage. We are so appreciative of the sacrifices he and his family made as the result of his work," said Julie Pace, senior vice president and executive editor of the AP.

"He never liked to be called a hero, but that's what everyone persisted in calling him," said Sulome Anderson. "I saw him a week ago and my partner asked him if he had anything on his bucket list, anything that he wanted to do. He said, 'I've lived so much and I've done so much. I'm content.'"

After returning to the United States in 1991, Anderson led a peripatetic life, giving public speeches, teaching journalism at several prominent universities and, at various times, operating a blues bar, Cajun restaurant, horse ranch and gourmet restaurant.

He also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, won millions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets after a federal court concluded that country played a role in his capture, then lost most of it to bad investments. He filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Upon retiring from the University of Florida in 2015, Anderson settled on a small horse farm in a quiet, rural section of northern Virginia he had discovered while camping with friends.

"I live in the country and it's reasonably good weather and quiet out here and a nice place, so I'm doing all right," he said with a chuckle during a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.

In 1985, Anderson became one of several Westerners abducted by members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah party during a time of war that had plunged Lebanon into chaos.

After his release, he returned to a hero's welcome at AP's New York headquarters.

Louis D. Boccardi, the president and chief executive officer of the AP at the time, recalled Sunday that Anderson's plight was never far from his AP colleagues' minds.

"The word 'hero' gets tossed around a lot but applying it to Terry Anderson just enhances it," Boccardi said. "His six-and-a-half-year ordeal as a hostage of terrorists was as unimaginable as it was real — chains, being transported from hiding place to hiding place strapped to the chassis of a truck, given often inedible food, cut off from the world he reported on with such skill and caring."

As the AP's chief Middle East correspondent, Anderson had been reporting for several years on the rising violence gripping Lebanon as the country fought a war with Israel, while Iran funded militant groups trying to topple its government.

On March 16, 1985, a day off, he had taken a break to play tennis with former AP photographer Don Mell and was dropping Mell off at his home when gun-toting kidnappers dragged him from his car.

He was likely targeted, he said, because he was one of the few Westerners still in Lebanon and because his role as a journalist aroused suspicion among members of Hezbollah.

"Because in their terms, people who go around asking questions in awkward and dangerous places have to be spies," he told the Virginia newspaper The Review of Orange County in 2018.

What followed was nearly seven years of brutality during which he was beaten, chained to a wall, threatened with death, often had guns held to his head and was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

Anderson was the longest held of several Western hostages Hezbollah abducted over the years, including Terry Waite, the former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had arrived to try to negotiate Anderson's release.

By Anderson's and other hostages' accounts, he was also their most hostile prisoner, constantly demanding better food and treatment, arguing religion and politics with his captors, and teaching other hostages sign language and where to hide messages so they could communicate privately.

He managed to retain a quick wit and biting sense of humor during his long ordeal. On his last day in Beirut, he called the leader of his kidnappers into his room to tell him he'd just heard an erroneous radio report saying he'd been freed and was in Syria.

"I said, 'Mahmound, listen to this, I'm not here. I'm gone, babes. I'm on my way to Damascus.' And we both laughed," he told Giovanna Dell'Orto, author of "AP Foreign Correspondents in Action: World War II to the Present."

Mell, who was in the car during the abduction, said Sunday that he and Anderson shared an uncommon bond.

"Our relationship was much broader and deeper, and more important and meaningful, than just that one incident," Mell said.

Mell credited Anderson with launching his career in journalism, pushing for the young photographer to be hired by the AP full-time. After Anderson was released, their friendship deepened. They were each the best man at each other's wedding and were in frequent contact.

Anderson's humor often hid the PTSD he acknowledged suffering for years afterward.

"The AP got a couple of British experts in hostage decompression, clinical psychiatrists, to counsel my wife and myself and they were very useful," he said in 2018. "But one of the problems I had was I did not recognize sufficiently the damage that had been done.

"So, when people ask me, you know, 'Are you over it?' Well, I don't know. No, not really. It's there. I don't think about it much these days, it's not central to my life. But it's there," he said.

Anderson said his faith as a Christian helped him let go of the anger. And something his wife later told him also helped him to move on: "If you keep the hatred you can't have the joy."

At the time of his abduction, Anderson was engaged to be married. The couple married soon after his release but divorced a few years later, and although they remained on friendly terms Anderson and his daughter were estranged for years.

"I love my dad very much. My dad has always loved me. I just didn't know that because he wasn't able to show it to me," Sulome Anderson told the AP in 2017.

Father and daughter reconciled after the publication of her critically acclaimed 2017 book, "The Hostage's Daughter," in which she told of traveling to Lebanon to confront and eventually forgive one of her father's kidnappers.

"I think she did some extraordinary things, went on a very difficult personal journey, but also accomplished a pretty important piece of journalism doing it," Anderson said. "She's now a better journalist than I ever was."

Terry Alan Anderson was born Oct. 27, 1947. He spent his early childhood years in the small Lake Erie town of Vermilion, Ohio, where his father was a police officer.

After graduating from high school, he turned down a scholarship to the University of Michigan in favor of enlisting in the Marines, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant while seeing combat during the Vietnam War.

After returning home, he enrolled at Iowa State University where he graduated with a double major in journalism and political science and soon after went to work for the AP. He reported from Kentucky, Japan and South Africa before arriving in Lebanon in 1982, just as the country was descending into chaos.

"Actually, it was the most fascinating job I've ever had in my life," he told The Review. "It was intense. War's going on — it was very dangerous in Beirut. Vicious civil war, and I lasted about three years before I got kidnapped."

Anderson was married and divorced three times. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Gabrielle Anderson, from his first marriage; a sister, Judy Anderson; and a brother, Jack Anderson.

"Though my father's life was marked by extreme suffering during his time as a hostage in captivity, he found a quiet, comfortable peace in recent years. I know he would choose to be remembered not by his very worst experience, but through his humanitarian work with the Vietnam Children's Fund, the Committee to Protect Journalists, homeless veterans and many other incredible causes," Sulome Anderson said in a statement Sunday.

Memorial arrangements were pending, she said.


Biden Avoids a Further Mideast Spiral as Israel and Iran Show Restraint. But for How Long?

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Biden Avoids a Further Mideast Spiral as Israel and Iran Show Restraint. But for How Long?

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel's retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran's unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran's barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.

Iran's public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.

The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.

Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.

But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.

“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we're seeing voter appraisals of President Biden's handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”

Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration's backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.

The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as Congress moves closer to approving $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.

After months of delay in the face of the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., pushed the package forward and final House passage was expected this weekend. That prospect — and a surge of weaponry to the front lines — is giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.

Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.

But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Republicans have criticized Biden's unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.

GOP critics have sought to connect Russia's invasion of Ukraine to Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2014 seizure of Crimea.

“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”

Polling suggests Americans' concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden's pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.

About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.

Further, about 47% of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47% said the same about Trump.

Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.

Now, Biden finds himself dealing with uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.

With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as being not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticize the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu's prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.

After Israel's carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides' risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other's territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”

Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It's an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.

CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for "standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”

At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel's minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden's concerns about Israel's plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.

Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.

“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


Russia Quietly Exits Karabakh, Ceding Its Clout ‘For Good'

A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
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Russia Quietly Exits Karabakh, Ceding Its Clout ‘For Good'

A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)

When Russian troops deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh four years ago, their task was clear: keep the peace between bitter foes Armenia and Azerbaijan and prevent another war in the volatile region.

But as Azerbaijani forces swept through mountainous Karabakh last September and crushed Armenian separatist forces in a matter of hours, the Russian mission looked lost.

The Kremlin this week quietly confirmed that the peacekeepers were withdrawing, taking with them their weapons and hardware, as well as Russian clout from a region it long considered its own backyard.

Moscow ruled over the Caucasus region first during the Russian empire and then in the Soviet era. When war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the USSR's collapse, Moscow sought to mediate.

The Kremlin deployed almost 2,000 troops in 2020 as part of a ceasefire deal that halted six weeks of brutal fighting between the arch-foes over the Karabakh region.

The accord held until the lightning Azerbaijani offensive last September that ignited an exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians from Karabakh and deepened their frustration with Moscow.

Russia 'betrayed us'

"Along with the Russians leaving Karabakh, the last hope that the population will return home is gone," said Iveta Margaryan, a 53-year-old trained accountant on the streets of Armenia's capital.

"The Russians have betrayed us," she added.

Observers of the Caucasus say Russia is too caught up with its invasion of Ukraine to retain its sway in the region.

Azerbaijan has recently deepened ties with Türkiye -- a close military and political partner with shared cultural ties. And with the pullout from Karabakh, Moscow has further alienated Armenia.

Yerevan has criticized Moscow's perceived shortfalls, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan busy forging closer ties with the West.

In February, he froze Yerevan's participation in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a defense grouping of several ex-Soviet states.

Yerevan also joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Moscow's wishes -- a move that obligates it to arrest Vladimir Putin should he visit Armenia.

The European Union and United States are now leading efforts to broker a peace agreement between the Caucasus foes, with Moscow stuck playing second fiddle.

'Shattered' myth

Moscow's unease over Armenia's rapprochement with the West has also become public. The foreign ministry this week demanded that Yerevan "disavow" reports it was deepening military ties with Western countries.

France -- home to a large Armenian diaspora -- has also planted a flag in the region, intensifying its diplomatic backing for Yerevan and providing cutting-edge defensive radars and missiles. "Russia is out, the West is in," said Azerbaijani political scientist Eldar Namazov.

The Russian peacekeepers were meant to "project influence," said Gela Vasadze, senior fellow at the Georgian Strategic Analysis Centre.

But their withdrawal has clearly illustrated the limits of Russia's power, he told AFP.

"The myth that Russian boots never leave territories they had once stepped in is shattered."

Shahinoglu said Putin had withdrawn from Karabakh to keep up friendly relations with Azerbaijan and Türkiye at a time when the Kremlin is isolated over the Ukraine war.

But in doing so, Russia has lost its ability to "exploit" Armenian separatism in the Caucasus and leverage it for regional influence, he said.

"Russia has lost its historical footholds in the Caucasus for good."

That sentiment was echoed in Azerbaijan, where the announcement of the Russian drawdown was met with joy and relief.

"People say Russian troops don't ever voluntarily leave," said Ramil Iskenderov, a 37-year-old courier.

"Azerbaijan proved that with the right policy it's possible to achieve the impossible," he told AFP.

In Armenia, where Russia still maintains a military base, the peacekeepers' withdrawal was a final straw for some that meant Yerevan should sever military ties with Moscow.

"Russia has once again betrayed the Armenian people and sold us out. That's it," said Valery Harutyunyan, who lived in Karabakh before fleeing to Armenia in September.

"We can't rely on the Russians again. It's impossible. We should kick Russians out -- not only from Karabakh -- but also from Armenia," he told AFP.


What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)

By Rasha Awad

The war in Sudan between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered its second year with no progress made on reaching a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict. Some hope appears on the horizon with the announcement that the Jeddah negotiations will resume in Saudi Arabia in two weeks.

On the internal scene, the military escalation has continued on the ground and through military speeches. The situation has raised alarm among experts and observers in Sudan that the country may be headed towards a long war that may lead to the division of the country and the spillover of the conflict into the region, especially in wake of the RSF launching a drone attack on army positions in the eastern city of al-Qadarif.

Eastern Sudan has been largely spared from the war up until the April 9 attack.

Time as a decisive factor

The success of the negotiations will rely heavily on time. If the war stretches on, then new obstacles will emerge that will complicate negotiations. Such complications include defections from the army or RSF.

In this regard, Dr. Bakri al-Jak, official spokesman of the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), warned the war could take on regional and ethnic dimensions, instead of its current ideological and political ones.

There is the possibility that the army and RSF leaderships could lose control over their forces on the ground and that the country could be divided into areas of influence and control, which would be the first step in the division of Sudan, he added.

He therefore underscored the need to speed up reaching a negotiated solution and intensifying regional and international contacts in support of peace to avert the prolongation of the war.

Internal political will

Experts estimate that one year of war has cost Sudan 100 billion dollars. Around 90 percent of factories have been destroyed, 65 percent of agricultural production has come to a halt, and 75 percent of the services sector has stopped functioning. Moreover, wasted opportunities have cost Sudan an estimated 200 billion dollars.

Around 14,000 civilians have been killed, thousands are wounded and reported missing and 11 million have been displaced.

As for the military losses, the army and RSF have both refrained from disclosing figures, but the estimates are that they have both incurred heavy losses.

In spite of these massive losses, neither side has demonstrated the political will to turn to a negotiated solution even though the majority of the millions of Sudanese people want peace.

National and regional determination

Like all wars in the region, the conflict in Sudan is unlikely to come to an end without a national drive to reach peace. It should also be coupled with effective regional and international pressure on the warring parties to agree to a negotiated solution.

Writer and analyst Al-Haj Warraq said several factors will determine whether the war will stretch on or wind down. Among them is whether the United States would come with a unified position on Sudan.

He explained that the US is currently deeply divided between Republican and Democrat strategic visions. President Joe Biden’s Democrat administration itself is divided between supporters of the civilian rule in Sudan and others who would opt for empowering the Islamists (National Congress) under the command of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Advocates of civilian rule, meanwhile, continue to propose “empty general slogans” that offer nothing in specific, continued Warraq.

He went on to say that the declared goals of the American administration are “unachievable” because they don’t follow any specific policy and they contradict Sudan’s democratic leanings. In the end, however, several of the cards to end the war lie in American hands.

“So, the civilian democratic forces need to invest in Washington’s openness to draft a specific policy that would guarantee the end of the war, reestablish the democratic system and restore Sudan’s unity based on real federal foundations,” he stressed.

War and gold

Another significant factor in the war are the networks of looting that are funding it, especially the gold miners and smugglers. Besides financing the war, the networks have led to rampant corruption and bribery in the country.

They have played a role in tearing apart the ranks of the civilian forces. The powers pursuing peace must address this problem with the West and seek sanctions on these networks, which would be a step forward in ending the war.

Another factor that should end the war is the unification of the forces of peace and civilian democratic rule. Warraq said that even though Taqaddum was the largest coalition of civilian forces, “it needs to be more open to the people and include new forces and non-partisan figures.”

It also needs to develop its internal structure to make it more effective, he suggested.

The unification of an effective and united movement of civilian democratic forces will help “remove the legitimacy of the war”, said Al-Jak, who stressed the need for the forces to refrain from adopting the narrative of either of the warring parties. Rather, they should work on stopping them.

*Rasha Awad is a Sudanese researcher and spokesperson of Taqaddum.


American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
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American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)

The American administration has exercised caution over the explosions that were reported near a major air base near Iran’s city of Isfahan.

The White House has not condemned or supported the purported Israeli strike. Reports have said that Israel had informed Washington of its intention to carry out the attack at the last minute.

On Friday, Iran fired air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones. They were suspected to be part of an Israeli attack in retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country last weekend.

A senior American official said Israel had informed the US on Thursday of its plan to avenge the Iranian attack.

The official added that the White House had warned that escalation with Iran would not serve US or Israeli interests. He urged Israel to exercise caution in its retaliation, stressing that ultimately this was an Israeli decision.

Strike aimed at de-escalation

Several analysts and experts described the Israeli strike on Isfahan as “limited”, saying it was aimed at averting a new round of escalation that could push the region to a full-scale war. The attack also took into account American concerns and advice to avoid attacking Iranian nuclear sites.

An attack on nuclear facilities may only push Iran to forge ahead with its nuclear program.

American analysts were unanimous in saying that the Israeli retaliation was “symbolic” and that it sends a message to Iran and allows its regime to claim that Tel Aviv’s attack did not cause damage.

Changing the rules of engagement

US former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN: “There's no question that the rules of engagement have changed.”

“We've just had, not only Israel striking an embassy complex in Damascus, but Iran then striking back with 300 missiles into Israel. And now, Israel has struck at a target in Iran,” he noted.

“It also appears that Israel did pay attention to a lot of the warnings from the world, not to dramatically escalate the response. This was a pretty targeted effort, aimed at hitting a target in Iran near the nuclear facilities, and sending a message to Iran,” he remarked.

“Iran does not appear willing to respond. So, I think the hope is that perhaps we have achieved some kind of rough balance at this point. And that perhaps deterrence has been reestablished,” he stated.

Furthermore, Panetta said developments could possibly unfold along two paths. The first path, which he said was better for Israel, would be for bolstering the Israeli coalition with the US, European countries and regional powers to end the war in Gaza and the terrible humanitarian crisis there.

“That's the hopeful path,” he added.

“The path of concern is that if anything happens here and in foreign policy in that part of the world - there is always miscalculations. What Israel did show is that they could penetrate Iran and that Iran could not take defensive action,” he noted.

“So, there are a lot of questions that have been raised here as a result of these efforts. And the question is going to be whether the Iranian leadership wants to maintain a period of balance or whether or not they're going to continue to try to hit each other,” he explained.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs General Mark Kimmitt told CNN that Israel succeeded in breaching Iran’s air defenses without anyone noticing and then it carried out an attack near nuclear sites that Iran wants to protect.

The message was if Iran wanted to escalate then it will have a lot to lose, he added. The Iranians seem to have understood that and they also understood the messages of de-escalation from the US, Germany and other partners.

Ease of escalation

Former US Ambassador Dennis Ross said that “Israel hit in very limited way in Iran and in Syria,” proving a point that it will respond.

“Iran is acting now as if it deterred Israel from a larger strike,” he added in a post on the X platform. “Both sides made a point and are ready to go back to the shadows for the time-being. But both see how easy it is to escalate.”

Meanwhile, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton slammed the Biden administration over its stance towards Israel and launched a campaign in support of Israel.

“Israel has been under constant attack by Iran and its terrorist proxies since October 7th. Joe Biden turned his back on our ally and continues to recommend the Israelis not defend themselves. I need to know if you stand with Israel or not,” he said in a post on X.