Sam Menassa

Israel Embraced, Israel Encircled

The Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel, as well as the response of the US and its Western allies in defense of Israel on the night of the attack, have brought to light many revelations that go beyond the exceptional nature of the attack itself.
Firstly, they showed that the US and Western allies did not align with Israel for its protection alone, as had been the case previously. They also stood behind it because of their sense, if not fear, of the threat posed by the adversary it is facing this time, Iran and its proxies in the region.
The cloud that had been obscuring the West's vision of the multifaceted threats Iran poses beyond its nuclear program was removed: its role in destabilizing regional security and breaking the region's states apart, its interference in the affairs of the Gulf states to build a new regional security system centered around Iran, and regional states approving of its political and military influence. Added to these threats is its role in undermining global security, whether by supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine, threatening global shipping in the Red Sea, or expanding its influence in East Africa and Central Asia.
The Gaza war that erupted in October 2023 has highlighted Iran's direct role in regional developments. It demonstrated that the various parties and movements that form the so-called "resistance against Israel" are committed to serving Iran, not to the causes of their own countries and their liberation. Iran controls them, and their actions are shaped to further its agenda.
Secondly, they showed that the regional shadow war that has been raging for years, between Iran and its allies on the one hand, and Israel and the West (particularly the United States and its allies) has come out into the open. For years, Israel has been conducting strikes on Iran and its allies in Syria, as well as raids and assassinations in Iran itself. These attacks have persisted throughout the past six months of its ongoing military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. Nonetheless, the attack of April 1st stood out, as it targeted a diplomatic site, which is traditionally not a military target, a clear declaration of war that Iran could only respond to directly.
Thirdly, they showed that Iran is fully aware of the United States' deterrence capacities in the region and the genuine commitment of Western powers to Israel's security, which allowed the latter to avoid casualties and damage. The Iranian response to the attack on its consulate in Damascus was calculated, reserved, and contained. Those who have said that it had been intended to "save face" were not wrong.
The retaliation had been announced beforehand, depriving Iran of the element of surprise. The weapons used in the attack, despite its intensity, were interceptable because of how long it took for them to reach their targets. Iran doubtlessly possesses more lethal and powerful weapons than those it chose to utilize, but it refrained from using them to avoid igniting a broad war, which all sides, especially Iran and the United States, want to avoid. This desire to avoid sparking a regional war might also explain why Iran did not call on its local proxies to avenge it this time around.
Fourthly, the night of drones and the Gaza war have highlighted the gap between Iran's military and technological capabilities and Israel's cutting-edge technological capacities. Israel's multi-layered defense systems allowed it to intercept 99 percent of the drones and missiles that Iran had launched. Many of them were intercepted outside Israeli territory, over the skies over Jordan and Iraq, with the United States conducting most of the operations.
The fifth and most important revelation that came to light that night is that the United States recognizes that this ongoing war in the region is being waged by two fanatics that must both be deterred: Iran and the far-right Israeli government. While Washington and its Western allies have rallied together around protecting Israel, this military embrace will come at a political cost for the Israeli state. That much was obvious from the scale and nature of the Israeli response to Iran's retaliation for the attack on its consulate in Damascus, which was limited to airstrikes in Isfahan. More of these political costs will emerge in the Gaza war and the mini-war in South Lebanon.
Despite all of the arrogance that Israel has shown, the stage we are currently in makes it particularly difficult for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government to go against or antagonize their allies. It is also becoming clear that the US president is taking a balanced approach. On the one hand, he wants to safeguard Israel's security, and on the other, he wants to prevent it from escalating against Iran.
Iran's retaliation to the attack on its consulate in Damascus and the subsequent Israeli airstrikes on Isfahan, will probably not give rise to a trajectory that leads to a full-scale war. A return to the status quo that had been in place prior to the consulate strike is likely, with negotiations regarding the situation in Gaza and South Lebanon likely to continue.
Although it was calculated, Iran's retaliation necessitated intervention from allies. It created the nucleus for a coalition that includes the US, Britain, France, and Jordan, while other Arab countries are not far from it. This emergence of this nucleus could potentially open the door to expanding this coalition, as other Arab countries could be added in the future if two Israeli impediments are resolved. The first is the immense and glaring mistakes Israel has committed throughout the Gaza war and its callous violence in the West Bank. The second is its lack of a political vision, as Israel has been focused solely on the security dimension of all matters tied to Palestine.
Today, the entire world, particularly the Arab region, stands at a crossroads. Global and regional balances are being reshaped by ongoing developments. The broader geopolitical landscape suggests that political and religious extremism are receding. The reasons for this are many: the West has realized that it had been a mistake to indulge political Islam, extremist Sunni groups have been severely weakened, the West has had to stand up to Russia-Putin and defend Ukraine, Europe has confronted populist right-wing movements, the Shiite fanaticism represented by Iran and its proxies has been contained, and Jewish extremism in Israel is being pushed back.
The success of the coalition's response to the Iranian attack on Israel on one hand, and Israel's encirclement by belligerents on the other, will inevitably reflect on the Arab world. It must be built upon to create an Arab initiative focused more on politics than security. This effort must encapsulate all the diplomatic movements we have seen over the past six months and push for a two-state solution while simultaneously fortifying regional security through strategic cooperation among partners. Most importantly, it must reflect the moderation that has been chosen by most Arab states, at the forefront of which are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.
Without this coalition, Iran and the figures of tyranny and extremism will continue to sow unrest and conflict across the region, as well as create obstacles to peace, development, and cooperation.