Iran and the (non) Palestinian cause

(To Germana Tappero Merlo)

The conflict in the Middle East, and for some time, has accustomed us to complex scenarios, in a sort of matryoshka wars, each containing others, from local to those at risk of global expansion. It is the most fought-over region in the world of the contemporary era and certainly the most articulated in terms of strategic ideological and economic interests, which are those that define the matryoshka dolls of many more recent conflicts, even beyond the Middle Eastern territory. In this region, however, and against the backdrop of the numerous wars since the birth of Israel in 1948, there has always been the Palestinian question, put aside in the last decade due to the war events in Syria and Iraq, and the violence of the self-styled state Islamic and its terrorism beyond that region. However, even if this latest war between Hamas and Israel has brought the unresolved question of a land/state for the Palestinians to international attention, in fact, and it would be good to be aware of this, this latest conflict is only a part, a harsh and bloody expression, of a decidedly larger war container, with numerous other conflicts within it, limited and apparently independent.

Because there is not only the armed war between Israel and Hamas: in the current Middle Eastern Matryoshka doll, the wars are above all political and there are, roughly speaking, at least three: the first is internal to Israeli society and concerns the future of the Territories and the recovery or the total abandonment of the “two-state” option for Israelis and Palestinians. Then there is the war between Israeli and Palestinian extremists over their respective long-term visions of the entire territory, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, which is either only Jewish (Jewish supremacists) or only Islamist Palestinian (Hamas); therefore, there is the latest political war, much broader, which concerns the defense of democratic values ​​and which involves on the one hand the United States, Israel and the moderate Arab states (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Bahrain) and, on the other, Iran and its regional acolytes1. Well, it is precisely Tehran and this last aspect that is responsible for what happened on October 7th and the start of this umpteenth Israeli-Palestinian war, with regional ramifications and with the risk of further expansion.

Once again, as before with the Arab-Israeli wars of the XNUMXth century, the Palestinian question was and is only a pretext for plans of broader strategic scope, once in the logic of powers typical of the Cold War, now in the chaos of a global disorder involving multiple subjects (USA, Russia and China) with strong repercussions in that region.

In practice, what numerous international observers are highlighting is that Hamas' cowardly attack on Israel and the current bloody and (predicted long-lasting) war must be configured as one among many in the long-term game of Iran's Axis of Resistance (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen) not for the cause, much less for the Palestinian state, but for an Iranian-led Islamic revolution from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

The central objective of this umpteenth Iranian-branded Islamic revolution is the well-known but underestimated affirmation in the region of the Shiite Crescent, a sort of band of security and protection of interests (ideological, energy and above all military) of the Shiite majority territories, from Tehran to Beirut, passing through Baghdad and Damascus, using its local vectors, the "3H", namely Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis.

The Shiite Crescent was, and remains, the general's plan. Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US drone on January 3, 2020 for purely "preventive" purposes2: precisely since then, attacks began against what remained of the American anti-ISIS contingent in Iraq and Syria - which currently numbers 2500 and 900 soldiers respectively - in a sort of uninterrupted conflict for years, at different levels of intensity.

If you persist in not considering Iran player strategy of this instability, we will never be able to arrive at any sort of truce for the Palestinians, much less a solution for Israel's security. Continuing to ignore this strategic project out of pure ideological position means perpetuating all the ongoing conflicts in the region and laying the foundations for further instability and new and bloody clashes. This, at least, is the awareness of numerous analysts also in light of the recent war incidents that occurred beyond Gaza, i.e. to the north, towards Lebanon, and to the extreme south of Israel (Negev, Eilat), and in Syria and Iraq, with attacks to US soldiers and facilities.

It is Tehran's goal to constantly keep Israel under pressure (Territories and nuclear), to make them fail Abraham Accords, creating fractures within the Sunni Muslim structure, counteract the presence of the United States in the region in every way and present Iran, as in fact happened with this war, thanks also to the skilful offensive media propaganda maneuver of the theocratic apparatus Iranian, as the only true defender of Palestine and its people. But it is only the pretext, because the aims are decidedly different.

It is no longer a mystery, despite official denials, that Iran arms, trains, supports and moves the 3H, its armed pawns, with around thirty militias throughout Iraqi territory, closely linked to the Iranian Pasdaran. Are the same kata'ib who have been protagonists, since 7 October, of 74 attacks with rockets and drones against US troops in Syria and Iraq, resulting in numerous injuries, and against which the Pentagon has responded, in a (at the moment) contained logic of tip for tat, with 4 air raids, killing around twenty militiamen. Added to this are the threats also from the sea and in the waters all around the Arabian Peninsula3. Ultimately, a continuous tension against the USA and Israel is inherent to this project of Islamic revolution that Iran is pursuing outside its borders.

Although the Palestinian Hamas is Sunni, it has in fact obtained supplies and training from Tehran for the sole purpose of involving it in this game with a Shiite brand, certainly in the long term against Israel, but also against the Western military presence in the region, in particular the US one, because the most powerful ally of the Jewish State. According to this plan, therefore, the United States and Israel must be dismantled, in two different ways: more than the direct armed clash with Washington, making its military presence in Iraq unsustainable and, on the other, erasing the Jewish state from the region. And to give a hand to Hamas, here is the use of other vectors, Hezbollah, Houthis and the kata'ib Iraqis who, in fact, control their country since the American withdrawal in 2011, not unlike the Revolutionary Guards in Iran.

Hamas shares with Hezbollah both the extreme ideology of Islamism and hatred for Israel, both deriving from their origins as radical political formations, which in turn arose from the end of the bipolar deterrence of the Cold War, but above all from lack of secular and moderate political forces, both in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, of which the heavy Lebanese economic and social crisis as well as the serious weakening of the PNA, long since ousted and delegitimized by the extremists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (this yes, Shiite) are clear evidence of this.

Then there are the Houthis from Northern Yemen, who have been an element of great instability for a decade in what, together with the Strait of Hormuz, is the most strategic region for maritime traffic and therefore for geopolitical balances, i.e. the western part of the entire Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the stability and security of merchant traffic moving in the Red Sea depend on it, as does the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, i.e. that bridge between Asia and East Africa (Somalia, Egypt, Sudan but also Djibouti) to be understood as a sufficient strategic element for Iran to sustain a decade-long, costly and bloody war from Yemen against the antagonistic regional power, Saudi Arabia. And the Iranian attacks, in recent years, on merchant ships of various flags, with an intensification in recent weeks against those owned by Israel, both in the waters around those straits, are significant regarding Tehran's true objectives4.

The final Iranian aims are, therefore, to create instability, difficulties in relations and movements between states, as well as to undermine the Abraham Accords, signed by Israel and some moderate Arab countries also with the aim of containing these Iranian aims in the region and beyond, to the point of wanting to undermine the already precarious relations between Israel and Russia.

In light of this brief and certainly not exhaustive examination of the balance of power in the Middle East, it is difficult to continue to believe that Hamas' criminal action is only pro-Palestinian cause. It is not at all self-contained. It is the internal part, as well as the last in time, of a long series of Matryoshka wars, now at risk of a wider, even regional explosion, in the name of the Islamist revolutionary project of the Shiite Crescent. Keeping the intensity of the conflict below threshold requires a lot of balance, because a revolutionary project and different visions of one's territorial and national destiny are confronted: extremist Islamist forces devoted to martyrdom against the Jewish determination to survive, to destroy Hamas, to demilitarize Gaza and to deradicalize all Palestinian territories. And this balance, at the moment, seems rather precarious for the two authentic, great antagonists of the war in Gaza, namely Israel and Iran, hence the risk of a perpetuation of Matryoshka wars even beyond that region.