The Middle East may be on the brink of a regional conflict involving Iran | ABC au

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The Middle East may be on the brink of a regional conflict involving Iran | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by Adam Harvey for ABC Australia.

The latest round of attack and response in the Middle East that threatens to push the region into a broader war has a common element: Iran.

Missile and rocket attacks in the first weeks of 2024 in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, the Red Sea, Yemen and now Pakistan, all involve Iranian proxies or allies, or increasingly, Iran itself.

The Iranian missile strikes on northern Iraq and Pakistan represent a shift in Iran’s decades long strategy of “forward defence”, by fighting through proxies, and not getting directly involved.

Middle East analysts say the new tactics could come at great cost to Iran, and the region.

“More and more we see Iran embroiled in confrontation, and more and more, we see Iran also suffering attacks,” Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, from Deakin University, said.

“The tensions are very high, and there’s very high risk of even further escalation.”

“We’re in the middle of a regional war,” Sami Nader, from the Universite Saint Joseph in Beirut, said.

“It’s true that it’s still low intensity, but all the region is going through an escalation.”

Iran’s leaders have been under pressure since anti-government protests erupted in 2022, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was detained for breaching hijab rules.

Then on January 3, an Islamic State attack in Kerman, Iran killed around 100 people. It was the worst terror attack inside Iran in decades.

“This does raise the pressure on Iran’s authorities,” said Professor Akbarzadeh. “It makes them even more concerned about their survival. And it does then lead to decisions that are not very sound.”

Soon after the Islamic State attack, Iran launched missiles at separatist groups based in Pakistan.

“The fact that Iran violated Pakistani sovereignty for terrorist targets is an indication that they are not thinking things [through]properly,” Professor Akbarzadeh said.

“Pakistan is a nuclear power. Pakistan has a very capable military force and army and air force. So raising tensions with Pakistan really is playing with fire.”

Iran ‘walking on the edge’

Iran also recently launched missiles at Erbil, in northern Iraq, supposedly targeting an Israeli spy base.

This attack backfired because it jeopardised Iran’s own interests, says Israeli analyst and author Avi Melamed.

“It resulted in further fuelled tensions between the Iraqis who oppose the Iranian influence, and the Iraqis who are basically affiliated with Iran,” he said.

“Iraq is enormously significant for Iran, because Iraq, to a large extent, is Iran’s lungs, meaning the Iraqi market is a major target of Iranian products. We are looking at some $US20 billion ($30 billion) trade.”

In the Red Sea, attacks by Iran’s Houthi allies have successfully disrupted container shipping, supposedly to show support for Palestinians in Gaza.

But this Iran-backed action, too, has the potential to spiral out of control. The US and the UK, with logistical support from Australia, have launched air strikes at the Houthis.

“Iran does not want all out war. It is escalating, it is walking on the edge, because it wants its share,” Mr Nader said.

“It wants to prove that it is a major actor in the region.”

Over the weekend, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq fired rockets at a US base, and Israeli missiles hit Damascus, reportedly killing four members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, including a commander.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Israeli military have been trading fire across Israel’s northern border since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

So far, that conflict has stayed relatively contained – although tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border have evacuated the conflict zone.

“Iran is measuring its responses, kind of tit for tat responses,” Mr Nader said.

“That said, any miscalculation is possible. That tit-for-tat game is increasing in intensity, which increases the risk of miscalculation, and the risk for everyone sliding into a full-scale war.”

Potential for ‘regional war’

US analyst Aaron David Miller says if the Israel-Hezbollah conflict escalates it “could make Gaza look mild by comparison”.

“You’re going to end up with Hezbollah using their high trajectory weapons that cover most of Israel,” he said.

“Hundreds of Israelis will be killed, the Israelis will pre-empt or respond against Lebanese infrastructure, against the south, against Southern Beirut, where Hezbollah headquarters are, thousands of Lebanese may die,” Mr Miller told 7.30.

He said such a conflict could soon involve US and Iran’s Houthi allies, in the Red Sea.

“It would not surprise me, if during the course of this conflict, you saw Israeli and or American strikes against Iranian assets in the Gulf, or Iran proper, which would obviously mean a missile response by Iran, probably against the Gulf and Israel,” he said.

“That’s a regional war. That’s something the Middle East has never experienced.

“It would result in spiking oil prices and plunging financial markets and a real catastrophe.”

The Middle East may be on the brink of a regional conflict involving Iran | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by Adam Harvey for ABC Australia.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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