by Vittorio Maccarrone

The start of the "new phase" of the war against Hamas, which "will be hard and long" in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could be another step toward regional escalation. The Jewish state's offensive in the Gaza Strip comes after weeks of Iran's threats against Tel Aviv and after intense Israeli air force bombings in the Palestinian enclave. In addition to rhetorical warnings, Tehran's proxies have fired dozens of rockets toward Israel's territory and against U.S. military targets deployed in the Middle East region. Following the surprising Oct. 7 terrorist attack by the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, inside Israel's territory, Iran increased pressure against the "Zionist enemy," immediately expressing support for Hamas' action, calling it a "proud operation"

Iranian dynamism

At the media and communication level, Iran immediately seized the opportunity to seize the scepter as Israel's antagonistic country, intesting itself the defense of the Palestinian cause and standing up as protector of the Islamic world against its arch enemy. On Oct. 25, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas deputy head of political affairs, Saleh al-Arouri, and the Palestinian secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhalah, met at an unknown location on the outskirts of Beirut: the iconic imagery of the meeting depicted the three leaders in a room with pictures of Iran's Supreme Guides, Ayatollah Khomeini and current leader Khamenei, hanging on the walls. The inevitable Israeli military response against military targets in Gaza-which has already resulted in thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths-has triggered the reaction of the Iranian leadership, which has raised the bar by threatening to strike directly at Israeli territory should the Israel Defense Forces (IDF, Tzahal) invade the Gaza Strip. Threats also came from Iran to the United States, in a crescendo of red lines that could reveal the willingness of the Ayatollahs' regime to proceed through escalation.

The role of Iranian proxies

Iranian proxies in the region immediately took action to put pressure on Israel after the Jewish state shelled Hamas positions in the Strip, also mowing down the civilian population, in the area with the highest population density in the world. Pro-Iranian Iraqi militias conducted several missile attacks using drones and rockets against U.S. military forces in the Middle East: in northeastern Syria (Kurdish-controlled area) and in Iraq, against star-studded soldiers stationed at Baghdad airport and Harir Air base. Between October 17 and 24, U.S. forces were attacked with suicide drones and rockets in Iraq and Syria at least 13 times, according to Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder. And as Hezbollah launched a barrage of missiles into northern Israel, a U.S. Navy ship intercepted rockets and suicide drones launched by Yemeni Houthis while in the Red Sea. If the attacks on Israel by Tehran's clientes serve to take the Jewish state's forces and attention away from the impending offensive in Gaza, the missiles against the U.S. military are intended to deter Washington from intervening in Israel's defense in the event of war against Tel Aviv. In a war spiral likely destined to inflame the region through a larger conflict. Indeed, it is true that Iran has a very close relationship with its proxies, but it does not control them directly. We do not know whether the Islamic Republic was aware of Hamas' plans and brutal assault on the State of Israel. But it was hardly its director. Tehran supports, finances and trains the militants of the Palestinian terrorist group.Hamas, however, was not created directly by the Iranian regime and enjoys a high degree of autonomy (in Syria, for example, while Iran propped up Bashar al-Assad, Hamas supported the opposition to the Syrian government). The same relationship is found with other proxies, from the Houthis to the plethora of pro-Iranian Shiite militias of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. With Lebanese Hezbollah, however, the connection is much closer.

Iran's momentary geopolitical success

Exhausted by the maximum pressure policy implemented by Donald Trump's government, strangled by the sanctions confirmed by the Biden administration, concerned about internal stability - and cohesion - Iran finds in Hamas' attack on Israel an opportunity to return central to Middle Eastern dynamics. In a perennial struggle for hegemony in the Region with the other state with an imperial vocation, Turkey, Tehran is using the escalating tensions between Gaza and Israel to achieve its geopolitical goals. Chief among them: to stymie Arab countries' rapprochement with Israel under the Abrahamic Accords and to freeze negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state to reach a historic peace agreement. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the IDF invasion of the Strip have already chilled this process, making the Persian empire an undoubted, if momentary, geopolitical success. The network of alliances between the United States and Arab countries, hinged in the Abrahamic Accords and normalization between the Arab-Islamic world and Israel, would mean a relevant step forward in the encirclement of Iran. Smothered by the resulting enemy control of the bottlenecks of the Stait of Bab el-Mandeb, the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal, the Islamic Republic would be confined to the continental hinterland between Afghanistan and Iraq, with the outlet of the port of Tartus in Syria - a country where the Iranian Pasdaran maintain a massive presence to give strategic depth, using Damascus as an outpost against Israel - in Russia's disposal. The only sea outlook would remain the Eastern Mediterranean with control over Lebanon through Hezbollah. In addition to recovering pan-Islamic afflatus, it is Iran's strategic imperatives that cause the Ayatollahs to signal to the U.S. and Israel their readiness to proceed with escalation.

Israel and Iran: threat of escalation

The escalation of violence in the Middle East does not seem likely to stop. Israel's "expansion of ground operations" in the Gaza Strip is helping to fuel a spiral of war that could involve other countries in the Middle East region. Israeli apparatchiks do not know how to unravel the strategic dilemma: if the government does not authorize an unprecedented operation in Gaza, the Jewish state would permanently undermine its deterrence. At the same time, Tzahal could yes decimate Hamas fighters and military posts by invading the Strip, but it would certainly not eliminate the ideological background, rooted in the Palestinian population, that animates Hamas fighters. The risk of a re-run of the failed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is high, with the added problem of causing a very serious humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians.

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On the other hand, if Israel attacked Gaza, Iran could respond, proving that its threats against Tel Aviv in recent days were not a bluff. Very risky move, not least because Iran fears a direct conflict with Israel and the United States. For in that case, Israel would be protected by the American defense systems and naval ships that are coming in force to defend Israeli cities-Washington convinced Israel to postpone its invasion of Gaza precisely to allow its aircraft carriers to reach outposts in the Middle East and thus shield Iran and proxy attacks. Biden and the State Department thus find Iranian threats credible and attempt to inject all their military credibility into this pre-war situation to deter Israel's enemies from attacking a state with - undeclared - nuclear capabilities. Israel and Iran are thus in a delicate situation: the two countries have set respective red lines whereby, if crossed, they might decide to take military action against each other. In a regional spillover of unpredictable consequences.

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A journalist and geopolitical analyst, he works for a communications agency and writes for "Il Caffè Geopolitico." He previously had experience with Mediaset, Institute for Cultural Relations Policy (Hungary) and European Public Law Organization (Greece). Master's degree in "World politics and international relations" (University of Pavia) with a master's degree in Journalism (Catholic University of Milan).