Home News As Iran attacks, Arab states fear expanding conflict

As Iran attacks, Arab states fear expanding conflict

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Arab states from the United Arab Emirates and Oman to Jordan and Egypt have been trying to quell the conflict between Israel and Hamas for months, especially after it expanded to include armed groups backed by Iran and reaching deep into the Arab world. Some of these groups, such as the Houthis, also threaten Arab governments.

But weekend Iranian drone and missile attacks on Israel put the entire region on alert, making a new reality inevitable: Unlike past Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, even those involving Israel and Lebanon or Syria, this one is ever-expanding.

“Part of the reason these wars have been contained is because they are not direct confrontations between Israel and Iran,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “But now we are moving into a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. In an era of confrontation – which could drag the region into conflict, which could also drag the United States into conflict – the prospect of regional war will now always be on the table.”

Jost Hiltmann, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Crisis Group, said the only countervailing force at the moment is that both the United States and its old enemy Iran want to avoid a wider conflict.

“I’m encouraged that the only ones who want war are Israel and Hamas,” he said. “The Iranians are still talking to the Americans,” he said, referring to messages sent between the two countries in recent days by intermediaries such as Switzerland and Oman.

Hiltmann said the message from Iran was clear that they wanted to demonstrate their power rather than expand the war. “They said, ‘There will be attacks, but we will limit them.'”

Still, for citizens of Arab countries, many of whom witnessed dozens of drones and missiles streaking across their skies on Saturday, the desire to avoid a wider war is in their future A thin thread. Frustration over the attack was evident in many public and private comments, even as others celebrated it.

Officials and analysts in the region are divided over whether Iran’s attacks will prompt countries with long-standing ties to the United States to push for more engagement and security assurances from Washington or to keep their distance to ensure they are safe from an Iranian attack. Iran itself.

Most urged a de-escalation of tensions in the strongest possible terms. The only exceptions in the Arab world are northern Yemen, where the de facto Houthi government has close ties to Iran, and Lebanon, home to the Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah.

Oman said an immediate ceasefire was crucial in the half-year-old war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Kuwait “stresses the need to address” the root causes of conflict in the region.

Saudi Arabia, which has sought to forge relatively warm ties with Iran since the two countries re-established diplomatic ties last year, has said it is “extremely concerned” about the dangerous effects of military escalation in the region. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement asking all relevant personnel to “exercise maximum restraint and protect the region and its people from the danger of war.”

Even before the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel triggered the war in Gaza, Arab states were adjusting their geopolitical relationships.Their concern is that they may no longer be able to count on the U.S. government’s growing focus on Asia Iran-backed armed groups Becoming more and more active.

Leonard Mansour, a senior fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program, said uneasiness among Arab leaders has only intensified as Israel attacks Gaza, with the United States justifying the attack but their own citizens But I feel disgusted.

For Saudi Arabia, this means establishing diplomatic relations with Iran despite their deep-rooted animosity and contradictions. attack Just in 2019, Iranian missiles attacked Saudi infrastructure. Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Iran is driven by China, which has recently worked to expand its influence in the region. Many Arab countries have turned to China for business and diplomatic ties.

Then the war in Gaza began, drawing the Gulf states, as well as Egypt and Jordan, more directly into the dynamics of a conflict they were desperate to avoid.

Now, Jordan finds itself shooting down an Iranian missile and then being accused of defending Israel. Israel’s military attacks on Gaza, often accused of being indiscriminate, have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were women and children. About 1,200 Israelis were killed in Hamas attacks.

Jordan’s government came under heavy criticism at home and from its Arab neighbors on Sunday for shooting down at least one Iranian missile aimed at Israel. Jordan’s former information minister Samih al-Maaytah defended the decision.

“Jordan’s responsibility is to protect its land and its citizens,” Mr. Maita said. “What Jordan did yesterday was just to protect its airspace.”

He also said, “Jordan’s position on this conflict is that it is a conflict between two parties with relevant influence and interests: Iran and Israel.”

While the Gulf states’ oil exports have been largely immune to attacks as they travel through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, Houthi attacks on shipping routes there – linked to the Gaza war – have increased costs and heightened tensions.

It is unclear whether the conflict between Israel and Iran will further exacerbate Israel’s relatively new ties with some Arab countries. Those ties have cooled since the Gaza war began, but none of the Arab governments that have recently forged ties with Israel appear ready to abandon them entirely.

Two of the signatory countries Abraham Accords United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalize relations with Israel in 2020, under certain circumstances stopped Since the war in Gaza began, they have either engaged in business dealings or publicly distanced themselves from the country. Saudi Arabia, which has been exploring the possibility of normalizing diplomacy with Israel, insists any deal would need to create an “irreversible” path to a Palestinian state, which is unlikely to happen in Israel’s current political climate.

Analysts say the alienation is likely to continue, but so far no country has severed ties with Israel or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, ruled out the possibility entirely.

One reason Saudi Arabia is keeping its future relationship with Israel open is that now more than ever the Saudis want U.S. security guarantees in the event of an Iranian attack, said Yasmine Farooq, a nonresident scholar at the institute explain. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a research group in Washington.

“What the West, led by the United States, did yesterday to protect Israel is exactly what Saudi Arabia itself wanted,” Ms. Farooq said.

She added that despite Saudi Arabia’s historical hostility to Iran, the Saudi public’s hardline attitude toward Israel and the United States over the Gaza war was changing the Saudi leadership’s calculus. Their focus now is on pushing the United States to force Israel to end the war.

Perhaps the most striking development in the region is the growing push by some Arab states to work out a diplomatic solution to avoid the region sliding into a wider war.held in arab countries a meeting in Riyadh in November to discuss how best to use their influence to stem the conflict.

Behind the scenes, Qatar and Oman have become increasingly active in seeking a ceasefire in Israel and reviving diplomatic efforts between Iran and the United States to prevent the outbreak of a wider, destabilizing conflict.

Qatar’s close ties with Hamas, Iran and the United States give its ministers and senior officials a key role in shuttle diplomacy. Oman has become a conduit for information transfer between the United States and Iran. Senior Iraqi security officials and senior U.S. government officials in Washington said that just in the past few days, Washington had communicated with Tehran via messages from Oman and Switzerland. Not authorized to speak publicly.

Ms. Slim, of the Middle East Institute, said the new question was which country could act as a middleman and negotiator between Israel and Iran.

“The rules have changed, the red lines have changed and they need to be able to communicate,” Ms Slim said.

Wydah Saad and Eric Schmidt Contributed reporting.

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