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Will Israel start a regional war?

Photo: Ali Khamenei leads the funeral prayer for soldiers killed in the April 1 Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Credit: Wikipedia

Dramatic developments over the weekend have left people around the world asking themselves: Will there be a regional war in the Middle East? Right now, the top leaders of the Israeli government and military are debating whether or not to launch a major attack on Iran. This comes after Iran’s retaliatory strike on Saturday night that saw a wave of drones and missiles target military facilities inside of Israel.

The idea that Iran is the aggressor in this situation is an absurd reversal of reality. The strike was carried out in response to a brazen act of war on April 1 when Israel bombed the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria and assassinated a top Iranian military leader along with over a dozen others. Under international law, an embassy is considered the sovereign territory of the country that operates it, so this was effectively Israel bombing Iran itself. Iran had every legal and moral right to respond and acted like any other country would in the same situation.

It is of course impossible to predict what comes next. But for people who oppose Israel’s genocide in Gaza — or simply do not want to see a devastating regional war break out — it is important to understand the different players and the considerations that are guiding their actions.


The Israeli regime has not been able to achieve their stated war objectives: destroying the Palestinian resistance in Gaza and returning Israeli prisoners. Major internal pressure is mounting on Netanyahu as mass demonstrations denounce his government for its failure to make a deal for the prisoners’ release and opinion polls show the opposition would decisively win a new election. And Israel’s most important international alliance — with the United States — is under unprecedented strain as public opinion rapidly shifts in favor of Palestine, causing an electoral crisis for Joe Biden.

Under these circumstances, there is a logic for escalation. The longer the war lasts, the longer Netanyahu stays Prime Minister. If the war ends, an election is all but guaranteed, and Netanyahu is highly likely to lose power and face a number of criminal corruption trials. A regional war could allow him to redefine victory and gain more time for the far-right alliance he leads to regain their popularity. 

If a regional war breaks out, the United States would find it very difficult to stay out. The U.S. empire is locked in a long-term battle with an Iran-led bloc referred to as the Axis of Resistance, which opposes U.S. attempts to dominate the Middle East. In an all-out showdown between Israel and the Axis of Resistance (which includes parts of the Palestinian resistance), the Biden administration could calculate that a resistance victory would be so devastating to the standing of its empire in the region that they would feel compelled to more directly join in the fighting. 

However, there is another current inside the Israeli ruling establishment that argues against an escalation at this moment. The logic goes something like this: We have been profoundly isolated internationally since the genocide in Gaza began, even among our traditional allies. This is our chance to regain global support by posing as the victims of Iranian aggression and soliciting aid on that basis. Since the major western powers don’t want a regional war, they will offer us concessions in return for not launching another strike on Iran. So let’s focus on securing things like new sanctions on Iran, the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, and most importantly a new $14 billion round of military aid from the United States.

One other important factor is at play here: fascist parties in the ruling coalition. Netanyahu depends on the support of two fascist parties for his majority in parliament, and they are threatening to leave the coalition if Netanyahu “softens” his position on continuing the war until “final victory.” If this happens, snap elections would take place where Netanyahu’s defeat is highly likely. 


Defending the nation’s sovereign territory is a paramount responsibility of any government, as is protecting the nation’s leadership from assassination. Turning the other cheek was simply not an option considering how extreme the Israeli aggression was on April 1. Iran had to send a message that it was capable and willing to defend itself. Failure to do so would just invite more Israeli attacks.

At the same time, it was not lost on the Iranian government that an escalation is exactly what a faction of the Israeli government is seeking. Iran did not want to inadvertently give Netanyahu what he wanted, and subject its population to the devastation of all-out war in the process. The response needed to be carefully calibrated so that it demonstrated Iran’s resolve, but did not immediately spark a regional war. This is a similar tightrope to the one the Iranian government had to navigate in 2020 after the Trump administration assassinated top general Qassem Soleimani. 

Iran’s retaliation showcased the technological capacity that the country has gone to great lengths to develop in recent years. No other military operation in world history has involved this many drones. And Iran’s arsenal of advanced missiles is a key deterrent, capable of striking back not only at Israel but also the ring of Pentagon bases surrounding the country — which Iran said would be targeted if the U.S. joined in a subsequent Israeli attack. The strike had the effect of piercing the illusion inside Israel that they were immune from substantial retaliation, and raising the spirits of Palestinians who are in desperate need of support from the rest of the world. It also forced Israel and the U.S. to reveal valuable information about how their missile defense systems operate. 

While a formidable set of weapons were used in Iran’s retaliation, it was not a surprise attack. It was launched nearly two weeks after the embassy bombing, and Iran claims to have given regional governments a 72-hour notice that the counter-attack was coming. On the night of the retaliation, Iran announced that waves of drones were on their way hours before they arrived in Israel. This could be interpreted as indicating Iran’s desire to avoid doing any major damage that would play into Israel’s hands by providing a justification for a regional war.  

United States

The U.S. government has one fundamental goal guiding its actions on the world stage: ensure the domination of Wall Street and the Pentagon over the entire globe. For this reason, Israel is considered an invaluable tool for U.S. empire. Over the decades, it has proven the most reliable and aggressive opponent of any progressive or anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East. Israel is effectively one big U.S. base in the heart of the region. That’s why State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on Monday said U.S. support for Israel “is sacrosanct.”

In a high-stakes, direct confrontation between Israel and Iran, the U.S. government would want to avoid an Iranian victory at all costs. Iran has been a top target for regime change going all the way back to the 1979 revolution which deposed the country’s dictatorial U.S.-backed monarchy. If Iran and its allies in the Axis of Resistance prevailed in such a conflict over Israel, then it would be a historic defeat not only for the Israeli regime but also a massive blow to U.S. imperialism in the region that Washington may not be able to recover from.

At the same time, the mass movement in solidarity with Palestine has caused a profound political crisis in the immediate sense for the Biden administration. The enormous outpouring of support week after week in cities and towns nationwide, the massive movement to vote “uncommitted” in the Democratic primaries, and constant civil disobedience actions shutting down business as usual have piled tremendous pressure on Biden. Everyone recognizes that Biden’s support for genocide in Gaza could cost him re-election. These short-term electoral interests are colliding with the long-term interests of U.S. empire, and the ultimate outcome is of course uncertain. If the movement can step up this pressure, the discord within the U.S.-Israeli camp will intensify in a way that is favorable to the Palestinian struggle.

The U.S. military shot down dozens of the drones and missiles involved in the Iranian counter-attack, and junior U.S. partners Britain and France contributed as well. In this sense, they came to the aid of their key asset in the region — the Israeli apartheid regime — against their main enemy, Iran. The Biden administration then claimed this as a remarkable military victory, with the implication being that no further “retaliation” would be necessary from Israel. The Biden administration also said that it would not be part of any such “retaliatory” strike should Israel choose to carry it out. 

A regional war would be utterly devastating to the people of the Middle East. If Israel succeeds in provoking one, the death, suffering and destruction would be massive. There is only one way to remove the threat of such a war breaking out: End the genocide in Gaza. 

As long as Israel’s killing spree against Palestinians continues, the fighting could escalate uncontrollably at a moment’s notice. Anyone interested in peace should stand with the Palestinian people, demand an end to all U.S. aid to Israel, and the end of the occupation once and for all. 

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