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Iranian retaliation compounds Mid-East tangle

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Israel coming under drone and missile strikes from Iran.

The world’s bewilderment over escalating tensions in the Middle East was further aggravated when Iran unleashed an astonishing number of drones and missiles into Israeli territory over the last weekend. The retaliation by Iran has taken the international community by storm but where does the world go from here in terms of conflict resolution and peace-building in the war-ravaged Middle East?

Humanity is living in a most dangerous moment and instinctive and mindless revenge attacks by antagonists are not going to elicit a positive answer to the above question, which should be the primary preoccupation of all thinking persons. It is most apt right now to reflect on the disastrous impact that retaliatory, revenge strikes among warring parties could have on their clarity of thinking and rationality.

Antagonists who see armed confrontation as an effective means of delivering them from complex, bilateral and international hostilities and tensions would do well to revisit the World Wars of the century past and recall to mind how purely emotional reactions by powers to actions by their rivals, plunged the world into ineffable murderous violence that sent millions of people to their graves.

The World Wars establish very clearly that rationality on the part of conflicting powers cannot be taken for granted by the world. In fact, rationality is a principal casualty in war.

Israel, at the moment, has chosen not to react impulsively to the Iranian revenge strike and sensible sections the world over are likely to hope that this stance by Israel would prove enduring. In all probability, rational sections would be wishing that both sides would give dialogue and negotiations a try.

The world has proof that emotion rather than rationality guides national leaders at a time of war in the reported response of the Chancellor of the German Empire in 1909, T.T. F. Alfred von Bethmann Hollweg, to the question, ‘How did World War 1 begin?’ He apparently said despairingly: ‘Oh, if I only knew.’

Moreover, some historians see the outbreak of World War 1, which claimed millions of lives as ‘A tragedy of miscalculations’, brought about by the emotionality of the relevant world powers. However, the world paid very dearly for such muddle-headedness, as is known.

These peeks into history, it is hoped, would enable the principal antagonists in the Middle East of today and their allies to pause awhile and reflect on the possible grave consequences of their acts of commission and omission.

At the moment, emotion rather rationality seems to be ruling both Israel and Iran. For example, what prompted Israel to attack an Iranian diplomatic institution in Damascus on April 1st? On the other hand, did not the Iranian authorities ponder long and deep before raining drones and missiles on Israel a week later? Such precipitous actions on the part of both players are ample proof that emotion rather rationality is egging them on.

While it is hoped that diplomacy would be given a chance in the Middle East, past experience establishes that Israel is unlikely to refrain for long from unleashing retaliatory strikes against Iran in the days ahead.

If such strikes come to pass, the Middle East cannot be prevented from collapsing into a state of war on account of the possibility of the conflict dragging in the respective allies of the principal warring parties. But as matters stand, a region-wide war is not immediately possible considering that Iran did not have the unanimous backing of its immediate neighbours when it launched last weekend’s retaliatory strikes against Israel. Jordan, for instance, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the US and the UK in defusing Iranian missiles.

Much will depend on whether the US could prove a moderating influence and prevail on Israel to refrain from further provoking Iran. Israel should be compelled by the US to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ and ascertain the consequences that its military actions could have for regional stability and eventually international peace and security.

While the US could be expected to rein-in Israel in the short term, there is no counterpart to the US among Iran’s closest allies at present. If Iran insists on following an adversarial course of action against Israel and those states in the region that it sees as hostile to it, there would be no external restraining arm on it. In such an event, the Middle East could be taken to the brink of an all-out war.

However, in the case of a regional war, the balance of power would be more in favour of Israel in view of the fact that it would be having the backing of the US and by implication, almost the entirety of the NATO bloc.

On the other hand, although Russia and China are seen as Iran’s allies, it is unlikely that they would staunchly back Iran in a regional military conflict, considering that Russia and China could stand to lose much rather gain anything substantial by throwing their weight behind Iran.

For instance, there would be much to lose in economic terms for Russia and China in a confrontation of this kind. Iranian arms and oil, for example, would be minor gains for Russia and China when considering the economic growth prospects they would be compelled to forego in the case of war and instability.

The big powers, therefore, would do well to sue for peace in the Middle East. Peace would serve the best interests of the powers concerned as matters stand. This is a time of severe test of the big powers’ diplomatic skills.

However, the road ahead is bound to be hazardous. With Rightist, conservative governments wielding power in both Israel and Iran, peace-making is bound to be exceptionally grueling. There is little doubt that both regimes would be making costly compromises with the Hawks in their countries.

Such Hawkish sections would be calling raucously for war and the need for political survival is bound to compel the regimes concerned to sue for war rather than peace. But of the two sides, Israel could be expected to be more restrained than Iran. This is on account of the fact that the Iranian regime depends considerably on conjuring-up the existence of external and internal enemies for the purposes of rallying its domestic support base behind it and remaining intact. Thus, while Israel is Iran’s foremost international enemy, domestic democratic forces are quite a worry for Iran’s religious fundamentalist rulers.

The same strictures apply to Israel to a great extent but the degree of its dependence on the West is such that the latter could be expected to keep Israel in check in at least the short term.

Right now, it is only enlightened diplomacy by the world community, ideally under the UN, that could bring some respite for the world from its Middle East-based anxieties. The time could not be riper for rational international dialogue.

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