When the Iranian foreign minister invited people to a press conference in Lebanon, Hussein Amirabdollahian appeared visibly tense. Saturday's event takes place exactly one week after the massacres by the Islamist Palestinian organization Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, began in Israel, which set off a spiral of violence. Since then, the whole world has been looking at the Middle East region, where fears of an even greater escalation with unforeseeable consequences are increasing.
In Beirut, Iran's chief diplomat warns of an "earthquake" that the pro-Iranian Shiite organization Hezbollah could trigger if southern Lebanon enters the war. “Everyone has drawn up scenarios and everyone has their hand on the trigger,” says the minister. The bombing of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military must stop. Here, too, it is important to read between the lines: Iran, as a regional power, wants to speak for the interests of the Islamic world. Amirabdollahian says: "There is still the possibility for diplomatic measures, but tomorrow it will be too late."
“Mission Impossible” for the USA?
The USA also fears a wildfire in the region. And so the Iranian Amirabdollahian is not the only one traveling through the region. The USA is Israel's most important ally and supports the country with billions of dollars. The US government has tried to defuse the potential for conflict in the Middle East with peace treaties between Israel and Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan. And they miscalculated - at least for the time being.
“The Middle East region is calmer today than it has been in two decades,” said US President Joe Biden’s security advisor Jake Sullivan, just over a week before the massacre. This is where desire and reality diverge.
Biden sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to a Middle East mission after the attacks - first to Israel, then to Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. His job: support Israel in the fight against Hamas while at the same time keeping its allies in the Middle East in check to prevent a larger conflict. In the US media there was talk of a kind of "Mission Impossible" - an impossible task. As a deterrent, the USA moved warships to the eastern Mediterranean.
From Tehran to Beirut: Iran's "Axis of Resistance"
Just as the USA is now trying to bring its partners into line in the Middle East, Iran is also trying to exert its influence. Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian's visit to the Mediterranean country of Lebanon, which borders Israel to the south, is a clear sign.
The Islamic Republic is thus showcasing the influence it has built up over decades. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Jewish state has been considered the archenemy in Tehran. To understand today's potential for escalation, it is worth taking a look at the complicated alliances that Iran has forged in recent years.
One of Iran's most loyal allies is Hezbollah. The "Party of God" was formed in 1982 with Iranian support in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Since then, it has been fighting politically and violently against Israel; it is financed mainly from Tehran. Since the last war with Israel in 2006, it has massively expanded its capabilities. According to the latest estimates from the Israeli army, the organization has an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets. Tehran is also relying on political allies and support for Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria.
Protective power of the Palestinians - a fight for sovereignty of interpretation?
The Iranian leadership repeatedly threatens Israel with destruction. Head of state Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected direct involvement in Hamas' attack on Israel, but praised the attack. "We kiss the foreheads and arms of the imaginative and intelligent designers and the courageous Palestinian youth, we are proud of them," Khamenei said. "Of course, the entire Islamic world is obliged to support the Palestinians."
The Islamic world united against Israel? The opposite was the concern of Iranian officials in recent months. Reports of a normalization of relations between the Jewish state and Sunni Saudi Arabia caused nervousness in Tehran. After all, the feuding regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia announced in March that they would reopen embassies in each other's countries after years of diplomatic ice age.
Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, has been considered an important protecting power for the Palestinians for years. That's why attention turned to the Hamas attack and Israel's reaction to the Gulf state. How does Saudi Arabia react? In the meantime, the kingdom has put US-mediated talks on normalization with Israel on hold, as informed sources report. Iran has already declared the historical rapprochement that was thought possible to have failed. "That's completely off the table," said Amirabdollahian in Beirut.
Biden in a bind
This news is a blow for the USA - because rapprochement is exactly the policy that Washington has relied on in the region. And for Biden, the conflict is also a fine line, because one wrong step could have serious consequences. For the USA, it is self-evident that Israel must defend itself after such an unprecedented attack. The US President has made this clear again and again - it is almost a duty.
Nevertheless, the USA is concerned about the possible impending ground offensive. Biden has repeatedly indicated that Israel must now adhere to international law and keep the number of civilian casualties as low as possible. At the same time, he described Hamas' atrocities in graphic terms. Biden therefore sent his Foreign Minister Blinken to Israel with the order to warn the country to be careful.
Because the horrifying, almost unbelievable images coming out of Israel after the Hamas attacks are now followed by the images of killed civilians from Gaza. The US government's concern is that support for Israel could crumble - enemies of Israel such as Hezbollah could be even more encouraged to become part of the conflict.