December 28, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

Will Iran escalate the conflict against Israel, US in the Middle East?

As Iran seeks to inflame borders around Israel and manage the conflict in the region, are concerns of wider war relevant?
December 28, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

Will Iran escalate the conflict against Israel, US in the Middle East?

As Iran seeks to inflame borders around Israel and manage the conflict in the region, are concerns of wider war relevant?

Iran is trying to manage the conflict against Israel in much the same way Israel sought to “manage” the conflict in Gaza over the last decade. What this means is that Iran seeks to bring the war to Israel’s borders but not escalate it into a massive conflict.

This can change depending on Iran’s calculations. For instance, the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Sayyed Razi Mousavi has led Iran’s regime into a state of fury and mourning.

Iran’s management of the conflict is designed to push its pawns and proxies closer to Israel’s borders. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, and militias in Syria are all part of Iran’s movement of pawns to threaten Israel and the US in the region.

This includes dozens of attacks on ships in the Red Sea, more than 110 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria, and hundreds of attacks by Hezbollah since October 7.

Iran is trying to reverse the “campaign between the wars” in which Israel was seeking to end Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Iran is trying to do to Israel what Israel was doing in the West Bank and Gaza.

This policy by Iran is not always clear and direct. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant this week said Israel was facing a multifront conflict, and he mentioned seven fronts. International media are now focused on what is perceived as an escalating and widening conflict.

“Biden struggles to contain Israel-Hamas war as conflict spreads on multiple fronts,” Voice of America news network reported.

CNN reported this week: “Fears are rising of a widened Middle East war, and US troops are in the firing line.”

Is the war escalating?

It is unclear what prompted sudden concern about a widened war. These articles and also the comments by Gallant indicate an increased focus on these concerns. In addition, the new US-organized task force to help secure shipping in the Red Sea is part of the shifting threat matrix in the region.

US airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah after an attack in Iraq are part of the same pattern.

Is this escalation, though? Iran has been escalating since October 7, and all of these attacks are linked to Iran.

Iran is managing these attacks, playing the region like one plays a piano, with each key being a different proxy group. Is this rising to a crescendo, or will the music continue?

These are key questions, and it remains to be seen if the music continues to play in the background or if there is widespread escalation on multiple fronts. Iran’s history of using proxies and managing conflicts shows it doesn’t prefer huge conflagrations.

It doesn’t want to sacrifice the proxies, and the proxies don’t have endless resources or armories.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power