The Israeli prime minister’s persistent obsession with the Islamic Republic may finally drag the US into another disastrous regional war.
By Marwan Bishara
Published On 9 Oct 2023
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent the past three decades sounding the alarm about Iran’s nuclear programme and threatening to attack the country on countless occasions. Most recently in September, he said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly that Tehran must face a “credible nuclear threat” before his office corrected the record to “credible military threat”.
After Hamas’s attack on October 7, Netanyahu may finally be able to act on his threats. The gruesome scenes in southern Israel have provided the Israeli prime minister with the necessary pretext and international backing for a wider response.
Netanyahu has both a political and a personal stake in all this. A drawn-out regional conflict would block or at least postpone any official accountability for his utter failure to prevent Hamas’s attack from happening in the first place and could also put his multiple indictments on corruption charges on an indefinite hold.
Overnight, he transformed from a failed and embattled prime minister to a wartime leader, with opposition parties clamouring to join him in a national unity government.
He declared war and ordered an immediate retaliation against Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza. The Israeli army unleashed a vicious campaign of bombardment on the overpopulated Gaza Strip, killing more than 500 people, and preparing for a potential land invasion.
Netanyahu has not elaborated on the next phases of the war, but he has received the unconditional support of Western governments to do what it takes, as long as it takes, to “defend Israel”. The administration of US President Joe Biden has gone even further, providing Israel with more arms and ammunition, dispatching its most modern and sophisticated aircraft carrier, the Ford, along with a number of destroyers to the Eastern Mediterranean, and beefing up other forces stationed in the region, enough to start World War III.
Biden’s motivation for the escalatory deployment is, reportedly, strategic deterrence, meant to ensure that “no enemies of Israel can or should seek advantage from the current situation”. But historically, Israel has never allowed any foreign boots on its soil, and is in no need of the US armadas to take on Hamas.
Biden’s incentive, therefore, could also be political, ie to ensure that the GOP doesn’t exploit the Israeli drama at his expense ahead of the presidential elections in 2024. Already, Republican opponents have tried to link Biden’s recent prisoner swap deal with Iran, which involved the unfreezing of $6bn in Iranian assets, to the Hamas attacks.
But Netanyahu and his fanatic ministers may have something very different in mind for the US deployment, that goes beyond military deterrence and political posturing. He may try to widen the scope of the war to include Iran.
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