Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 6 November 2023



Iran Might Have Miscalculated in Gaza


But so far, from a global perspective, the most important fact is that Iran isn’t getting what it wanted from the war. Iran’s objective in arming, training and encouraging Hamas wasn’t solely to cause Israel pain. The real goal was to disrupt the gradual deepening of the strategic ties between Israel and its most important Arab neighbors.

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The picture has been clear for some time to those not hypnotized by the condescending Iran apologists who lulled a generation of credulous Democratic foreign-policy officials into seeing Tehran as a possible American partner. Iran’s rulers, believing that controlling the Middle East’s energy resources and religious sites would make the country a world power, want to establish themselves as the dominant force in the region.

Sunni Arabs have long viewed Iran as a religious rival and a security threat. More recently, as Iran’s march to hegemony left a trail of ruined countries and bloody corpses, suspicion solidified into terror and loathing. Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria is responsible for many times more deaths and refugees than all the Israeli-Palestinian wars combined. Iran’s support for Hezbollah converted once-prosperous Lebanon into a poverty-stricken Iranian satellite. Tehran’s allies keep Iraq in a state of miserable unrest while Iranian support for Houthi forces in Yemen drove one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time.

We don’t yet know how closely Iran was involved in the planning and timing of last month’s attacks, but it’s clearer what the mullahs hoped the attacks would accomplish. At one level, Iran wanted to remind everyone how savage and powerful the country and its proxies have become. Terror serves Iranian state interests.

Beyond that, Tehran hoped to disrupt the emerging anti-Iran bloc in the Middle East. The idea was that Hamas’s dramatic attacks would electrify public opinion in the region against Israel, the U.S. and the Arab rulers willing to work with them. This, Tehran hoped, would drive a wedge between the Arabs and Israelis as Arab rulers sought to placate their angry publics by abandoning any plans to work closely with Israel.

So far, this plan has failed. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all signaled that they intend, once the storm has passed, to go on working with Jerusalem for a safer, more stable Middle East. Worse from Iran’s point of view, the Arabs are committing to a revived form of Palestinian governance that can exclude Iran’s proxies from both the West Bank and Gaza.

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This isn’t because the conservative Arab states love Israel or the U.S. It is because their survival requires checking Tehran.

This isn’t only about deterring Iranian aggression. It is about building a regional environment in which their countries can flourish. Arab leaders may not care for Western-style democracy, but they need to develop their economies. With populations and expectations rising, and with the long-term future of fossil fuels uncertain, the Gulf states need to do more than pump oil out of the ground.

Instead of dividing Israel from the Arab states, the Hamas attacks reminded sensible people across the Middle East how important it is to hold Iran in check. The Gulf states need stability, and Iran and its murderous proxies are mortal threats to the economic future that Arab rulers want and their people need.

The real question in the Middle East these days isn’t what Israel or Hamas will do next. It is whether Team Biden has finally awakened from its enchanted sleep. Does the White House understand that the Israeli-Palestinian problem, while real and consequential, pales before Iran’s unappeasable drive for power as the region’s leading cause of war and unrest? Has it learned that every penny that goes to the mullahs feeds their ambitions?

If so, better days are coming for a region that could use some hope. If not, the insane ambitions of a brutal regime will produce more horrors in years to come.

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