Between War and Restraint: Iran's conundrum amidst the Gaza crisis

18 October 2023 | 12:42 Code : 2022523 Middle East General category
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
Between War and Restraint: Iran's conundrum amidst the Gaza crisis

(Image: IRNA)

  There are times in the life of every nation when it must make right choices when confronted with the questions of war and peace. This is unfortunately the situation that Iran finds itself today, in light of the on-going Israeli atrocities in Gaza and Iran's dire warning of a wider conflict. The severity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza presses against the conscience of every Muslim around the word, and more so in Iran which has a long history of firm commitment to the just Palestinian cause.

  Still, due to the direct involvement of US military power on the side of Israel, the correlation of forces in the region has tipped in favor of the Israeli forces poised to invade Gaza after throwing it back to the stone age with relentless bombardment. Iran's intention of deterring an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, although noble, is unlikely to succeed and by all indications the fate of Gaza in Israel's hands is sealed. Needless to say, Israel will pay a heavy price for this intervention, but the end result will not be in the interest of the Palestinian resistance, fighting an asymmetrical warfare with limited resources.

  So, if Iran's containment strategy has little chance of success and Israel will not be deterred from invading Gaza because of Iran's threats, then question is what should Iran do next? The answer by Iran's hard-liners appears to be straightforward: concerted effort with the allies in the region to roll back Israel's invasion of Gaza. But, realistically speaking, this strategy is doomed to fail because the balance of military forces does not favor Iran and the giant US military fire power will be deployed for action against Hezbollah and even Iran.

  Henceforth, if Iran makes good on its warning and sets aside its hesitation by getting involved as a stakeholder in the war, then it is abundantly clear that it constitutes a strategic miscalculation yielding negative results. This would be very bad for Iran's struggling economy and the price tag of the war will be astronomical. Not only that, this would freeze any foreign investment in Iran and lead to considerable capital flight, detrimental to the health of Iranian economy.

  In terms of the regional implications, such a development will cause a sea change in terms of regional balance of power detrimental to Iran's interests. If Iran and US go to war with each other, then it is a sure bet that Iran will inflict some damages to the other side but the upper hand would still belong to the adversary.

  Notwithstanding the above-said, there is no vital Iranian national interest at stake in this conflict, no matter how one interprets it. In the absence of national interests, it would be irrational to get involved and pay a huge price in terms of national interests. It is also against Lebanon's national interests and both Iran and its ally Hezbollah will most likely lose a lot and fail to gain anything tangible. This threat assessment should be taken seriously, for the sake of Iran's interests, which must be the sole compass guiding Iran's policy in these dark days in the history of Middle East.

  In conclusion, the above analysis does not advocate a policy of neutrality and simply calls for a great deal of self-restraint on Iran's part for the sake of safeguarding the county's interests. Otherwise, Iran will end up with an overcommitment to the issue with disastrous results. The first prerequisite for avoiding this scenario is indeed nothing short of dispensing with the illusion of containment. The related notion that if we do not stand up to Israel then we must fight it inside Iran's borders is also naive and overlooks that Iran can and should discontinue its incendiary rhetoric that for all the right reasons should remain as a paper commitment and not an actual one, impelling Iran into direct military action against Israel. That is a destructive temptation on Iran's part that needs to be dealt with immediately.

tags: gaza strip

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