March 4, 2024

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Fears of an all-out war in the Middle East rise with US military (Analysis)

Fears of an all-out war in the Middle East rise with US military (Analysis)

(CNN) — Attacks on US military and merchant ships, as well as frequent incidents involving Iran and its allies, are raising new fears that Israel's war in Gaza could escalate into a regional conflict with serious political and economic consequences.

The worsening situation is making for a tense holiday season for the White House, with U.S. service personnel at risk of fire and U.S. and its naval assets on high alert following multiple drone strikes.

The potential for mounting American casualties in the war and the deteriorating security situation from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, heralds a new and premature foreign crisis at the dawn of the year President Joe is re-elected. Biden. And it's becoming a petri dish for a new geopolitical trend: endless tests of America's will and the credibility of its adversaries and its proxies. Israel's warnings that its war against Hamas in Gaza could drag on for months have increased the chances of the war spiraling out of control, threatening to drag the United States further, despite US pressure to defuse the conflict.

A wave of alarming escalations

Initial fears of a regional war following a Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and an Israeli offensive against Gaza did not immediately materialize, despite limited exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon on the day. One of the hottest leads in the area.

But the pace of attacks and escalations in recent days appears to be gaining its own alarming momentum, fueling fears of a fresh rise in tensions.

Biden on Monday ordered airstrikes against facilities used by pro-Iranian militia Hezbollah fighters in Iraq, which the United States accused of using a drone to attack an airbase in Erbil, seriously injuring an American soldier. This is the latest attack by Iranian proxy groups against US forces in Syria or Iraq engaged in counter-terrorism operations.

US forces intercepted a barrage of drones and missiles launched over the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on Tuesday, the US Central Command said. The U.S. has previously said Iranian intelligence services actively helped plan attacks on merchant ships, leading some shipping companies to divert their ships to Africa instead of using the cheaper Suez Canal, raising fears for global supply chains. Iran has repeatedly denied its involvement.

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The geologic footprint of instability now stretches towards India after an Iranian attack drone struck a chemical tanker operating in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, 200 nautical miles off the Indian coast. Iran has repeatedly denied its involvement.

Iran and several of its allies have accused Israel of killing a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in an air strike on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Israel declined to comment on the allegations, but the IRGC threatened revenge for Razi Mousavi's murder, saying “the Israeli regime will undoubtedly pay the price for this crime.”

Consequences of a poor security situation

The series of new incidents highlights the possibility of a dangerous escalation of the war, reveals the extent to which US forces are directly exposed and helps explain Washington's urgent plea for Israel to escalate the war in Gaza.

Future incidents in which American soldiers are killed or naval assets severely damaged will leave Washington with no choice but to plunge back into the Middle East after the last three presidents tried to withdraw from the region.

Christopher O'Leary, the former director of hostage recovery for the US government, told “CNN News Central” on Tuesday that while the regional situation has not yet come close to worst-case scenarios, the potential for deterioration is always there.

“The war between Israel and Hamas is part of a broader plan of the opposition axis, an Iranian-controlled strategy to gain regional influence and power through support groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Qatayib Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis,” O'Leary said.

“So while there have been a series of attacks, they've been measured to some extent, including Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. But they're warnings of what's to come. If Iran really takes off the gloves and unleashes its militias in full force, we have a real regional problem, yes, for the U.S. military stationed in Iraq and Syria. against.”

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The situation for US forces in Iraq and Syria is particularly dangerous because they are in the territory of extremist groups loyal to Iran. Republicans have long accused Biden of not taking enough steps to prevent such adversaries, but the administration worked to prevent a tense moment from turning into a major war. The line between proportionate responses and effective deterrence is increasingly thin. The attack on the air force base raises the question of how the drone infiltration facility was. And now a deeper question is whether the recent US airstrikes, which Iraq called a hostile act, helped deter future attacks.

“I would say we're playing roulette and going after these organizations of militants and their leaders,” retired US Army Major Mike Lyons told CNN on Tuesday. “I don't think our deterrence allowed the Iranians to recognize that we were serious about this.”

Economic and military consequences

Given the critical importance of the Red Sea to global energy and commodity supply chain routes, an extended conflict could have painful economic consequences. The waterway is bordered by Yemen and Saudi Arabia to the east and Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt to the west. It empties into the Suez Canal in the Sinai Peninsula, which is owned by Egypt and borders Israel. The potential for disruption of the canal, which provides the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, came to light in 2021 when a ship got stuck on its stretch, causing global tremors.

Faced with the threat of drones and missiles to their ships and crews, many shipping companies have ordered their captains to take the more expensive and slower route around Africa. The potential economic disruption has prompted the United States to form an international coalition to protect merchant ships from Houthi attacks. The United States announced before Christmas that countries including England, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, and Seychelles have joined this alliance.

The Houthis have carried out at least 100 attacks against 12 different commercial and merchant vessels in the Red Sea over the past month, the week said, in “the most significant scale of attacks” recorded in at least “two generations”. Executed a senior US military officer.

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The potential for military action in the Middle East is something Biden, already heavily involved in trying to save Ukraine from Russian aggression, expects to have to deal with as he enters 2024. In a world that sometimes seems to spiral out of control, power could be politically damaging at a time when Biden is surrounded by approval ratings below 40%, dangerous territory for a commander seeking re-election.

The notion that Biden is unresponsive to challenges from America's adversaries is a narrative that Republicans are trying to reinforce in the minds of voters, and that, at 81, he won't accept a bid for a second term will fuel public concern.

Former President Donald Trump has ushered in a period of chaos and division at home and abroad during his first term, alienating the United States from its allies and trying to project an image of global disorder and disrespect for the United States 77 . The older man markets a vision of strong leadership. If the situation suddenly worsens, Biden has little room for political maneuvering against the GOP frontrunner.

This grim political reality was the backdrop for fresh talks between the Israeli government and the Biden administration on Tuesday. This comes after the US called for a de-escalation of the conflict after heavy fighting broke out between Israeli forces and Hamas forces in Gaza.

Ron Dermer, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's top confidants, met with White House and State Department officials. Netanyahu earlier visited troops in Gaza and declared that a “long fight” awaited him. For his part, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared that his country “is at war in many arenas, and we are being attacked from seven different sectors,” referring to Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Iraq, and Yemen. and Iran.

This is a scenario that America, and Biden in particular, cannot allow to become a long-term reality.