Is Middle East on the brink of a major war?

Alarming developments in the Middle East remind us of the likelihood of conventional warfare on a cataclysmic scale in the region.

Israel and Iran have traded blows for the very first time.

After 20 Iranian rockets were fired from Syria at military positions held by the Jewish state on the Golan Heights, Israel responded by launching dozens of missiles at Iranian forces in Syria.

They hit a radar station, air defences and an ammunition dump — killing at least 23 people.

Iran’s rockets — fired by the Quds Force, a wing of the Revolutionary Guards — either fell short of their targets or were knocked out by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defence system.

This is not all-out war, but it certainly takes us to the brink.

In the Middle East, two major conflicts have been simmering side by side for years — the Arabs versus the Israelis, and the Shi’ite Muslims against the Sunni Muslims.

Iran, which is not an Arab nation, is the chief Shi’ite power. Since the revolution of 1979 which over threw the pro-Western, modernising Shah and imposed the harsh religious rule of the Ayatollahs, it has been spreading radicalism. The regime detests the West: it refers to America as the Great Satan, and Britain as the Little Satan.

Tanks are deployed near cows close to the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10.
Israel's army said today it had carried out widespread raids against Iranian targets in Syria overnight after rocket fire towards its forces it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies. Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets, either Fajr or Grad type, were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights at around midnightTanks are deployed near cows close to the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10.

Iraq is dominated by Shi’ites, as indeed is Lebanon after Hezbollah, the para-military party allied to Iran and which loathes Israel, won this month’s general election.

The Ayatollahs in Iran back the Syrian government of Bashar al- Assad. Surrounded by hostile pro-Western nations, Iran needs all the allies it can find to help protect its regional interests.

Support for Syria also allows it to station forces far to the West of its own borders — closer to the Mediterranean, in fact, than it has been since the days of the Persian empire 1,400 years ago.

A UN soldier from the United Nations Disengagement Forces loads his machine gun as he stands watch near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, on May 10A UN soldier from the United Nations Disengagement Forces loads his machine gun as he stands watch near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, on May 10
An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on May 10. Israel's army said today it had carried out widespread raids against Iranian targets in Syria overnightAn Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on May 10.
A mock road sign for Damascus, the capital of Syria, and a cutout of a soldier, are displayed in an old outpost in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights near the border with SyriaA mock road sign for Damascus, the capital of Syria, and a cutout of a soldier, are displayed in an old outpost in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights near the border with Syria
An Israeli soldier climbs on a multiple rocket launcher vehicle, near the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10. Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets, either Fajr or Grad type, were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights at around midnightAn Israeli soldier climbs on a multiple rocket launcher vehicle, near the Syrian border in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on May 10.
Lebanese soldiers inspect remains of a surface to air missile that landed in the southern Lebanese village of Hebarieh, early on May 10.
Dozens of rockets were fired from Syria on the Israeli-occupied Golan overnight, a war monitor said, without confirming Israeli reports they were fired by Iranian forcesLebanese soldiers inspect remains of a surface to air missile that landed in the southern Lebanese village of Hebarieh, early on May 10.

Those forces, as we are seeing, are within easy striking distance of Israel. But that’s only half the story. Tensions are also at breaking point between Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni country. The two nations have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen, with the Iranian-backed forces enjoying most of the success.

However, it is Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states which control a majority of the region’s colossal oil resources. Now, many hardliners in Tehran are saying that, with Iran’s superior military power, it could seize those oilfields if they wanted.

And the ultra-hardliners in Tehran, who are even more numerous, welcome that plan because it would inevitably bring America and its allies into a war they believe Western nations wouldn’t have the stomach to fight.

With such immense conventional forces arrayed on both sides, Iranian military planners believe the result would, in all probability, be a stalemate. While Iran would be prepared to take hundreds of thousands of casualties, they are betting that the Western allies would not.

An image released by the government-affiliated 'Central War Media' in Syria purportedly shows Syrian air defence systems intercepting Israeli missiles over Damascus' airspaceAn image released by the government-affiliated ‘Central War Media’ in Syria purportedly shows Syrian air defence systems intercepting Israeli missiles over Damascus’ airspace

 

That, bizarrely, would be seen in the Middle East as a win for Iran. If the Great Satan cannot overcome its enemy, its enemy is victorious.

Trump hopes that by reimposing sanctions, he will force the Ayatollahs back to the table — and this time they will agree not only to cancel their nuclear weapons programme but also to cut back their conventional military forces and to withdraw from Syria.

That’s the goal, but the difficulties with the plan are twofold. Firstly, with America ending the trade deal, in economic terms Iran has nothing left to lose.

In theory, it can still deal with Europe (which continues to support the 2015 deal): in practice, it can’t buy any items that rely on U.S. digital technology, such as the Airbus planes it dearly desires, and it can’t borrow from international banks that have dealings with America (which means all international banks).

Secondly, Iran is not a one-man dictatorship. Power is shared between religious, political and military leaders, all of whom are competing to prove they are more hardline than the next, all of them convinced America isn’t prepared for a ground war fought to the last man.

It’s true that the U.S. does not want to commit ground troops. Israel, too, is anxious to avoid fighting with tanks and assault rifles against an enemy with long experience of guerrilla warfare.

Whatever happens, we are closer to open war between Iran and Israel, with the Saudis and U.S. potentially being drawn in virtually from the start, than we have ever been.

Is there any chink of hope? Curiously, there is and it comes from an improbable source. Russia, which has been so belligerent over Ukraine and Syria, does not want to see Iran dominate the Middle East where it now has significant interests.

Strange as it may seem, because he can talk to all sides, Putin could be the leader who can avert a Third World War.

Source – Mail Online

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