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For over six months now, Israel has been not only at war in Gaza but also in a proxy conflict with Iran. In the early hours of Sunday morning, this proxy conflict for the first time acquired a direct character, after Iran executed its military operation True Promise.

Its genesis can be traced through a series of events observed over the past 10-15 years. During this period, Iran was successfully branded as Israel’s primary enemy in the Middle East, and fear of Tehran’s influence in the region was one of the reasons many Arab leaders reconsidered their relationships with Israel to counterbalance it.

Following the elimination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani in 2020, Iran adopted a new approach to confrontation with Israel. This process was encouraged by Israel’s signing of the Abraham Accords with several regional states and the warming of its relations with Saudi Arabia. As a result, the Ayatollah regime was forced to decentralize its proxies, providing them with more resources and autonomy of action.

Thus, since October 7, 2023, Israel has not only been fighting with Hamas but has also been engaged in an expanded regional conflict with other elements of Iran’s so-called Ring of Fire, consisting of five pressure points against Israel and its allies. In addition to Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, these include Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian militias in southern Syria, the Popular Front in Iraq, as well as the Houthis in Yemen, whose attacks on commercial ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait have caused significant economic damage.

Pressure through these proxies was a successful strategy for a long time, but after the gradual elimination of several senior Iranian military figures who coordinated these points, Iran was compelled to intervene directly in the conflict. However, the nature of Operation True Promise and the choice of its targets demonstrate Tehran’s reluctance to start a direct war. The goal of Iran’s actions was to prove that it exerts influence over the processes in the Middle East, making the attack more politically charged than an intention to inflict real damage on Israel.

However, it will become increasingly difficult for Iran to backtrack, and it faces quite a few challenges. The Revolutionary Guard is becoming increasingly isolated within Iranian society, and external war may lead to internal unrest. Tehran’s focus must also be partly kept eastward toward the refugee pressure from Pakistan. Another multi-billion-dollar loan from China does not appear to benefit the Ayatollah regime, and Beijing is unlikely to finance any potential military actions. Russia remains Iran’s only reliable ally in the current situation, but it will struggle to play a very significant role in this conflict. So far, Russia has successfully maneuvered its interests in the battle for influence between Iran and the Arab states, conducting arms and resource deals with both sides.

Furthermore, even if the attack serves the public image of the Ayatollahs, it is equally useful for Netanyahu. For him, this is an opportunity to reunite the war cabinet and retain in it the people who until recently called for new elections in the country. Before Israel attacked the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Netanyahu’s cabinet faced a serious crisis, largely caused by the lack of a solution to the most sensitive issue in Israeli society—namely, the hostages held by Hamas.

Netanyahu will have to face the difficult task of taming the far-right hardliners in the cabinet, including Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, especially considering that members of their parties months ago called for a strike with “tactical nuclear weapons” against Iran or their use in Gaza. Netanyahu’s role in softening their tone will be crucial—and while in the name of his political survival, he has often made compromises in their favor, it would be unacceptable for this to continue at the cost of direct war with Iran.

At the same time, the relationship between Netanyahu and Biden has led to compromising a significant part of the Israeli lobby in the Democratic Party. Additional tension arose from the recent abstention of the United States during the vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza—a formulation that the US had previously vetoed. Another sign of tension is the meetings held with opposition leaders Gantz and Lapid, considering Netanyahu himself hasn’t had a face-to-face conversation with Biden for months. All this indicates that Biden and the American Democrats have no desire to associate with Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is important to note that the confrontation between Israel and Iran will have direct political consequences for Washington, where serious criticisms from Republicans towards President Biden are already being heard. The latest trigger was his statement that the US would not participate in a retaliatory strike by Israel against Iran. Netanyahu has relatively successfully maneuvered his political survival not only in Israel but also in the context of the relations between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. Ironically, while he gains personal political benefit, Israel begins to lose bipartisan support from the US.

The golden ratio for non-interference and abstaining from biases was violated back in 2016 when Netanyahu supported Donald Trump. Israel’s strike against the Iranian embassy in Damascus two weeks ago aimed to attract precisely his attention. Netanyahu demonstrated his readiness to continue the work of the Trump administration by eliminating the second-ranking Revolutionary Guard figure in Syria after the late Soleimani—Mohamed Reza Zahedi. Netanyahu’s long game now is to accumulate political capital in the event of a Trump victory in the upcoming US elections. For this reason, Bibi bet on the “Iranian card” and forced Tehran to respond directly, rather than through proxies.

Another important development is how the blocking of resources for Israel and Ukraine by Republicans in the US Congress will unfold. In one scenario, current financial aid will be divided into two packages—one for Israel and one for Ukraine. Republicans indicate their readiness for such a move, but it will create a diplomatic problem for the US, as it will raise suspicions of double standards in assessing external threats to the West. In the second scenario, the package will remain unified and will be unblocked, reinforced, and voted on in its current formula. In this scenario, Biden will continue his foreign policy following the example of his predecessor Obama, in the spirit of Wilsonianism, as defined by Walter Russell Mead.

At the same time, the foreign policy strategy practiced by Democratic Party presidents, within which the US withdraws from problematic regions and strengthens local allies there, sometimes leads to contradictory results. Despite Washington’s reluctance to fully engage with what is happening in the Middle East, at this stage, it seems impossible to simply leave the region. The obvious reason for this is that current events in the Middle East are to a large extent a consequence of American presence there.

However, Washington has another ace that could lead to the desired results—bringing Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, into the equation. Their participation in a regional alliance openly limiting the Iranian Shiite crescent seems like the only way to de-escalate the conflict and resolve the Palestinian issue. Such an idea arose three weeks ago when President Biden mentioned indications of this from Riyadh.

All these developments, however, will unfold only after the next move of one person, Benjamin Netanyahu.

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