Fears of escalation in the Middle East despite indications that Iran does not want a major war

The Middle East is not surprised by a bomb explosion or rocket attack more or less. But American attacks on no fewer than 121 different targets within one weekend in three different countries – Iraq, Syria and Yemen – is exceptionally high even for this region. This does not take into account the ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the shelling between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Countries in the region that are still out of harm’s way are also starting to worry. “Such actions endanger the security and stability of the region and compromise efforts to tackle violence and extremism,” stated Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al-Busaidi, the Foreign Minister of Oman, in response to the US attacks in Syria and Iraq on Friday evening.

Also read
With delayed but ‘robust’ retaliation, Biden is performing a balancing act

That was before the Americans and the British carried out 36 attacks on the Houthis in Yemen, a neighboring country of the minister. According to residents, buildings in the capital Sanaa were shaking to their foundations as a result of the bombings. Spokespeople for the Houthis, who control most of Yemen, called the attacks the heaviest yet. It is not clear whether there were any casualties.


Since January 12, the Americans, British and some allies, including the Netherlands, have been carrying out attacks on Houthi missile launch sites in retaliation for their attacks on passing foreign merchant ships. The Houthis want to show solidarity with Hamas in its war with Israel in the Gaza Strip. With this they also hope to boost their popularity among the population.

The Houthis did not appear very impressed on Sunday – just as after previous attacks by the US and its allies. “These attacks will not deter us from our ethical, religious and humanitarian beliefs and we continue to support the resilient Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” said spokesman Yahya Sarea. A few hours after the attacks, the Houthis tried again to deploy an anti-ship missile, which the Americans foiled with a new attack.

Whether US retaliatory strikes on pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria will have more impact is equally questionable. At the funeral Sunday in Baghdad of sixteen members of Hashed al-Shaabi, one of the pro-Iranian militias hit by American bombs, warned Faleh al-Fayyad, the leader of the organization: “Anyone targeting Hashed al-Shaabi is playing with fire.” He urged Americans to leave the Middle East as quickly as possible.

Also read
The Gaza war is putting the entire Middle East on edge

The Gaza war is putting the entire Middle East on edge

Hashed and other militias are part of what Iran describes as the “Axis of Resistance,” a loose alliance of anti-American and anti-Israel groups that Tehran has created over the years in the Middle East. Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis are also included. From time to time they attack American forces in the hope that the US will eventually leave the Middle East. In this way, Iran could subsequently further increase its influence in the region.


Although Iran supports the various militias and supplies them with weapons, it is unclear to what extent Tehran also determines the militias’ decision-making. This vagueness suits Iran because it allows it to maintain that it is not directly involved in actions that irritate the US or its allies. According to most analysts, Iran shies away from a major, direct war with the US. But it cannot be ruled out that some militias sometimes act against Tehran’s wishes.

Iran itself has condemned the latest US attacks on Iraq and Syria and analysts point out that it has also made no new threats of counter-attacks. In recent days, Tehran also appeared to have warned the pro-Iranian militias to remain calm for the time being. Kataib Hezbollah, the group that the US says was behind the attack on a base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers, vowed on Tuesday not to attack the Americans again, according to the militia because it did not want to embarrass the Iraqi government.

Iran also seemed to slow down somewhat in Syria. The Reuters news agency reported last week that Iran had withdrawn dozens of senior officers and mid-level officers of its Revolutionary Guards from Syria, according to several sources. That step seemed mainly inspired by persistent Israeli deadly attacks on Iranian officials in Syria in recent weeks. The sources added that it could not be concluded that Iran would cease its support for President Assad’s regime in the future.