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Warmongering by Iran and its proxies distracts from Gaza carnage

Supporters of pro-Iran factions wave various flags in Baghdad's Tahrir square on January 13, 2024. (AFP)
Supporters of pro-Iran factions wave various flags in Baghdad's Tahrir square on January 13, 2024. (AFP)
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15 Jan 2024 04:01:19 GMT9
15 Jan 2024 04:01:19 GMT9

Amid the fog of the Gaza conflict, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency warn that Iran has increased threefold its enrichment of uranium to near bomb grade.

France’s UN ambassador and US intelligence officials warn that Tehran is “a couple of weeks or so” from the final stage of enrichment of sufficient uranium for three nuclear weapons. This is a stark turnaround from a few months ago, when the US complacently believed it had reached a deal with Iran to curtail enrichment.

Tehran is meanwhile using its regional proxies to exacerbate conflict. My book published two years ago about Iran-backed transnational factions — “Militia State” — warned of the risks of allowing paramilitary entities to become established at major global economic chokepoints such as Bab Al-Mandab, the Strait of Hormuz, the eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf headwaters. As a result of Houthi attacks on shipping, Red Sea trade is down by around a third, seriously disrupting the global economy, with Arab states among the most affected.

Although British Foreign Secretary David Cameron argued that not acting would be accepting that such attacks could “virtually shut a vital sea lane with relative impunity,” the US and UK airstrikes strikes left at least 75 percent of the Houthis’ missile-firing capabilities intact, with Western intelligence struggling to identify further viable targets. In any case, Tehran has always been quick to resupply its proxies — in full view of US spy satellites — and the Houthis are battle hardened by decades of conflict.

The Biden administration’s delisting of the Houthis as a terrorist group is evidence of the chronic absence of strategic thinking that has plagued successive US administrations for decades. Largely symbolic retaliation by the West plays into the Houthis’ hands by raising their regional profile. A multinational coalition has been put together to protect shipping and counter the Houthi threat. The only Arab participant with observer status is Bahrain, which has long hosted the US Fifth Fleet.

Last week the spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah faction in Iraq, Jafar Al-Husseini, threatened US bases throughout the Gulf region with attack, and Hashd Al-Shaabi militants have already staged dozens of attacks against US positions in Iraq and Syria, with escalating patterns of US retaliation. “We’re not interested in a conflict of any kind,” White House spokesman John Kirby said. But the US and its allies are alreadyembroiled in a Middle East conflict whether they like it or not. Israeli and American airstrikes in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have killed dozens of Quds Force, Hezbollah and paramilitary personnel, including leadership figures.

Such self-aggrandizing theatrics by the Houthis, Daesh, Iran, and the Hashd only distract attention from the carnage in Gaza.

Baria Alamuddin

The fundamental reason these vast Iran-backed paramilitary armies exist is to counter the presence of the US, and of Tehran’s other regional enemies — irrespective of how Arab nations become caught in the crossfire. If Hashd militias were to achieve their goal of forcing US troops out of Iraq it would offer expansionary opportunities for Daesh, which is already ruthlessly exploiting the Gaza bloodshed to recruit and reassert its global relevance.

Last week Daesh issued a grizzly video depicting its fighters in northern Cameroon slaughtering Christians. A Daesh commander stood over the corpses, inciting further such atrocities against “Jews and Christians” in order to “avenge the Muslims of Gaza.” This was just one of over 100 claimed worldwide attacks by the group, as part of what it alleges to be a campaign of “solidarity” with Gaza.

Such self-aggrandizing theatrics by the Houthis, Daesh, Iran, and the Hashd only distract attention from the carnage in Gaza. For the first time in months, news bulletins are focused on Yemen and regional geopolitics,and not the appalling suffering of Gaza citizens. What more could Israel possibly ask for?

Iran’s latest rush to acquire military nuclear capabilities is a further reminder of how much worse this conflict could get. Would America dare to threaten Tehran and its proxies if nuclear retaliation were a credible scenario? Israel also possesses nuclear capabilities, so if either side were backed into a corner, there are those who would countenance deploying such fearsome weapons. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, Israel’s justice minister horrifically proposed dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza as a solution to the conflict.

More than 100 days into the war, the case for genocide made by South Africa at the International Court of Justice was detailed and convincing: the mass killing of over 23,000 Palestinians, with about 8,000 others buried under rubble, by Israel’s indiscriminate dropping of massive 2,000-pound bombs; about 10,000 children killed, over 60,000 injured and maimed; an entire population forcibly displaced, whole cities and refugee camps destroyed, and all Gaza’s hospitals put out of action. South Africa’s case also highlights the huge psychological impact and unimaginable trauma, with innumerable wounded children having no surviving family members to provide care and support, not to mention the impact of malnutrition and disease. This war has harmed the innocent, infinitely more than any losses incurred by Hamas.

Whatever the ultimate legal ruling, the fact that Israel has been brought to this court based on solid legal arguments for genocide damages Israel’s international reputation immeasurably and permanently — and this a country that was hitherto perceived as diplomatically untouchable.

Both the US and Iran claim they want an end to the bloodshed in Gaza and to prevent regionalization of the war, but many of their actions are pushing dangerously in the opposite direction. America with its huge influence over Israel wields the ultimate trump cards: Israel must be stopped in its tracks. If Tehran wishes to avoid the fires of this conflict arriving at its own door, it should urgently do its utmost to rein in its warmongering proxies. Instead of advancing its nuclear activities, it should be a foremost advocate for a region entirely empty of nuclear weapons — including Israel.

More hatred, more violence and more corpses benefit nobody, least of all Israel which is only further perpetuating this decades-old conflict. This is why many are looking to the International Court of Justice for a legal mandate demanding a halt to hostilities, at the very least. The killing must end, and quickly, before the mutual provocations of Israel and Iran’s proxies succeed in triggering something immeasurably worse.

• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

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