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Nir Levitan

Behind the Scenes of Geopolitical Shifts: Pivotal Strategy in the Middle East Chessboard

Over a month after the terrorist assault carried out by Hamas against Israel, the Middle East is facing a critical “dark hour” marked by the escalating influence of Iran in the region. The opening of four fronts Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen against Israel highlights the encirclement Iran has strategically established, broadening the conflict’s scope to involve neighboring nations. The ongoing military operation by Israel is chiefly focused on neutralizing the significant military capabilities of Hamas. These capabilities have been cultivated with assistance from Iran and other entities.

Since the surprise attack on October 7, Hamas’ strategy has involved securing ongoing support from Iran. An unwritten agreement with Iran was apparently in place in the weeks leading up to the assault. Hamas anticipated Israel’s response and counted on the involvement of other Iran-affiliated proxies. The vision for a broader conflict materialized when Hezbollah initiated a northern front against Israel from Lebanon. This included launching anti-tank missiles into populated areas and targeting Israeli surveillance cameras near the border. Israel successfully prevented Hezbollah’s attacks, retaliating with its own offensive by conducting airstrikes on Hezbollah bases and infrastructure located deep within Syrian & Lebanese territories.

UN observers stationed on the Israel-Syria border (several of them from Denmark) provide reports on activity in the border area, although their enforcement capabilities are notably limited. Israel’s reliance on UN observers in Lebanon and Syria is also questionable, given their limited capacity to address violations. Consequently, Israel may place considerable emphasis on the Syrian and Lebanese regimes, potentially escalating attacks to undermine Iranian control. Following a drone attack on Israel, seven Hezbollah operatives were reportedly killed in Syria. This marked the second occurrence in the past weeks, with a UAV infiltrating from Syria to Israel via Jordan. This is particularly notable as Iran has begun using the Houthis in Yemen to launch attacks against Israel using ballistic missiles and drones, some of which managed to reach Egypt after interception near the Israeli border.

 

Israeli sources quickly reported that Iran had conducted routine meetings with its proxies and granted Hamas the green light for an attack on Israel. However, they did not specify a target date, allowing Iran to maintain plausible deniability. This attack highlighted Iran’s willingness to use violence to disrupt Israel’s recent diplomatic arrangements with regional countries, including the potential establishment of a trade corridor from the Gulf to Europe. This raises questions about whether it was wise to publicly announce the accelerated normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than keeping it confidential until its conclusion.

While overseeing its military campaign from Lebanon and Syria, Iran closely monitored the unfolding Israeli mobilization following the massacre. In response, Iran deployed additional military forces and militias from Iraq into Syrian territory near the Israeli border. The objective is to extend the front line from Lebanon into Syria, intensifying pressure on Israel. Additionally, Israel disrupted communications and GPS systems to thwart potential attacks from Syrian territory. Concurrently, Yemeni loyalists of the Iranian regime launched missiles at Israel, further escalating Iranian pressure. In response to this threat, Israeli vessels joined American forces in the Red Sea near the Yemeni forces. The escalation of American involvement in the region in response to Iranian actions is evident. Simultaneously, it is equally clear that Tehran’s decision-making was influenced by America’s substantial presence, prompting Iran to carefully calibrate the level of escalation to its advantage.

 

As parallel pursuits Israel is striving to maintain international legitimacy during the ongoing war. To address the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, Israel is collaborating with the United States, Egypt, and international organizations, facilitating the entry of humanitarian aid into designated civilian safe zones. However, there exists a significant internal debate within Israel regarding the timing and extent of allowing aid through the Egyptian border, as the decision is complicated by both public and military pressure. John Kirby, the spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, stated that Israel has agreed to humanitarian pauses each day in the northern Gaza Strip. These ceasefires may also pave the way for a potential temporary agreement concerning the release of several captives. Throughout the past week, there have been reports from various sources in Egypt and Qatar indicating progress towards an exchange. While official confirmation is lacking, these reports underscore the intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts. In a noted move, the U.S. deployed drones over southern Gaza to assist in gathering information on the captives seemingly located there and to bolster military presence, anticipating potential involvement in an upcoming deal.

Simultaneously, alongside its military maneuvers, Israel’s intelligence services persist in preventing attacks against Jewish communities through collaboration with their international counterparts. Israel is also actively engaging in diplomatic efforts with neighboring nations. Israel sees an opportunity for more effective collaboration with Azerbaijan, which has become more receptive to Israel and presents a valuable asset for Israel in its standoff with Iran. Additionally, Israel’s ability to cooperate with the Kurdish leadership in Syria aligns with shared objectives against Iranian-backed militias. These diplomatic moves contribute to the broader resistance against Iran’s expansion in the region and counteract Iran’s ambitions to disrupt the Arab-Israeli alliance.

In private discussions, regional leaders acknowledge Israel’s immediate need to respond decisively to Iran’s proxies. Behind-the-scenes discussions are currently in progress within international forums, contemplating future regional engagement. This initiative may potentially include nations like Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab countries. The objective is to facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza and establish a political settlement acceptable to Israel (As per government officials, this process is anticipated to persist in different phases for several months). Such an approach aims to contribute to the regional peace process and counteract the influence of the Shiite axis. The potential nexus between India and Europe via the Gulf nations and Israel, facilitated by normalization agreements, holds significant regional implications. It has the capacity to reshape participating states and counter Iran’s ambitions for expanding influence. This transformative potential will likely gain prominence following the current conflict, influenced by Israel’s decisions within the moderate axis and Western alliances. In the given circumstance, the establishment of a temporary regime in Gaza, aimed at isolating Iran’s proxies, becomes a pivotal aspect of this strategy.

About the Author
Nir Levitan is a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University's Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation. Currently, he is a research fellow at Europa Institute and a research affiliate at Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark