Iran is at a dead end

The tension between Israel and Iran does not seem to be easing after the raid conducted by the Jewish state in Damascus, in which some senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards were killed. “When they attack our consulate, it is as if they had attacked our territory,” the ayatollah thundered a few hours ago Ali Khamenei. “The evil regime made a mistake on this front and must be punished and will be punished,” he continued. Threatening words, to which the Israeli Foreign Minister replied, Israel Katz. “If Iran attacks from its own territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran,” she said. Should we therefore expect a direct war between Iran and Israel? Such a scenario is concrete, although, at least for the moment, perhaps not inevitable.

Let's start from the strategic sense of the Damascus raid. With that attack, the Jewish state attempted to achieve various objectives. First of all, he wanted to give a clear signal to Hezbollah: let us remember that the Pasdaran killed in that raid had very close ties with the Lebanese paramilitary organisation. Secondly, with that attack, Israel wanted to “flush out” an Iran which, until now, has always shrewdly entrenched itself behind its powerful regional network, effectively waging a proxy war against the Jewish State. Indeed, we must not forget that Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah itself have historically been financed and armed by the Khomeini regime. The same brutal attack on October 7 served Tehran to derail the process of normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, mediated by Washington: a process which, at least for now, remains fundamentally frozen. Here, by striking the Pasdaran in Damascus, Jerusalem wanted to push Iran to come out into the open, forcing it to give up the advantages it gained from its proxy war.

Third, by ferreting out Tehran, Israel aims to ferret out also Joe Biden. Jerusalem has always considered – and not without some reason – the Middle Eastern policy of the current White House as too soft towards the ayatollahs: on the other hand, having just taken office in 2021, Biden he repealed the “maximum pressure” policy on the Khomeinist regime, which had been implemented by the Trump administration. A line which, despite the attack on 7 October and the hyperactivism of the Houthis in the Red Sea, the American president still refuses to restore (probably for electoral reasons, given that – if he did so – he would have to admit in front of the American citizens and the entire world of having made serious mistakes on the Middle Eastern front). Well, if Iran were to attack Israel directly, at that point Biden he would be forced to emerge from ambiguity and take a necessarily more severe posture towards the ayatollahs.

The real point is that, with the Damascus raid, the Jewish State actually managed to throw the ball into the Iranian half of the field. And now the Khomeinist regime finds itself in a difficult dilemma. If he does not react directly, he will convey an image of weakness to opponents and allies. If it reacts directly, it risks a boomerang effect in various respects. First: the Iranians would push Washington into tougher positions towards Tehran itself; second: the ayatollahs would irritate the Saudis with whom they have been in full détente for about a year; third: as recently hypothesized by National Interesta direct Iranian attack could push Israel to target the regime Bashar al Assad (the Syrian president, whose power Tehran has preserved at a very high cost, investing billions of dollars and using huge military resources). Finally, perhaps most significantly, if Iran directly entered the war, it would attract greater international attention and pressure. In short, it seems that Israel has managed to trap the Khomeini regime in a dilemma with no way out.

This is why, despite the threats, at the moment Tehran does not seem too convinced about taking direct military action. “An Iranian diplomatic source told the Lebanese newspaper on Wednesday Al-Akhbaraffiliated with Hezbollah, that Iran has proposed that the United States refrain from striking Israel 'for the moment' if there is a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel does not carry out its promised offensive against the city of Rafah, in south of Gaza,” the Times of Israel. This does not mean that the conflict will certainly not take place. If anything, it means that the Iranian leaders have understood that they have probably reached a dead end. And that every move they decide to make could backfire on them.