Dr. Salem Al Ketbiis a UAE political analyst
Iran’s role and its relations with its proxies are no longer the subject of analysis or speculation. This obsolete phase was based on the repeated official American denials of evidence of Iran’s relationship to the behavior of its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Documents found by the IDF have proven its operational connection to Hamas.
President Joe Biden stated that he had “sent a message to Iran” on the airstrikes on the Houthi rebels in Yemen, adding, “I’ve already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything.” He further stated, “We will make sure we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behavior along with our allies.”
This attacks are a complete American overhaul of a foreign policy that reigned for the past four years. The White House has recognized its failure towards its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. President Biden backed away from removing the Houthis from the terrorist list, a designation his administration had stripped from the organization. When asked if he was prepared to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group, he said: “I think they are.”
The White House has retreated from refraining from directly blaming Iran for the behavior of its proxies. Instead, now it explicitly blames Iran in this regard. The airstrikes against the Houthis are a direct message to Iran, and the threats for a series of responses to the Iran-backed militias in Iraq who killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan in a drone attack.
The US also fears that Israel could confront Iran or its proxies on its own, which would open the door to a major expansion of the conflict in the Middle East region.
When President Biden was asked if his country was waging a proxy war against Iran, he said, “No, Iran does not want a war with us.” He did not mention whether or not the US is already in a proxy war with Iran. He merely referred to the information he has that Iran does not want a war.
The main question remains: is the US in a position to open a new front in the Middle East? Given the simultaneous threats of destruction in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, can Iran withstand a significant destruction of its proxies? Will it be enough this time to watch from afar and exercise strategic patience, as in previous cases, or will it have a different word?
According to Western media reports, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently instructed the military leadership to exercise strategic patience and avoid direct confrontation with the US “at all costs.” This implies the possibility of sacrificing one or two proxies and leaving them to their fate in a confrontation with the US or Israel. Iranian realism and the principle of political dissimulation or taqiya dictate that observers should not raise expectations about Iran’s possible response to an American attack, even if it targets Iranian domestic interests or even Iranian leaders.
It should be remembered that General Qasem Soleimani was considered the second man in the hierarchy of the Iranian regime and that even after his assassination, Iran insisted on the right to react “at the right time and in the right place.” This phrase has become synonymous with the desire not to react out of weakness or for operational and strategic reasons.
Therefore, this approach suggests that the Iranian regime is unlikely to respond to attacks against the Houthis, will restrain the Houthis and prevent them from retaliating, especially against American interests and targets.
In this context, it should be noted that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard officially described the statement on the assassination of the second man of the terrorist Hamas movement, Saleh Al Arouri, as an “Israeli attempt to drive the resistance into a strategic miscalculation” and pointed out that “the strategic patience of the resistance and Hezbollah will not deviate from rationality and logic.”
These consistent Iranian reactions to the assassination of the commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, Al Arouri, and others show that Iran and its proxies are incapable of carrying out their threats, especially with regard to assassinations.
One of the most important reasons for Iran’s reluctance to directly confront the US and/or Israel is undoubtedly the fact that the outcome of such a confrontation may already be predetermined.
We must make a complete distinction between traditional warfare and non-traditional warfare, such as that waged by the Israeli army in Gaza, as the latter is not an absolute measure of the Israeli army’s capabilities in traditional warfare.
The Iranians are well aware of this and know the extent of Israeli superiority in the field of intelligence and information. Assassination attempts could be directed against key Iranian leaders.
The Iranian regime also fears the weakness of its internal front and its fragile security, unable to prevent bombings like the one in Kerman a few weeks ago, in an area that is supposed to have the highest level of security.
Iran also realizes that new regional security arrangements could emerge in the post-Gaza phase and that its proxies could play a crucial role in strengthening Iran’s position and negotiating ability in this phase. In addition, Iran does not pay much attention to military operations by the US or Israel and sticks to its strategic patience and what it can achieve in the long term rather than the short term, especially knowing that President Biden is experiencing a presidential election year. It will not give him the opportunity to emerge as a strong president defending the US and Israel and rallying the American public behind him. Instead, it will likely try to find factors that will embarrass him internally and weaken his chances of winning the election, especially since the very threat to the security of the Bab el-Mandeb strait is causing oil prices to rise and negatively impacting the US economy.