From Beirut to Baghdad, Israel’s war is already spinning out of control
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and other warships crosses the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf on Nov. 26, 2023, as part of a wider American deployment in the Middle East. Reports suggest that the U.S. military has finalized its action plan for strikes against Yemen to target Houthi rebels that are harassing ships in the Red Sea. | Ruskin Naval / U.S. Navy via AP

The alarm has been sounding for weeks: Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza could spark a wider war that will spread to the entire Middle East and possibly beyond. With the events of the last few days, it’s no longer a warning of what could happen, but rather a description of what’s unfolding in real time.

Global pressure for a ceasefire is building, but the most extreme leaders in the Israeli war cabinet are determined to carry on clearing Gaza of its Palestinian population. They need the time to execute their plan, though, and a bigger, longer war could be just what’s needed.

The right-wing ideologues of U.S. imperialism, meanwhile, are working overtime to seize control of the narrative in Washington and use Israel’s war to achieve their own long-term aspirations of remaking the Middle East. For them, Iran is the main target; Palestine and the millions of people who live there are just pawns in their grand game.

On New Year’s Day, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir declared, again, that “Encouraging the residents of Gaza to emigrate to the countries of the world is a solution we must advance.”

Lebanese women look through their damaged apartment window in Beirut after an Israeli airstrike assassinated a Hamas leader on Tuesday. | AP

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich seconded Ben-Gvir’s call for mass expulsion on Wednesday, saying that every Palestinian must get out of Gaza because Israel cannot have “two million people” next door who “wake up every morning with aspiration for the destruction of the State of Israel and with a desire to slaughter and rape and murder Jews wherever they are.”

The U.S. State Department criticized the two ministers, calling their genocidal rhetoric “irresponsible.” Ben-Gvir shot back, “I really admire the United States of America but with all due respect, we are not another star in the American flag.”

Characters like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have clearly voiced their intentions vis-à-vis colonizing more Palestinian land, but the latest events suggest that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, is testing the waters to see whether broadening the war can help extend his endangered political career.

On Tuesday, Israeli drone-delivered missiles struck the Lebanese capital of Beirut in targeted assassinations of a number of top Hamas officials. Senior among them was Saleh al-Arouri, a former leader of the Qassam Brigades and the person responsible for coordinating Hamas’ military and political activities outside of Gaza.

David Barnea, chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, implied that more such strikes should be expected. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, vowed that the killing would not go “without response and without punishment.” He said that if Israel launches a war on Lebanon, his group is prepared for a “fight without limits.”

There has already been a low-intensity war going on in southern Lebanon between the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah since Oct. 7, which has killed 120 people, including civilians. Of course, the danger of a wider war isn’t just apparent in Lebanon.

On Wednesday, a pair of explosions in Kerman, Iran, at a memorial for Qasem Soleimani, a general assassinated by the U.S. in 2020, killed dozens. The government there quickly blamed Israel and the U.S. for the bombing, but the Islamic State terrorist group eventually claimed credit.

On Christmas Day, Israel assassinated another Iranian general in Syria, Sayyed Razi Mousavi. An Israeli statement called him an “arms smuggler,” while Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Israel would “pay the price” for its attack.

While the Biden administration might find the comments and actions of its allies in Tel Aviv unhelpful and inconvenient at a time when growing numbers of Americans are questioning military support for Israel’s war, the reality is that the entire region is being propelled toward a much wider conflict—and U.S. imperialism is right in the thick of it in ways that go beyond simply supplying weapons to the IDF.

In Baghdad on Wednesday, U.S. military drones killed three Iraqi security officials with supposed links to Iran. The Iraqi government denounced the U.S., calling the strike a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq” and “no different from a terrorist act.” Several Iraqi political parties are calling for the immediate expulsion of the 2,500 U.S. troops stationed in the country.

And in perhaps the biggest sign that the U.S. is preparing for even more direct intervention into the war, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that an action plan to attack the Houthi rebels in Yemen is now ready. For weeks, the Houthis have been harassing the shipping lanes of the Red Sea in an attempt to disrupt cargo ships bound for Israeli ports.

The global capitalist economy is feeling the effects of their actions. Nearly 15% of global seaborne trade passes through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, including 12% of sea-traded oil, 8% of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade, and 8% of the global grain trade. Oil tankers and giant containerships are avoiding the route, forced to instead go all the way around the African continent.

The diversion is costing some of the world’s biggest corporations billions in extra shipping costs and delaying deliveries; oil prices are already shooting higher. U.S. warships are on the scene and have sunk several Houthi attack boats, including three more Wednesday, but a bigger retaliation appears to be in the offing.

Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis—while domestically rooted in their respective societies, all are also backed by Iran to one degree or another. That means that the Israeli bombings of Lebanon, the U.S. strikes in Iraq, and the pending assault on Yemen are all shots fired in a proxy war against Iran.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is directly pushing Biden down the path of making that proxy war into an actual one, saying in a widely-circulated WSJ opinion piece, “It’s time for the U.S. and its allies to target its head, Tehran, and bring down its regime.”

John Bolton—former Trump crony and one of the architects of the U.S. war in Iraq—is making the same argument. He’s rallying neocons in the U.S. to squeeze Biden, declaring the U.S. has “no option but to attack Iran.” Ever since President George W. Bush declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil” over 20 years ago, Bolton and his ilk have been intent on sparking a fight with that country.

What is becoming all too obvious, then, is that the current war did not begin with Hamas’ murderous terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, as reprehensible as they were. Nor is it a war simply rooted in the reactionary ideologies of the Iranian state or the various Islamist militant groups of the Middle East, despite what Bennett or Bolton may claim.

It is a war rooted in the Israeli government’s denial of Palestinians’ right to statehood and the designs of U.S. imperialism to dominate the region and its resources.

At this moment, the Biden administration must be pressured to resist the voices pushing for a full-on war with Iran. The White House needs to feel the heat to also pull the plug on Netanyahu’s genocidal assault on Gaza.

Winning a ceasefire and jumpstarting diplomacy is more urgent than ever.

As with all news analysis and op-ed articles published by People’s World, the views reflected here are those of the author.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.