Middle East enters dangerous phase as Iran watches mayhem in Washington and reassesses its moves against Israel and America.
Going into January, Iran’s leaders were facing an acute dilemma. Tehran threatened to take revenge against Israel and the US but feared devastating retaliation by President Trump. The Iranians so far avoided any major action, but events in Washington could change their calculus.
With America and Trump focusing on the domestic scene, events in the Middle East could quickly become a low priority. Moreover, the president’s legitimacy to launch significant military operations in his last days in office has been further eroded.
The mayhem in DC could also prompt confusion among top US defense officials, who may now push back harder against any Trump initiatives.
In any case, the possibility of a broad US assault on Iran appears to be less likely than it was a few days ago. This impression, even if false, constitutes dangerous news for the region.
As prospects of vicious US reprisals seem to decline, Iran may be encouraged to attack. Avenging the death of key figures and restoring its national honor and deterrence is a high priority, especially for hardliners. The risk may have been too high earlier, but Tehran may now expect only a limited US response and view it as a bearable price to pay.
High risk on Israel front
This may be even truer on the Israel front, which Iran views as a separate track from its unsettled score with America. Tehran may conclude that US intervention in response to a strike on Israeli targets is unlikely, further encouraging a strike.
On Wednesday, the IDF deployed anti-missile defenses in the resort town of Eilat and elsewhere in the south. The army fears a missile or drone attack, which may now become more probable, by Iran’s allies in Yemen.
Tehran and its proxies have other strike options and could try to catch Israel off guard on multiple fronts. Tensions are also high on the Lebanon border, where Hezbollah may be plotting an imminent attack.
A potential restraining factor may be Iran’s concern about a fierce IDF response. Israel repeatedly warned that it will retaliate forcefully for any attacks, but the Iran axis may now estimate that Jerusalem will hesitate to strike without Trump’s full support. This could be a dangerous miscalculation.
One way or another, players on the Middle Eastern chessboard will be reassessing the situation and considering new moves. This promises that the next two weeks will be tense, volatile and unpredictable.