May 30, 2024

Israel’s strike on Iran on Friday morning will not come as a surprise to Western observers – but it will cause great concern in Washington and London as the region tips closer towards an all-out war.

Following Iran’s attack on Israel on April 13, itself a response to an Israeli strike on an Iranian consulate, Israel was clear a response would be required.

That night, Joe Biden talked down Benjamin Netanyahu from launching an immediate response, warning him that America would not support or join in any offence against Iran.

The president reportedly told the Israeli leader to “take the win” from his stunningly effective air defences, which restricted the effect of the Iranian strikes to a damaged plane and a battered runway.

However, that advice has not been heeded universally by Mr Netanyahu’s colleagues.

Israel’s war cabinet has since been locked in negotiations about the timing, scope and location of a military response.

For some “doves” in the Israeli government, the risk of all-out war with Iran was simply too great.

Tehran has vowed to respond in kind to any attack on its territory, plunging the two countries into a series of retaliatory strikes that would escalate the situation beyond either’s control.

But for the Israeli “hawks”, a direct missile and drone attack on home soil after months of Iranian support for Islamist proxy groups was one provocation too great.

Mr Netanyahu has now done what Mr Biden, other G7 leaders and the UN warned him not to do.

He has further provoked a hostile and unpredictable regional power with uncertain nuclear capabilities.

For years, Iran and Israel have existed in a state of cold war, driven by Tehran’s support for Israel’s enemies close to home.

But the events of the early hours of Friday morning make a hot war between the two countries a realistic possibility for the first time.

Unlike other recent conflicts in the Middle East, a war between Iran and Israel would pit two of the region’s superpowers in direct conflict.

There is also concern about the ongoing relationship between Israel and the United States, which has been increasingly critical of Mr Netanyahu’s strategy in Gaza and his willingness to launch a strike on Tehran.

Until now, the importance of Israel’s relationship with the US has restricted Mr Netanyahu from what may be his instinct to fight as hard as possible against Iran and its proxies.

The risk to peace in the whole of the Middle East is now greater than ever. In Washington, as in Tel Aviv, leaders are now holding their breath to see what Iran does next.

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