Israel, Iran & The End of Days
Washington hasn’t confirmed it, and Tehran denies it, but Iran’s Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC)’s Qud’s Force was the brains behind Hamas coordinated attack on southern Israel this weekend. This isn’t shocking anyone, as neither Hamas in Gaza, or Hezbollah up in Lebanon do much of anything without Qud’s go-ahead. According to the Wall Street Journal, planning has been going on since August (that seems short) and Hamas received the go-ahead on Monday. The timing was good as the Israeli government is in a dysfunctional state at the moment; the fact that the US government is as well is probably just icing on the cake.
So what, you well may ask, is going on?
Hamas has launched an unprecedented attack and coordinated land and air “invasion” of southern Israel – which Israeli forces having largely retaken over the weekend, but not before Hama made off with perhaps a hundred civilian and military hostages to complicate matters. And that is likely to key to what is going on here. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have called up reservists, and special forces and sent them south with the stated intention of implementing a siege of Gaza. The self-ruling enclave is already largely walled off and exists entirely on Israeli infrastructure for electricity, communications and water. So any siege is tactically fairly simple.
Things get tricky when weighing what to do next. For Israel to launch a full-scale occupation of Gaza would likely see the death of all those hostages, as well as triggering a response from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Shi’a militia currently dug in in the Lebanon along Israel’s northern border. Hamas is calling for Palestinians in the West Bank to rise up and join the fight, but Hamas doesn’t run the West Bank – that another group of Palestinians called Fatah, who are currently at odds with each other. Given a brutal response by the IDF, the two Palestinian factions won’t be at odds for long. And between Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the North and Fatah in the West Bank, that’s a three-way front for Israel. And that’s assuming that the Iranians currently making themselves obvious in Syria don’t come across the Golan Heights as “peacekeepers”, which Tehran hasn’t ruled out if the conflict widens. Right now it’s hard to see how it won’t,
Hamas wants the largely shelved Palestinian issue back on the table in the Arab world as more and more countries are normalizing relations with Israel. While they do love a poetic flourish in that part of the world, don’t read too much into the 50-year anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War this week. The likely trigger are reports that Saudi Arabia will up oil production, and well as establish diplomatic relations with Israel, as part of a deal with the US over arms-sales, security guarantees and help with it’s nuclear program (ahhh… what could possibly go wrong?). With diplomatic accords between Tel Aviv and a number of Arab countries in North Africa and the Gulf States becoming the norm, Saudi Arabian recognition of Israel would put the final nail in broad based Arab-support for the endless Palestinian issue.
Tehran also sees the normalization of Arab/Israeli relations as a threat, if for different reasons. Understand that Tehran’s sense of geopolitics is… different. There is the hyper-realism that enables them to cozy up with Russia and China while those powers abuse their own Muslim populations, but it is wrapped up in the long-game of brand of Islam that is effectively a doomsday-cult. Now where is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” mentioned, in the Islamic Republic’s founding documents. Although is does spell-out that the nation’s raison d’etre is to trigger the end of the world.
In light of all that the best way to understand Tehran’s geopolitical calculations is to think of the difference between a clock and a chronograph. The United States is a country wants to be left alone to go make a pile of money, so it’s Foreign Policy can be clock-like it’s its simplicity. Given Iran’s other-worldly calculations, they tend to act like one of those chronographs that tells you the time, but also has a stopwatch, a tachymeter and a dial to tell you when to feed your dog. That crew is all about the plans within plans.
They want Hamas is to create an Arab/Israeli conflict that will conveniently widen to engulf Lebanon and Syria. That conflict will create unrest in the populations of those Arab nations that have sought to normalize relations with Israel. Yes, there is a little of the doomsday cult in the maneuver – the Quds Force is called so because Quds in the Farsi word Jerusalem – but it is also very earthly as well.
If the country could play nice it would likely have plenty of money oil exports, but it’s weird fixation on the US is literally strangling it. It’s one point of leverage in the world is the strait of Hormuz, that choke point through which 17mm p/d, or about 20-30%, of the world’s oil flows. What that US sponsored normalization has created is a allies at the three critical oil shipping lanes: the Suez Canal and the Bab el Mandab (the name is more charming in Arabic, literally it means “Gate of Greif”) that connects the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea where it hooks up into the Gulf of Aden. With Saudi Arabia slipping into bed with the US, along with Bahrain and UAE that hampers Iran’s attempt to choke the Strait of Hormuz.
And because this is 2023, no geopolitical discussion can ignore China, or its recently brokered accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s aren’t violating the accord, it’s just that Iran takes that “friend of my enemy is my enemy” foolishness very seriously. While I’m no expert on how a doomsday cult triggers the apocalypse, being mellow about your neighbors doesn’t seem to be how it’s done.
Of, course, the question state-side is how much is all this going to cost you? Oil prices spiked in Asian trading to very close to $90 p/b. The US reinstating sanctions on Iran would take some 2mm barrels a day off the market – or funnel it at discount rates to China – but that would be made up by increased Saudi production, which is eyeballing an increase of 1-2mm increase by the end of the year.
So provided that Israel can resist the urge to go in and occupy Gaza, thus triggering a wider conflict, prices will stabilize at prices that are annoyingly high, but not too painful. Israel hasn’t got many good options, and there are some cunning actors gunning for chaos, and once that happens, it’s anyone’s guess.
As for those Israeli hostages, that is a real problem.