From the perspective of Europe, the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas carries two strategically significant risks. The first is an exodus of Palestinians to Europe, which would further destabilise European states. The second is an open regional war that would intensify the migration problem even more. Such a scenario could occur if Iran were to join the conflict directly.
It is not a secret that the Islamic Republic of Iran is Israel’s worst enemy. Tehran has repeatedly expressed itself in an aggressive and hostile tone against the “Zionist regime,” whose destruction Iran considers its primary goal. Tehran neither recognises the legitimacy of Israel nor endorse a two-state solution. From Tehran’s rhetorical perspective, Israel is a thorn in the heart of the Muslim world – a foreign entity preventing the desired unity of the Islamic ummah. Even Iran’s former president, considered a moderate politician, Hasan Rouhani, once stated that “Jerusalem will be liberated one day, and Palestinians will return to their land”.
This is not just rhetoric, as Iran remains deeply involved in the region. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas would be as strong or pose such a significant challenge to Israel without Iran’s military, financial, and logistical assistance. Iran’s crucial support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have recently launched missiles at Israel multiple times, is also evident. In recent years, Iran has engaged in an informal war with Israel – both sides have attacked ships in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea. Undoubtedly, both sides are in a state of low-intensity armed conflict.
Risk of war
A fundamental question concerns a risk of escalation and a possible transformation of current fights in Gaza, which are primarily local (in terms of an area of an ongoing conflict, not a worldwide debate), into a regional war, although this term itself is ambiguous. A war could involve low-intensity skirmishes or a full-scale conflict akin to the wars of 1967 or 1973. While the first scenario remains plausible, the latter is more akin to political fiction.
Undoubtedly, Arab states (such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) have no interest in any form of escalation. Even Syria, a state openly anti-Israel, is not a candidate for participation in a war, as the Syrian dictator Assad, supported by Iran, has more urgent goals (primarily maintaining power), while his exhausted armed forces will need years to rebuild their capabilities. Another candidate for an escalation is Hezbollah, backed by Iran (although not directly controlled, as Hezbollah is an independent entity). However, Hezbollah knows well that a war would bring a total destruction of its military capabilities, while Lebanon would sink into even greater chaos.
Could it then be Iran, as mentioned earlier? It is perhaps the most frequently mentioned candidate for starting a war with Israel. Iran has played a role in an escalation that occurred after October 7th. In addition to the previously mentioned missiles launched from Yemen by pro-Iranian armed groups, a series of similar attacks in Iraq against U.S. forces should be noted as well. It is difficult to argue that Tehran was unaware of these attacks and did not give the green light.
These attacks should not be interpreted as a prelude to war but primarily as a demonstration of readiness, determination, and courage. It is also a display of deterrence capabilities (including towards the United States) and a clear message: do not attack us, as we are capable and prepared to respond militarily. These attacks are also a signal sent by Iran to the Muslim world and an attempt to channel very strong anti-Western sentiments of paramilitary groups in the Middle East. In other words, thousands of fighters in Iraq, Syria, or Yemen were anticipating some reaction to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. Iran and commanders of pro-Tehran groups had to react somehow, but it does not mean they want to go any step further. At least not for now.
In other words, Iran, despite often alarmist comments in the media, is not interested in turning the current crisis in Israel into an open war, although many in the Middle East probably expect Tehran to take more active measures. The fundamental pillar of Iran’s security philosophy is to always act below the threshold of war. Iran relies on an aggressive, anti-Western, and anti-Israeli narrative, yet it carefully considers the cost-benefit balance (however, a risk of a miscalculation can never be ruled out). While such rhetoric is relatively advantageous both internally and regionally (it boosts Iran’s position on the “Arab street” and mobilises supporters), a full-scale war would incur colossal costs for Iran with minimal gains. The Tehran regime’s primary goal is its survival, and a war would likely spell its demise.
Iran’s involvement, and presumably Hezbollah’s as well, in a direct and open war against Israel would lead not only to financial and military disaster but also to geopolitical ramifications. The United States would likely join the conflict on the side of Israel, ultimately strengthening Israel and solidifying the U.S. position in the Middle East—something not in Iran’s interest.
A direct missile attack from Iranian territory on Israel remains highly unlikely – Tehran prefers to avoid getting directly involved in a war and use paramilitary organizations instead. A more probable scenario involves missile attacks carried out by pro-Iranian armed groups from Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. However, these are expected to be limited, politically symbolic strikes rather than a massive offensive. The main intention of Iran and these non-state groups’ goal is to demonstrate their capabilities and indicate, albeit symbolically, that they remain active and vigilant.
If Iran and its allies wanted to escalate the current crisis, the best moment – the beginning of the Israeli offensive in Gaza when Israel was still preparing its defence and the anger from the “Arab street” was at its peak – has already passed.
Paradoxically, Iran is now suffering losses, as Hamas, a significant member of Iran’s Axis of Resistance, is systematically being destroyed. Moreover, Iran is aware that a freeze in diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and Arab states is only temporary. Once the situation calms down, Arabs will likely resume a normalisation process with Israel. Iran, on the other hand, will conclude the current crisis with a reputation as an advocate for the Palestinian cause who, in the moment of greatest trial, did not turn declarations into action and allowed its despised “Zionist regime” to seriously detriment its significant ally, Hamas.
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