Iran Juggling Bad Choices



Israel’s own April Fool’s Day prank was to eliminate one of Iran’s top commanders in Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, by striking a building near Tehran’s embassy in Damascus, almost flouting international law protecting the inviolability of diplomatic missions.

This act served as a clear warning – Iran must keep its allies and proxies in check, or risk Israel striking Iran without hesitation. It also served as a signal to Hezbollah militias in South Lebanon and the Houthis disrupting international trade in Yemen’s waters.

The attack occurred shortly after Turkey’s secular opposition won local elections, dealing a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The result could potentially reshape Turkey’s political landscape, particularly since the opposition has traditionally been more pro-Israeli while Erdogan’s rule distanced Turkey from Israel.

Perhaps Israel’s challenge lies in the fact that it cannot afford to eradicate Hamas from Gaza only to have Hamas (or a similar group) resurface elsewhere, whether in the West Bank or within Islamic communities in the West, posing threats to Jews globally.

The pressing question now is: Will this situation lead to an escalation? If Iran responds, it risks direct involvement in a war it has sought to avoid so far, potentially leading to defeat. Alternatively, refraining from a response could invite a US attack against Iran for its active support of the Houthis. Tehran is facing tough choices.

In this context, Russian President Vladimir Putin may have an interest in extending the conflict to Iran. The Islamic terrorist attack in Moscow on March 22 has bewildered Russian security and tarnished Putin’s strongman image, casting a shadow on future developments in the war in Ukraine.

Despite significant efforts, Russian troops have thus far failed to breach Ukrainian lines. Their Black Sea fleet has been severely weakened and constrained by Ukrainian drones. A new Russian offensive is anticipated for the summer, with preparations underway to deploy between 100,000 and 500,000 troops for a major push, though the outcome remains uncertain. An earlier onset of conflict around Iran could potentially ease the Russian military’s challenges.

However, another war would present challenges for China, as it maintains friendly relations with Russia and Iran. It could further strain Beijing’s ties with the West, especially as President Xi Jinping attempted on March 27 to engage Western businessmen and encourage investment in China. While the effort did not yield immediate results, everything would become more complicated if Iran were to engage in warfare.

China’s domestic demand is declining due to real estate difficulties (for 25 years economy’s main driver), making foreign surplus even more necessary. The entirety of China’s surplus is generated by G7 countries. China would face a difficult choice of supporting Iran (potentially alarming Western investors already cautious of Chinese ventures) or distancing itself from Iran, altering a crucial political relationship.

The course of action Iran will take remains uncertain. Persia has millennia of diplomatic history, now might be the time for Iran to tap into this expertise. It could be crucial for Tehran to seek a dialogue, rein in the Houthis, and steer clear of a series of harmful choices.

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