Israel's response may trigger dangerous cycle of retaliatory strikes with Iran
US, Israel divergencies grow as Middle East conflicts drag on: experts
Published: Apr 15, 2024 08:13 PM
Iran launched large-scale drone, missile attack against Israel on Sunday. Photo: Xinhua

Iran launched large-scale drone, missile attack against Israel on Sunday. Photo: Xinhua

The eyes of the world are fixed on Israel as it contemplates its response to Iran's retaliatory attacks following Israel's bombing of the Iranian embassy buildings. Chinese experts warn that Israel's response could trigger a dangerous cycle of retaliatory strikes between the two countries, destabilizing the Gulf region and worsening the overall security situation in the Middle East. However, a full-scale war between Israel and Iran is not imminent, they predicted.

The current conflict between Iran and Israel has also exposed growing divergencies between Israel and the US, said Chinese experts. Israel's self-willed behavior has clearly disrupted the Biden administration's international and Middle East strategies, as well as the domestic arrangements for the presidential election, and their disagreement will widen as conflicts in the Middle East drag on. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday warned members not to further escalate tensions with reprisals against Iran.

"The Middle East is on the brink. The people of the region are confronting a real danger of a devastating full-scale conflict. Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate," Guterres told a meeting of the UN Security Council, held after Iran launched military strike against Israeli territory.

Dai Bing, charge d'affaires of the Chinese Permanent Mission to the UN, called on relevant parties at the meeting to exercise maximum calm and restraint. "If the flames of the Gaza conflict are allowed to continue raging, then the adverse spillover is set to spread still further, making the region even more unstable," said Dai. 

"We have also noted that Iran stated that its military action was in response to Israel's aggression against its diplomatic premises and the matter can be deemed concluded," Dai said.

Zhai Jun, special envoy of the Chinese government on Middle East issues, met with Ambassador of Israel to China Irit Ben-Abba Vitale on Monday. 

Zhai said China believes that the shedding of blood in the conflict does not serve the interests of any party. All relevant parties should maintain maximum calm and restraint. 

The immediate priority is to achieve an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, ensure humanitarian assistance, release all detained individuals as soon as possible, and achieve a political solution to the Palestinian issue based on the "two-state solution," allowing Israel and Palestine to peacefully coexist, said Zhai. 

When asked whether China is worried about being dragged into the escalating conflict if Israel continues to strike Iran, Lin Jian, spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a Monday briefing that China calls on all parties to remain calm and exercise restraint in order to avoid further escalation of tensions.

Iran reportedly launched over 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night, after Teheran vowed earlier to retaliate for an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers including two senior commanders, Reuters reported.

Israel's five-person war cabinet failed to reach a decision after over three hours of deliberations on Sunday afternoon as to how the country would respond to Iran's retaliatory attack, according to The Times of Israel. 

However, the Israeli media reported that an Israeli official said "there will be a response," while the NBC network quoted an official source in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office as saying that while a decision has yet to be made, "the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will need to present options" and that "it is clear that Israel will respond."

Iran's attack can be seen as the first time when Israel has been hit by such long-range attacks since its founding, which has strongly stimulated Israel. Therefore, when Israel says it will respond, it is not just talk, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday. Liu said he believes that even if the two countries won't go so far as to all-front war, it is difficult to avoid this cycle of retaliatory strikes between the two. 

Liu fears the direct conflicts between Iran and Israel may expand to the Persian Gulf region. Given Iran's status as a regional power with significant size and influence, an escalation of the Iran-Israel conflict will impact the previously relatively stable situation in the Gulf region and seriously deteriorate the overall security environment in the Middle East.

Iran on Saturday seized a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow stretch of water through which most Gulf energy exports pass, and has threatened to close shipping lanes there entirely.

However, Liu said that the possibility of a full-scale war breaking out between the two sides or triggering another Middle East war is still relatively low. However, the dilemma of US Middle East policy will indeed be further exacerbated by the escalation of the Iran-Israel conflict, said Liu. 

Growing divergencies

Leaders of the G7 countries condemned Iran's attack on Israel and said on Sunday they would try to prevent an "uncontrollable regional escalation" in the Middle East.

The G7 leaders, who spoke for just under an hour on a video conference, called for Iran to exercise restraint. They said, "in this spirit, we demand that Iran and its proxies cease their attacks, and we stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives," the Reuters reported.

US President Joe Biden has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the US will not take part in a counter-offensive against Iran if Israel decides to retaliate.

The reactions from both the US and Iran indicate that Israel has failed to escalate tensions between the US and Iran in order to tie Washington tight to the Middle East, Zhu Weilie, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday.

Zhu said although the US will not change its alliance with Israel or its support for Israel, Israel's current "stubbornness" has clearly disrupted the Biden administration's international and Middle East strategies, as well as the US domestic arrangements for the presidential election. Currently, the US and Israel will not only trade barbs over response to Iran, their divergences will also grow on how to deal with Palestine-Israel crisis, said Zhu.