Editorial: A shared burden

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 16 Apr 2024

The whole world, and the Middle East in particular, must remain on tiptoe for the foreseeable future as the consequences of Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel unfold. Launched on Saturday, the attack involved over 300 drones and cruise missiles, crossing a line rarely breached since Israel’s creation in 1948.


 A strategy of deterring the surrounding hostility had meant that it was Israel that always initiated attacks outside its territory.

What Israel described as unprovoked was a necessary step for Iran, however, to avenge Israel killing seven Iranian military personnel, including two senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals in an attack in Syria on 1 April that Israel never officially took responsibility for, though there was hardly any argument about who was behind it. The attack was announced hours in advance and largely intercepted. It caused almost no damage at all, but Iran’s display of its ability to launch long-range drones and missiles appears to have been a necessary show of force. How much damage will be done in retaliation?

Judging by the structure of the current Israeli government, described by even its closest Western allies as the most extremist in the country’s history — and its months-long, genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza since Hamas’ October 7 attack — there is little optimism that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will heed the world’s appeals to self-restraint. But an excessive reaction could be disastrous for the whole region and the world by extension. An open confrontation between Israel and Iran means not only even more blood in Palestine but violence on several other fronts where Iran’s allies are likely to take action. Even countries that see Iran as a threat, not to mention the Biden administration preparing for elections in November, would not want to see that happen.

At the emergency UN Security Council meeting that Israel requested on Sunday, Israel’s closest allies and backers all urged restraint. For his part UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a man who has demonstrated admirable impartiality, noted that the people of the Middle East are facing the very real danger of a devastating full-scale conflict, urging “maximum restraint” across a region “on the brink.” He added that “it is vital to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East.” This was the same message that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri delivered in a series of phone calls with his American, European, and Israeli counterparts, stressing the urgent need for calm and the restoration of stability in the troubled region.  

Washington’s absolute solidarity with Israel and its rush to coordinate efforts to protect Israel notwithstanding, the White House statement following a phone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu while Iranian missiles and drones were still being intercepted stated that Washington would not be party to any Israeli military action against Iran. Whether by attacking the Iranian Embassy in Syria, or by the killing of three sons and four grandchildren of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza last week, the Israeli government has been trying to divert attention from the horrific war crimes it has been committing in Gaza, where the death toll is nearly 34,000, with over 80,000 with serious injuries.

Even countries that describe their commitment to protecting Israel’s security as “ironclad”, a word repeatedly used by Biden, now say they are committed to an immediate ceasefire. The same message was delivered by the President of the European Union Council Charles Michel, who took part in a video conference of the G7 leaders on Sunday. He stated that while the G7 were “unanimous” in condemning Iran’s attack against Israel, they also agreed that “all parties must exercise restraint.” Equally important, leaders of the world’s seven largest economies were aware that “ending the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible, notably through an immediate ceasefire, will make a difference.”

What matters now is translating words into action. The entire international community, including the United States and other countries that provide Israel with weapons — Britain and Germany — have a shared responsibility to prevent any further escalation. There is a similar responsibility to secure an immediate ceasefire, unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid and an end to violence by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank. Those might sound like ambitious demands to make at this point, but the alternative would be much worse for the region and all concerned parties, including Israel.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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