Risk of bigger war rising as Iran intends to hit back over embassy strike – but Biden knows he can’t blink


The risks of the Gaza war expanding into a much bigger regional conflict had seemed to have subsided. Not any longer.

Comments from Iranian and American leaders in the last 24 hours may be entirely predictable but they raise the prospects of escalation.

Iran knows it’s been directly attacked in the airstrike on its embassy in Damascus and unless it retaliates it is weakened.

And in this region that is dangerous.

So on Wednesday, celebrating the end of Ramadan, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei issued a stern warning that Israel must be punished and will be.

Middle East latest:
Iran attack on Israel could be imminent

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with members of the Air Force in Tehran, Iran 
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Piv: WANA/Reuters

The US president knows the attack presumed by most to have been the work of its ally Israel violated international law which declares embassies ‘inviolable’.

And Biden’s relations with the man who almost certainly ordered it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are rock bottom.

But the US president also knows any sign of weakness on his part is dangerous, too.

It would only embolden Iran to do its worst and that in turn would provoke Israel to do the same – potentially setting the entire region alight.

Joe Biden during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pic: AP
Relations are strained between Biden and Netanyahu. Pic: AP

So Joe Biden has declared his ironclad support for Israel and raised the prospect of America becoming directly involved if war were to break out between its ally and Iran.

It is exactly the same calculus that led the US president to send two naval carrier groups to the waters off Israel in the wake of the 7 October attacks by Hamas to warn Iran – ‘don’t get involved’.

That move was successful. This time Biden may need to do more.

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Biden: ‘We want to address Iranian threat’

Iran has shown remarkable restraint holding back in this war despite frequent attacks by Israel on its assets and allies in Syria and Lebanon.

It has done so by claiming those attacks were not direct strikes on Iran itself.

The logic is clear. The ayatollahs are weak at home after the biggest uprising against its rule since its revolution and a regional war would be devastating.

But a direct attack on an embassy can’t be overlooked. The Iranians have made that clear.

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They believe they have to retaliate.

But by the same logic, they may try to calibrate their response to avert a regional conflagration.

The region watches and waits.

The balance of stability in the Middle East hangs on Tehran’s decision.

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