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Middle Eastern Cold War Gone Hot Over Gaza

The war in Gaza goes beyond Israel and Palestine. There is now a Houthi blockade in the Red Sea, attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, and Yemen and Israeli airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon. All of these instances can be traced to the ‘Iranian Axis of resistance’–a group of Iran's allies including Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, Shia militias in Iraq, the Syrian government and more. 

It is through this axis that the Houthis are allied with Hamas. Iran, Hamas and the Houthis are all threatened by a potential truce between historical enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia. This deal specifically is the Iranian regime’s worst nightmare beyond a revolution. Similarly, Hamas would be doomed if the leading Sunni power and center of Islam shook hands with Israel, their mortal enemy. The Houthis have been at war with the Saudis since the 90s and have always been hostile towards Israel. The murky alliance of Iran, Hamas and the Houthis is the result of converging interest within the axis.

The proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been going on for decades, but the prospect of Israel–a nation forever at odds with the Muslim world– normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia shook Iran and the Axis to the core. The most upset Iranian ally is Hamas, which exists as an Islamic paramilitary under Israeli surveillance. So on October 7th, 2023, they took action, looking to prevent diplomacy between Israel and Saudi Arabia by antagonizing an outsized response.

The Houthis, allied with Hamas, then responded with a blockade and multiple attacks against commercial shipping vessels, presumed or known to be associated with Israel in the Red Sea. Houthi military officials state this will persist as long as Israel continues its offensive in Gaza. They have also launched ballistic missiles towards Israel from Yemen, many landing in the sea and Egypt.

The U.S. and 19 other nations coalesced commencing Operation Prosperity Guardian to combat the Houthis and restore safe navigation through the Red Sea. The U.S. and UK have struck dozens of targets in Houthi Yemen with airstrikes. The Houthis now threaten to attack U.S. vessels, as well. There have also been multiple instances of naval warfare between the U.S. and Houthi forces.

Simultaneously in Iraq and Syria, 151 attacks on U.S. bases have been carried out by Iranian-backed Shia militias since the war in Gaza started. The U.S. has responded with occasional targeted airstrikes against those groups, mainly on munitions storage facilities. 

What is clear is that the war in Gaza began a chain reaction within the Axis. October 7 seems to have been Hamas's attempt at stopping Saudi-Israeli relations from moving forward. The thought seems to have been that forcing an Israeli offensive in Gaza would prevent Saudi Arabia– the center of Islam– from shaking hands in good conscience with a nation killing Muslim civilians. The plan has seemingly worked as talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been halted since October 14.

The Houthis then moved to support Hamas and improve their status in the Axis. They are acting on both ideology and potential return on investment from Iran. The attacks on U.S. bases by Shia paramilitaries are in the same vein. Ultimately, all Axis members are ideologically driven by religious qualms with Israel and the U.S., as well as seeking to prevent a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia was inflamed by Israel looking to achieve diplomacy with its historical adversary. Iran has taken advantage of the political situations in Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to enforce its will to prevent said diplomacy.

The chain reaction that began in Gaza now has spread to seven nations across the region. Saudi relations with Israel have been paused, and the Iranian axis currently has achieved its aims. While the U.S. Navy is taking action in the Red Sea, Iraq and Syria–the Department of Defense has said there are no available funds to increase military capacity in the Middle East. Idealistically, the tensions would be ratcheted down after sustained U.S. regional presence and the war in Gaza concluding. However, realistically speaking, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which the bloodshed does not consume the Middle East for months to come.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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