The risk of a “really dangerous” war between Israel and Iran is greater now than it was ten days ago, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs has warned.
Dr Tobias Borck also outlined what he called the “escalation spiral” leading to full-blown regional conflict, warning Iran’s multiple proxies, including Hezbollah in Syria, made the outcome difficult to predict.
Tensions are soaring in the Middle East as a result of Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, and its aftermath.
An estimated 1,400 Israelis were killed, with retaliatory air strikes believed to have killed 2,500 people in Gaza. Israel has massed troops at the border and is widely expected to be planning a ground invasion in the next few days.
Dr Borck, a Senior Research Fellow in Middle East Security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Express.co.uk: “I think we should worry about it.
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“I don’t think it is an immediate risk. There are quite a lot of obstacles underway before we get there but this is an escalation spiral.
“There’s a balance between being alarmist on the one hand, and making sure we think about that risk.
“It is a possibility and it’s certainly a greater possibility today than it was, let’s say, 10 days ago.”
Asked to outline the steps which would lead to an Israel-Iraq war, Dr Borck said: “This is a simplified version but it would be that Israel goes into Gaza on such a scale that groups like Hezbollah feel like they cannot sit this one out.”
Such groups might not relish the prospect of taking on a top-class military such as Israel’s, Dr Borck acknowledged.
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However, Hezbollah might conclude there was no point them existing if they did not act, given they are committed to the destruction of Israel, he explained.
He continued: “So that means Hezbollah gets involved fully. That would of course mean that the Israeli military would have to would strike back with overwhelming force into Lebanon.
“You could then see that escalating further whereby groups in Syria, supported by Hezbollah and Iran, also become involved, so now it widens to beyond two countries.”
As a result, it was possible to envisage either Iran causing disruption elsewhere in the region, or the United States becoming more involved if the perception was that Israel was struggling to cope with a multi-front war, Dr Borck said.
Asked whether such a war could spread beyond the Middle East, Dr Borck was less convinced.
He said: “I’m not sure about that. I think I could I could see a regional war that involves some external actors, primarily the United States or anyone else that wants to support Israel.
“What I don’t see right now, is any external power, actively supporting a kind of Iranian coalition – the sort of scenario where Russia or China come in behind Iran.
“I don’t think that’s realistic, I don’t think Russia or China would have enough interest because Iran is not important enough to them.”
Equally, Israel, while widely believed to have nuclear weapons, adhered to a strict “no-first use” doctrine meaning it would highly unlikely to use them, Dr Borck pointed out.
He said: “I think the whole notion of a nuclear escalation risk again, is going too far.
“Nevertheless, this is without doubt a really dangerous conflict, there’s no two ways about it and that is why the whole world is currently paying attention.
“Israel has the by far, the most capable, well equipped, battle-tested military in the Middle East. I think that can be said, it does not really have peer-competitors in the Middle East.
“But the really complicated thing is that it’s quite hard to compare, pound for pound if you will, the Israeli military with what Iran has.
“Because Iran has some conventional forces. But what makes Iran ‘special’ and something of a wildcard is its irregular warfare capacity, and its partners or proxies, these armed non-state actors, Hezbollah, militias in Iraq, Syria.
“They’re not necessarily part of the Iranians that have a chain of command, strictly speaking, but they’re clearly partners of Iran. And that is that makes it more complicated to compare.”
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