Analysis. Iran’s operation can be seen as a show of strength, highlighting its capabilities to strike U.S. military bases in the region and Israeli cities with its ballistic missiles.

More countries in the Middle East are launching ‘legitimate defense’ offensives

The chain of military actions and reactions has been ongoing in the Middle East since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7. Paradoxically, each operation is justified by its authors as self-defense for the security of their state or as a deterrent to prevent further attacks by the enemy. It all amounts to a treacherous situation, as a rapid deterioration may occur at any time on several different fronts.

The Houthis are trying to show strength by continuing their attacks on ships after being subjected to U.S and U.K. air raids, which so far haven’t achieved the goal of ensuring safe navigation in the Red Sea. Last Thursday, the U.S. military carried out new airstrikes in Yemen against the positions from which anti-ship ballistic missiles have been fired, with the aim of downgrading the military capabilities of the Houthis. The U.S. Central Command announced that last week it had seized Iranian-made ballistic and cruise missile components destined for the Houthis from a ship off the coast of Somalia. According to Centcom, initial analysis indicates that these are the kinds of weapons used to attack international commercial ships passing through the Red Sea.

In the meantime, the British oil giant Shell and Qatar Energy, the second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, have suspended all their shipments through the Red Sea indefinitely.

Iran has also decided to take action. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force (IRGC), confirmed the launch of 11 missiles against what Iran claimed was a Mossad-affiliated center northeast of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and four missiles against a jihadist-affiliated command center in Idlib, in northwest Syria. According to the IRGC, this was in retaliation for “terrorist crimes recently committed by the enemies of Iran,” referring to Israel’s assassination of several IRGC and Resistance Axis commanders. It was the most significant missile strike in recent years against targets outside Iran’s national borders.

Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the Iraqi Prime Minister, condemned Iran’s attack on Iraqi soil, speaking of a “dangerous turn of events” that stands to weaken the strong relations between Iran and Iraq. According to al-Sudani, this was an act of “aggression against Iraq’s sovereignty,” and he stressed that the Baghdad government reserved all rights to take any diplomatic and legal action to defend the country’s sovereignty. In response, Nasser Kanani, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that Iran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, but nevertheless had a “legitimate right to deter national security threats.”

Tehran has repeatedly criticized Israel’s existing relationship with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whom it has accused of allowing the secret services of its arch-enemy to operate in its territory against Iran. Specifically, it accused the KRG of allowing separatist Iranian Kurdish groups in exile in areas under its control to carry out activities against the Islamic Republic. Between September and October 2022, Tehran carried out several attacks using ballistic missiles and drones against three such groups. Baghdad had sought to address Iranian concerns through a security pact with Tehran concluded in 2023.

In Iran’s attack, Peshraw Dizayee, a well-known Kurdish businessman and owner of the Falcon Group, which runs large projects such as Empire World, was killed. According to Tehran, Dizayee was exporting oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to Israel. However, the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masrour Barzani, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, accused Iran of killing innocent civilians in its attacks on the Kurdistan capital.

Iran’s operation can be seen as a show of strength, highlighting its capabilities to strike U.S. military bases in the region and Israeli cities with its ballistic missiles. In addition, it can also be seen as a response to internal pressure from ultra-conservatives, who were calling for a response after the recent attack on the country.

Despite the fact that all parties are saying they have no intention to engage in a wider conflict, their actions on the ground suggest otherwise, leaving the Middle East stuck in a phase of uncertainty, with no clear outlook for the future.

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