However, experts warn that given the scale of actions taking place across the region, and the range of actors with different motivations, any simple error in judgment could quickly spiral out of control.
“They are playing a very dangerous game, basically a game of chicken,” said Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group, speaking about the various actors in the Middle East. “Any miscalculation, misunderstanding, or accidental blow could lead to a major escalation.”
This week alone witnessed the assassination that targeted a senior Hamas leader in Beirut and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad. Last week, a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in Damascus. In the Red Sea, Yemen's Houthi rebels continued their threats to disrupt commercial shipping despite a warning of military action by the United States and its allies.
Iran, the main supporter of the anti-American “axis of resistance,” is reeling from a bombing that killed 95 people on Wednesday, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. The attack occurred during a ceremony commemorating Major General Qassem Soleimani on the fourth anniversary of his assassination in a US drone strike in Iraq in 2020.
Late last month, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told a parliamentary committee that Israel was already defending itself in a “multi-arena” war that goes beyond Gaza and the West Bank.
“I say it here in the clearest possible way: anyone working against us is a potential target. “There is no immunity for anyone,” Gallant said.
Here are some hotspots around the region:
A senior Hamas official was killed in an airstrike in Beirut on Tuesday that bore all the hallmarks of targeted killing by Israel.
Saleh Al-Arouri is the highest-ranking Hamas official to be killed since October 7, when the Palestinian movement led a cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Israeli officials have warned that they will target Hamas officials living internationally, although they have not claimed direct responsibility for Al-Arouri's killing.
The assassination comes amid long-standing speculation that Hezbollah may join Hamas' war against Israel. Since October 7, the militant group has engaged in cross-border attacks on Israel, although it is generally considered to have abstained from full hostilities.
Al-Arouri was killed in Dahiya, a residential neighborhood near Beirut considered a Hezbollah stronghold. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, said in a speech on Wednesday that there would be a “response and punishment” for Al-Arouri’s assassination.
Reem Mumtaz, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Hezbollah will likely face pressure from its supporters to respond, but it must also take into account the unstable economic situation in Lebanon.
“A large portion of the Lebanese people cannot even imagine fighting another war, given what they are already going through now,” Mumtaz said, referring to the country’s financial crisis that has pushed 82 percent of the country into poverty. .
The Beirut killing targets Hamas leaders – wherever they are
An Iran-linked militia leader was killed in Baghdad on Thursday in a rare US airstrike in the center of the Iraqi capital.
The target was Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi, deputy commander of operations in the Baghdad region for the Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, according to a statement by the group. The militia has claimed responsibility for several attacks on American forces in Iraq since October 7 – Part of a broader wave of recent attacks aimed at forcing the United States to end its presence in Iraq.
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is part of a coalition of Iranian-backed groups known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which worked with the Iraqi army to defeat ISIS after it took control of much of the country in 2014. The militia officially fell under the command of the Iraqi army.
Iraqi army spokesman Yahya Rasoul said in a statement on Thursday: She said that the international coalition forces led by the United States They were responsible for “an unprovoked attack on an Iraqi security entity” that amounted to “blatant aggression and violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and security.”
Nearly 2,500 US troops are stationed in Iraq at present, with Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa al-Sudani saying their presence is necessary to help prevent ISIS from regaining territory.
The Popular Mobilization Forces militias were behind more than 100 attacks on American forces in the country since October 17, according to American statistics, which represented a major escalation and led to rounds of retaliation.
Israel has repeatedly struck Syria since October 7, with the Israeli army announcing on Tuesday that it had struck “military infrastructure belonging to the Syrian army” in response to the launching of missiles towards its territory.
In December, Iranian state media reported that Sayyed Radhi Mousavi, a senior official in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed in an airstrike in the Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood of Damascus.
In accounts of his death, Mousavi has been described as a former colleague of Soleimani, the Iranian military commander who has earned the title of martyr since his killing by the United States. Soleimani led the Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guard that operated internationally.
Randa Slim, director of the Conflict Resolution Dialogues and Track Two Program at the Middle East Institute, said Mousavi's death was a bigger blow than Arouri to Hezbollah and Iran.
Iranian officials pledged to respond to Mousavi's killing, with Hossein Akbari, Iran's ambassador to Syria, saying that Israel would get “a response to this crime at the appropriate time and in the appropriate situation.”
The Houthi rebels in Yemen launched several attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea. On Wednesday, they claimed responsibility for an attack on a Maltese-flagged ship that they said was headed to Israel.
Regular attacks on the main trade route have prompted some major shipping companies to avoid the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a narrow waterway near the area controlled by the Iran-backed armed group in Yemen.
In response to the economic turmoil, the United States and its allies formed a multinational initiative called Operation Prosperity Sentinel. US Navy ships clashed with Houthi forces, sinking three boats in a single exchange on Sunday, according to the Pentagon.
The Houthis warned, in a statement published on social media on Tuesday, that “any American aggression will not go unanswered.”
The Houthis have also fired long-range missiles at Israel since October 7, claiming that they will continue targeting Israel until “Israeli aggression stops.” Most of the missiles were intercepted by Israeli air defenses.
Since taking control of the Yemeni capital in 2014, the Houthis have become one of Iran's most capable allies in the region and among its most independent. Analysts say that by disrupting Hamas' support shipping, they are attracting their own local supporters and establishing themselves as peers to more established groups like Hezbollah.
Iran has also been affected by violence on its soil this week, with twin explosions in the central city of Kerman on Wednesday killing at least 95 people who were visiting Soleimani's birthplace to commemorate his death.
The attack was not linked to Israel or the United States, but to another major regional enemy: the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the bombings in a message posted on social media on Thursday.
At least 95 were killed in Iran bombings during a ceremony marking the general's death
“ISIS hates Iran more than Israel hates Iran, if that’s even possible,” Hiltermann said, using an acronym to refer to the extremist group.
So far, Israel has not directly struck Iran since October 7, although Israeli officials have indicated they would do so if the conflict expands. However, analysts say Iran is unlikely to back down from its support for Hamas and its other regional allies.
“Any event like this by itself would not lead to war,” said Slim of the Middle East Institute. “But the more these assassinations pile up, the more they start happening one after the other, and the more they move toward the trigger where someone says, ‘To hell with it.’” “Then, we have a great war on our hands.”