Sunday, May 26, 2024

UK’s Cameron Drops a Bombshell: Israel Primed to Retaliate After Iran’s Missile Strikes

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JERUSALEM — After an unprecedented Iranian missile and drone attack on Israeli territory over the weekend, Western allies are engaged in a diplomatic blitz urging restraint from Israel as it weighs military retaliation against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock made successive visits to Jerusalem in bids to temper any potential Israeli response that could further inflame regional tensions.

Their trips marked the first by senior Western diplomats since Iran fired hundreds of missiles, drones and rockets at Israel in the overnight hours between Saturday and Sunday. The audacious assault represented an escalation of Iran’s confrontational behavior beyond its typical provocations via militant proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Though Israel’s sophisticated air defense systems intercepted nearly all the projectiles – thanks in large part to US and allied assistance – the attack has stoked fears of a dangerous escalation spiral that could ignite a larger regional conflict.

Speaking after meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Mr. Cameron acknowledged that Israel has made a decision to retaliate militarily, an eventuality most analysts see as all but inevitable after such a brazen Iranian strike on the Jewish state’s territory.

“It’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act,” Mr. Cameron said. “We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible and that is smart as well as tough.”

Mr. Cameron reiterated Britain’s steadfast support for Israel’s right to self-defense, calling it “right to show solidarity with Israel.” At the same time, he urged Western allies to present a “united front” by imposing coordinated sanctions on Iran for its “malign activity in this region” sponsoring militants across the Middle East.

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“What we want to see are coordinated sanctions against Iran,” the British diplomat said, accusing Tehran of being “behind so much of the malign activity in this region” through proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, Palestinian terror groups like Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Mr. Cameron said he hoped to see new sanctions discussed and advanced at an upcoming meeting of G7 foreign ministers taking place over the next few days on the Italian island of Capri. “I think there’s more that we can do to show a united front,” he said of the G7 nations.

Ms. Baerbock, the German foreign minister, did not immediately comment after her meetings in Jerusalem. But a day prior, she had voiced support for additional European Union sanctions targeting Iran’s missile and drone production capabilities.

“We will discuss how a further escalation with more and more violence can be prevented,” Ms. Baerbock said on Tuesday of her planned Israel visit. “Because what matters now is to put a stop to Iran without encouraging further escalation.”

The German diplomat said she was hopeful the EU could soon agree to extend an existing sanctions regime against Iran’s drone program “together as the EU.” She noted that Berlin had previously campaigned alongside France and other European partners last autumn for the sanctions to be strengthened.

For its part, the US announced late Tuesday that it intended to impose fresh penalties on Iran’s missile and drone capabilities in response to the strikes on Israel over the weekend.

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“In the coming days, the United States will impose new sanctions targeting Iran, including its missile and drone program, as well as the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian defense ministry,” said Jake Sullivan, the White House National Security Advisor.

Mr. Sullivan said Washington anticipated that its “allies and partners will soon be following with their own sanctions” complementing the new American measures. “These new sanctions and other measures will continue a steady drumbeat of pressure to contain and degrade Iran’s military capacity and effectiveness and confront the full range of its problematic behaviors,” he stated.

The blitz of Western diplomacy in Israel this week reflects the delicate balance allies are trying to strike – holding Iran accountable for its belligerence through stiffened economic punishment, while simultaneously heading off any major Israeli military strikes that could trigger an uncontrolled broader confrontation.

European and American leaders have vocally discouraged Israel from undertaking large-scale retaliatory raids on Iranian soil in response to the missile attacks. Any such operation risks inviting further volleys from Tehran that could quickly escalate into a larger regional war implicating Iranian proxies across the Middle East.

However, most analysts assess that Israel has little choice but to respond with force to the Iranian strikes in some manner, if only to preserve its long-standing policy of deterring attacks and demonstrating its mil itary supremacy over the Islamic Republic.

In the meetings with the visiting Western envoys, Israeli leaders pushed back against the calls for restraint while demanding stronger action against Iran from the international community.

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After conferring with Mr. Cameron and Ms. Baerbock, President Herzog issued a statement declaring, “The whole world must work decisively and defiantly against the threat by the Iranian regime, which is seeking to undermine the stability of the whole region.”

“Israel is unequivocal in its commitment to defending its people,” Mr. Herzog added.

For his part, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz urged the Western diplomats to back designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and hit Iran with “painful sanctions” over its missile program.

“Iran and its proxies endanger regional and global stability. Now we have an opportunity to curb Iran,” Mr. Katz was quoted as telling Mr. Cameron and Ms. Baerbock. “It’s time to call the Revolutionary Guards by their real name – a terrorist organization – and impose painful sanctions on Iran’s missile project.”

The heated rhetoric highlighted the high-stakes diplomacy underway as Western nations seek to rally a united front pressuring Iran economically and politically as an offramp to military escalation.

Yet a direct military confrontation between Israel and Iran – two of the Middle East’s most formidable armed forces – appears increasingly hard to avoid after this weekend’s unprecedented Iranian missile attack.

The question is whether the US and its European allies can mustenew enough financial and political leverage on Tehran, while persuading Israeli leaders that forceful retaliation should still be limited in scope to prevent a descent into a region-wide war.

For now, the focus remained on precarious diplomacy aimed at walking that increasingly narrow tightrope.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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