24 hours of war in the Middle East leaves region shaking

The region is undergoing a half-dozen wars at the same time that pit Iran and its proxies against the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A raid on Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey squaring off in Libya, the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria and Turkey and Iran coordinating attacks on Kurdish militants all served as a backdrop for an unprecedented 24 hours in the Middle East.
The region is undergoing a half-dozen wars at the same time that pit Iran and its proxies against the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia; and also Iran and Turkey against Kurdish militants; as well as proxy groups in Libya fighting each other and various Syrian groups fighting each other.
Overnight, between Thursday and Friday, an unprecedented raid by the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service struck at Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Iran has accused the US of involvement. The US and Iraq are in the midst of strategic dialogue, and there have been calls on the new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi to crack down on these groups.
Kataib Hezbollah, the key Iranian-backed group, has carried out dozens of rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq, killing three members of the Coalition and a contractor. The US carried out three rounds of airstrikes on this group, in December, January and March; and killed Iran’s IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. The raids led to a protest at the Green Zone and arrests. The full details of what happened are not clear, but Iraq may have stoked tensions with Iran and US forces could be targeted.
At the same time a large gas storage tank reportedly exploded near Tehran in Parchin just after midnight, leading to rumors of airstrikes on Iran. The massive explosion looked like it was a serious accident. Iran’s media and regime cannot be trusted to provide the full details. The massive explosion led to many false social media reports about the incident, including claims it was some kind of attack on Iran. Iran’s Ministry of Defense says the incident is under control.
Iraq has also called on Turkey to stop airstrikes in Iraq. Over the last weeks Turkey claims it has been carrying out operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but many have critiqued Turkey for bombing areas where Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian minorities live. An airstrike near a holiday resort in Sulimaniyah province on Thursday came close to killing children. Iraq is outraged and wants Ankara to stop. Meanwhile Iran is also targeting the PKK in cooperation with Turkey. Iran wants Turkey to boost trade around US sanctions and has agreed to partner with Turkey to “fight terrorism.”
Hamas and other Palestinian groups are also threatening violence over Israel’s annexation plans. Iranian media is highlighting the Hamas threats and Iran clearly wants to heat up tensions in the West Bank and Gaza. Iran is trying to stir many things up. It has slammed Israel on Press TV for honoring Israelis involved in a “Cyber attack” and says that Syrians near the Golan are protesting to “liberate Golan.”
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has slammed Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for attacks on the Kingdom over the last week. The Houthis have told Iranian media that they will carry out deeper attacks inside Saudi Arabia using drones and missiles.
In Libya another proxy conflict between Turkish-backed Libyan groups and Egyptian-backed Libyan opposition continues. Egypt has threatened to intervene after Turkey’s support for Tripoli resulted in set backed for the Benghazi-based Libyan National Army. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia all support Benghazi and want to stop Turkey from taking Sirte with its Tripoli-based militias. The US, France and Italy are all closely watching the outcome of the Libyan battles. Reports indicate Russia and Turkey are sending more equipment.
All these conflicts, from Libya to Yemen, Iraq and Syria, show a ring of wars around the region, fueled by regional powers that oppose each other. Turkey and Iran appear to be working more closely together. But it is not so simple because many of these battles are compartmentalized. For instance, Israel opposes Iran’s presence in Syria. The Syrian regime reportedly supports Russia in Libya, whereas the Iranians who support the Syrian regime apparently back Turkey.
The overall picture is one of impunity, where Turkey, Iran or Saudi Arabia can carry out airstrikes in conflicts near their countries, whether Yemen or Libya or Iraq and there is little that the international community cares to do. There are no peace processes or peace talks or ceasefires. In fact these conflicts appear to be growing. They essentially involve certain areas that are unstable and lack full national governance, whether Idlib in Syria or parts of Yemen, Iraq or Libya. This is a ring of instability. It is bisected by an Iranian corridor that links the “axis of resistance” from Yemen to Tehran and via Baghdad to Beirut.
Turkey has a crescent of control from Libya to Idlib, Tel Abyad and northern Iraq, and troops in Qatar. Turkey and Iran benefit from these conflicts, growing in control over neighboring states. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and their allies are not increasing their influence much. Russia stands above it all, working with Turkey on some issues such as S-400 air defense, but also supporting Benghazi in Libya and the Syrian regime. Russia also holds discussions with Hamas in Doha and also with Israel.
The US is seeking to withdraw slowly, but still wants to have influence in eastern Syria, parts of Iraq and with Israel. The last 24 hours show what is happening in response to the long-term withdrawal of US influence and as other powers rise.