Is Middle East Instability Likely to Escalate in Future?

The Middle East has been a hub of geopolitical tensions and upheaval, with its complex dynamics influencing global peace and stability. As 2024 approaches, it is crucial for the international community to recognize and prepare for an even more turbulent Middle East.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has sparked a cascade of regional tensions, including increasing tensions in Lebanon, Yemen’s Houthi maritime attacks, military confrontations between Iran and Pakistan, Sudan’s intensifying fight, Jordan’s air forces and drug smugglers in Syria, and increasing attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel presents a precarious situation for regional stability, with Hamas aiming for a “PR” victory rather than a military victory. This situation is creating a complex web of alliances, rivalries, and geopolitical interests, which will inadvertently lead to a military escalation involving Iran. Iran has been known to exploit regional conflicts to further its agenda, and an escalated situation involving Hamas and Israel provides an opportunity for Iran to flex its capabilities and assert its influence.

The regional and global threat from Iran extends beyond the conflict in Gaza, emanating from various proxy confrontation nodes across the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Jordan. Jordan has conducted a successful airstrike over Syrian soil, targeting Iran-linked drug smugglers. This highlights the threats posed by Iran-linked groups in Syria to Jordan and the wider region.

Captagon production and trafficking have become a significant source of revenue for terrorist organizations operating in Syria, which exploit the conflict in Syria to manufacture and smuggle this highly profitable drug. The uncontrolled production and trafficking of captagon have become a significant source of revenue for these groups, providing them with substantial funds to sustain their operations, recruit fighters, and conduct acts of violence regionally.

The increased volatility and conflict in Syria could also stem from new attacks on US forces in the country. Iran-backed militias have attacked US troops 130 times in Syria and Iraq since October 17th, posing a potential military confrontation and endangering the region’s security. With Iran’s support, Iraq has recently pledged to end the presence of US troops in Iraq, which would allow Iran to further increase its influence in Iraq for its political agenda and potentially provide ISIS with the opportunity to ramp up its capabilities once again.

Lebanon is also one of the states that Iran has had tremendous influence in for decades and controls its most influential armed group in the South, Hezbollah. The Hamas-Israel conflict in Gaza has heightened tensions in the south of Lebanon, posing a potential direct military confrontation for Israel. Regardless of the border tensions in the south of Lebanon, the country faces the existential risk of being drawn into complete turmoil should its Iran-backed armed militias in the south be pushed into a full-scale war with Israel by Iran.

Iran has a tendency to support and push its proxy groups in the region into armed conflicts while restraining itself from direct confrontation. This has been evident in recent incidents by the Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in Gaza. If a full-scale armed confrontation between Iran-backed militias and Israel takes place in the South of Lebanon, it will have a more devastating impact on the region than the war in Gaza.

The Houthis in Yemen, with full Iranian support, have expanded their offensive strategy and increased their level of aggression since the conflict in Gaza broke out. They have launched drones and ballistic missiles toward Israel and commercial vessels passing via Bab Al Mandab toward the Red Sea. Although most of the missiles launched by the Houthis have been intercepted by US forces, their actions have posed a major threat to the shipping industry, which is crucial for almost 10% of global trade. Shipping costs have increased by 300% due to the Houthi maritime attacks, which are likely to have negative economic implications on the final prices of goods transported worldwide.

Egypt’s Suez Canal revenues have fallen by almost 40% due to the Houthi’s threat in the Red Sea, providing an unprecedented economic challenge for Egypt. The Houthis’ maritime attacks pose an undeniable and serious threat not only to maritime security but also to the safety of various GCC nations that Iran views as US regional allies. Therefore, there is a crucial need for an immediate and coordinated international response to combat the growing threat posed by the Houthis in the Red Sea and the region.

The US-led response to the Houthis conflict in Yemen will determine the future of armed escalations in the region. The Houthis, known for possessing anti-ship ballistic missiles, poses a significant threat to the shipping industry and transiting vessels via the Red Sea. If these capabilities are not quickly eliminated, the world may see a rise in Houthis maritime attacks. The Houthis may also resort to attacking neighboring GCC nations to pressure them not to support US efforts in countering these threats.

Despite the US-led forces launching a strike against the Houthis, the group has already conducted a military drill near the Saudi border. Iraq’s Haraket Hezbollah Al-Nujaba has stated that US interests will not be safe after the Houthis strikes in Yemen, indicating that Iran-backed militias in the region pose a growing threat to stability and security. Additionally, maritime safety in the Red Sea is also facing a threat from East Africa, with tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia growing due to Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence in exchange for a port and naval base.

The Ethiopian deal with Somaliland is moving towards a potential armed conflict, with countries like the US, Egypt, Turkey, and the Arab League condemning it. The reaction of Ethiopia and Somalia, with a history of piracy and terrorism, will have significant implications on maritime security. Addressing and countering the evolving threats in the Middle East is uneasy, but collective action is necessary to prevent instability.

US forces are primarily responsible for addressing Iran-backed groups in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, but more extensive defense and security cooperation is necessary. The military confrontation between Iran and Pakistan adds a critical element to the Middle East’s instability. US and regional Arab allies should enhance strategic defense cooperation and regional capability development to counter Iran’s resistance proxy groups. A unified, cohesive, and well-equipped military approach will deter Iranian aggression and reinforce regional stability.

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