Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi during the funeral of the victims of the January 3 explosions in Kerman (Iran), January 5, 2024. IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL VIA AFP
An aggressive state sometimes betrays its own nervousness. In less than twenty-four hours, Iran has freed itself from a cautious strategy observed since Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 and the outbreak of war in the Gaza Strip. On January 15 and 16, the regime launched a series of attacks in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. The ballistic missiles fired in retaliation for attacks on its soil and against its allies in the Middle East were intended as a show of force. They also represented a risky bet, in the eyes of experts “a miscalculation,” which led to a diplomatic crisis with Islamabad and a formal response on its territory on January 18, as well as violent protests from Baghdad.
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Since October 7, Tehran has allowed its cronies within the “Axis of Resistance” to open coordinated fronts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen to support the Palestinian Hamas while maintaining diplomatic turf. Their emissaries called for an end to the Gaza war and regional de-escalation. “Iran's first goal after October 7 was not to fall into what it saw as Israel's trap, namely that of direct confrontation with them and the United States, but at the same time to prevent this from expanding the scope of the war,” analyzes Ali Vaez , expert at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The strategy that Iran pursued was the result of trial and error and ill-considered calculations. “Iran was caught off guard by October 7th, shattering its previous strategic calculations », emphasizes the Iran specialist. Tehran has been playing the regional appeasement card since signing a détente agreement with its major Sunni rival Saudi Arabia in March 2023. Indirect negotiations have been started with the USA in order to achieve a partial lifting of American sanctions. “The two countries planned to return to the nuclear negotiating table in mid-October,” specifies Ali Vaez.
Crisis of legitimacy
“At the strategic level, Iran sought to achieve a new level of deterrence with Israel by opening the possibility of a multi-front attack from the Golan Heights, Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank. But a test in April 2023 showed that two of the fronts [la Cisjordanie et le Golan] “We weren’t ready yet,” says the ICG expert. The bloody Hamas attack on Israeli territory on October 7, which claimed around 1,140 lives and took 240 hostages, derailed this project. The proactive slogan “Unity of the Fronts” captured the reality of the balance of power and risk calculations. In the name of trebuchet-balanced retaliation, the fronts in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen were ignited, while the fronts in Syria and the West Bank remained dormant.
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