Forget "not wanting" to escalate. War, especially this one, needs to be actively deescalated before we reach the abyss. PLUS: The White House smears a good reporter.
Edited by Sam Thielman
IRAN HAS FIRED ITS FIRST DIRECT SHOTS of what is now clearly a regionalized war. I say "direct" shots because Iran sponsors an "Axis of Resistance"—Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the "Islamic Revolution in Iraq" and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen—each of which is advancing along its own lines of operation. But on Monday, the Iranians themselves fired missiles at Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, targeting what they claim is a Mossad headquarters; and at Idlib, in northwestern Syria, in revenge for the deadly Jan. 4 ISIS attack on the Qassem Soleimani memorial demonstration.
The "Mossad headquarters" the Iranians say they were targeting was the home of a prominent Kurdish businessman named Peshraw Dizayee. Iran killed him along with his one-year old daughter, Zhina, which is yet another reminder that no empire of any variety values human life. While Iranian media says Dizayee exported oil to Israel—quite the downgrade from his house being Mossad HQ, it's hard not to notice—Heman Hussein Yassin of the Turkish news agency Anadolu reports that Dizayee is "associated with the Development Road Project, which sought to connect Iraq to Europe via Türkiye" and was clearly a connected guy with the regional Kurdish government.
Whatever the message Iran is sending to Ankara, Erbil, and Baghdad under the pretext of attacking Israeli intelligence, the Iraqi foreign ministry is withdrawing its ambassador from Iran in protest of the Iranian attacks on Iraqi soil. Soon we'll see if the Iranians are miscalculating in Iraq in a manner similar to the American miscalculation there. But whatever the outcome, Iran's Erbil strike reveals a dynamic that intensifies every single day that Israel's U.S.-backed genocide in Gaza continues and reverberates across the region.
The White House has insisted for months that it wants no wider war, even as it arms and diplomatically defends Israel; as it directly retaliates against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria; and now as it directly attacks the Houthis in Yemen. An unfortunate New York Times story treated such deliberate choices by the Biden administration as something "no one wanted," which is akin to treating war, the continuation of politics by other means, like the weather. Similarly, consensus opinion within the Biden administration is that Iran, too, desires no wider war. Tehran's reliance on proxies are meant to keep retaliation against Israel under the threshold of prompting direct U.S. or Israeli retaliation.
But this is what we call a "clue." War exists beyond what its combatants intend to unleash. And alongside the suffering and sumud of Gaza, that's the reality that ought to concentrate our attention every day this war continues.