Netanyahu is drawing the U.S. into war with Iran

The Israeli prime minister’s persistent obsession with the Islamic Republic may finally drag the US into another disastrous regional war, Al Jazeera worries.

After Hamas’s attack on October 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may finally be able to act on his threats against Iran. The gruesome scenes in southern Israel have provided the Israeli prime minister with the necessary pretext and international backing for a wider response.

Netanyahu has both a political and a personal stake in all this. A drawn-out regional conflict would block or at least postpone any official accountability for his utter failure to prevent Hamas’s attack from happening in the first place and could also put his multiple indictments on corruption charges on an indefinite hold.

Overnight, he transformed from a failed and embattled prime minister to a wartime leader, with opposition parties clamouring to join him in a national unity government.

Netanyahu has not elaborated on the next phases of the war, but he has received the unconditional support of Western governments to do what it takes, as long as it takes, to “defend Israel”. The administration of US President Joe Biden has gone even further, providing Israel with more arms and ammunition, dispatching its most modern and sophisticated aircraft carrier, the Ford, along with a number of destroyers to the Eastern Mediterranean, and beefing up other forces stationed in the region, enough to start World War III.

Biden’s motivation for the escalatory deployment is, reportedly, strategic deterrence, meant to ensure that “no enemies of Israel can or should seek advantage from the current situation”. But historically, Israel has never allowed any foreign boots on its soil, and is in no need of the US armadas to take on Hamas.

Biden’s incentive, therefore, could also be political, ie to ensure that the GOP doesn’t exploit the Israeli drama at his expense ahead of the presidential elections in 2024. Already, Republican opponents have tried to link Biden’s recent prisoner swap deal with Iran, which involved the unfreezing of $6bn in Iranian assets, to the Hamas attacks.

But Netanyahu and his fanatic ministers may have something very different in mind for the US deployment, that goes beyond military deterrence and political posturing. He may try to widen the scope of the war to include Iran.

His government has already accused Iran of supporting and directing Hamas’s operation, as it has previously done about other Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Scores of Israel supporters and neoconservatives, as well as media pundits in the US and Europe, have joined in by making the case for Iranian involvement.

US officials have said they haven’t seen evidence of Tehran’s involvement, yet.

For years, the Israeli army and secret services have sabotaged the Iranian nuclear programme and targeted Iranian assets abroad. Iran for its part has supported various client armed groups in the Middle East, attacking US and Israeli allies.

Despite his bluster and bravado, Netanyahu couldn’t and wouldn’t attack Iran, without a green light and support from the US. But the bloody attacks are a game-changer, giving the Israeli prime minister the perfect opportunity to realise his fantasy of crushing Iran, by tricking the Biden administration into war.

Once the case against Tehran’s role in the attacks has been fully articulated by Israel and the US, they might first try to pressure it into facilitating the release of Israeli captives taken by Hamas – a top priority for Netanyahu.

It is crucial to remember that the situation in 2023 is vastly more challenging and complicated than the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which ended in utter disaster for the US and Iraqis. A repeat against Iran is sure to be far worse for all concerned, writes Al Jazeera.