Escalating tensions between Israel and Iran are showing the difficult situation as well as the contradictory policies of the US in its efforts to defuse the crisis.

US President Joe Biden issued a brief but stern warning when Iran announced it would retaliate against Israel for the airstrike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1: “Don’t do it!”.

However, analysts believe that Iran will still respond to Israel with force, raising concerns about the risk of a direct clash between the two regional powers and exposing the limitations of US deterrence efforts in the Middle East.

The ruins of the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, Syria, after an April 1 raid believed to be by Israel. Photo: Reuters

The Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, was destroyed after an attack on April 1, believed to have been carried out by Israel. Photo: Reuters

Prolonged tensions in the region are putting heavy pressure on the foreign policy of President Joe Biden’s administration. The United States is currently stuck between two seemingly conflicting priorities, including providing unconditional support to Israel and preventing the conflict in Gaza from spreading into a regional war.

“President Biden is still focused on a formula that has so far been a complete disaster,” commented Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, a Washington-based think tank promoting diplomacy.

Parsi said that the White House boss should have quickly criticized Israel for attacking the Iranian embassy area in Damascus, Syria, earlier this month, violating international law and endangering US troops in the area. However, in the end, the Biden administration strengthened Israel’s position by pledging to continue supporting Tel Aviv.

Israel has so far not admitted to being behind the raid.

The United States, unlike some Arab and Western allies, did not condemn the attack on the Iranian consulate that killed 13 people, including two generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). At the same time, the White House also quickly emphasized that the United States was not involved in the incident.

US diplomats are said to have been racing against time over the past week, contacting their counterparts around the world to persuade Iran to calm down.

While calling for a de-escalation of tensions, US officials still reaffirmed their “steadfast” support for Israel, raising concerns about a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

“We are fully committed to defending Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel, and Iran will not succeed,” President Biden declared. The Pentagon and the State Department also expressed similar views.

“This removes any incentive to de-escalate tensions for Israel,” Parsi commented. “It helps shape Israel’s no-line strategy, regardless of international law, because they know that President Biden will support them in all circumstances.”

Sina Toossi, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy Studies, based in Washington, described US policy towards the current crisis as “contradictory and insincere”.

“They are calling on all other parties in the region to exercise restraint, continuously warning Iran ‘not to escalate,’ but encouraging Israel to act with impunity,” Toossi assessed.

He added that Iran’s motivation to respond is partly driven by the perception that the US and Israel seem to believe they can freely cause damage without fear of any drastic response from Tehran, which Doesn’t want regional conflicts to arise.

Therefore, Iran must now draw a clear line with one, Toossi said. “It can be said objectively that US policy has pushed the region into this situation,” he said.

The Israeli military has targeted Iran-related locations in Syria for many years, but according to experts, attacking a diplomatic facility is a particularly serious act, and Tehran cannot help but respond.

“Attacking the consulate means they have attacked our territory,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced on April 10. “The Israeli government made a mistake. They must be punished and will be punished.”

It is unclear how and how drastic Iran will implement the punishment, but if it happens, it could be a turning point in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, which is expanding, observers note.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon has been fighting Israeli forces almost every day since October last year when Tev Aviv launched a military operation in Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas raid.

On April 12, Hezbollah announced the launch of dozens of rockets targeting “a series of enemy artillery positions” in northern Israel.

The Houthi force in Yemen, another ally of Iran, has launched missiles and drones (UAVs) to attack cargo ships in the Red Sea that the group believes are linked to Israel to show support. Hamas.

A UAV attack by Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups in February killed three US soldiers at a base near the Jordan-Syria border. The US then retaliated with a series of attacks in Iraq and Syria.

All of these “triggers” of tension have so far been contained in one way or another. But now, the region once again faces the prospect of escalating conflict.

“The pressure is now on Israel and the US, not Iran. There have been many warnings aimed at Iran in the hope that they will not act. But Israel is the one who started the problem with the raid on the court.” consul of Iran,” said Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs at John Hopkins University. “And now, everyone is trying to avoid the possible consequences.”

President Biden does not want the US to be dragged into a conflict with Iran, especially when he is seeking re-election in November. But Washington’s default policy has long been to support Israel, Nasr said.

Member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Tehran in November 2023. Photo: AFP

Member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Tehran in November 2023. Photo: AFP

“The US position is that they do not want the war to spread. They do not want to get bogged down in a war with Iran. They do not want the crisis in Gaza to become a regional war. They can say this to Israel behind the scenes, but publicly, they still warn Iran not to escalate,” he said.

But Nasr added that every country faces internal politics in its foreign policy. “And in America, giving solid guarantees for Israel’s defense capabilities has probably become a given,” he commented.

In Washington, those with a tough stance on Iran are urging the US to respond strongly if Israel is attacked.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton on April 10 called for a “swift and brutal” joint response campaign to any Iranian military move against Israel.

Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), based in Washington, warned that if the US and Israel retaliated, the consequences could be catastrophic.

“It is truly reckless and will certainly plunge the entire region into a terrible and bloody conflict,” he said.

Costello said the US position so far is mainly deterrence and trying to reduce conflict but not too drastically.

“They are saying that Israel will have our support, and Iran should just accept what happened at the consulate in Damascus, which I think is difficult for any country to accept,” he noted.

The Quincy Institute’s Parsi expert emphasized that the best remedy for simmering tensions across the Middle East is to end the conflict in Gaza.

“In the broader picture, of course, there is always a clear de-escalation path for President Biden, which is to promote a ceasefire in Gaza,” he said. “The ceasefire will stop Iraqi militia attacks on the United States, end Houthi attacks, and prevent escalation between Iran and Israel, and between Israel and Hezbollah.”