Global leaders at World Economic Forum confronted by rising Middle East tensions

Long-standing conflicts involving both Iran and Turkey reignite in addition to lingering Israeli war on Gaza

While the world has been preoccupied by Israel’s war on Gaza, an increase in long-standing Middle Eastern conflicts involving Iran and Turkey has compelled 60 global leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos to refocus on the entire region.

Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan warned, “We need a ceasefire [in Gaza] immediately – continuing as we are now will lead to continuing cycles of escalation.”

Having previously relied on allies to play bit parts, Iran has emerged centre stage. On Tuesday, it bombed Pakistani bases of the rebel Iranian ethnic Baluch Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl which last month allegedly attacked an Iranian police station, killing 11 people. Pakistan said Iran’s attack resulted in the deaths of two children.

Islamabad said Iran had violated its airspace and warned that the incident could have “serious consequences” and was “completely unacceptable” in a statement in the early hours of Wednesday.


Pakistan’s ministry for foreign affairs said it will recall its ambassador in Tehran and will not allow Iran’s envoy in Islamabad, who is visiting his home country, to return.

Also on Tuesday, Iranian strikes killed a prominent Kurdish businessman and damaged a Kurdish intelligence agency facility in Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Tehran claimed the target was Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. . Iran also struck eastern Syria to retaliate against Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the bombings on January 3rd that killed 90 people in Iran..

Turkey has resumed air raids in northern Iraq against the secessionist Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.

Turkey also struck US-backed Syrian Kurds who, Ankara claims, are allied to the PKK. Turkey’s defence ministry announced on X that 23 targets were destroyed. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated Turkish troops could invade northern Syria to clear Kurds from the border with Turkey.

Meanwhile, despite US and UK strikes on strategic military sites in Yemen, Houthi rebels have reiterated their demand for a Gaza ceasefire and stepped up attacks on Red Sea shipping that have disrupted east-west trade. The ceasefire demand has been echoed by Arab, Iranian and Turkish leaders since Israel launched its Gaza campaign on October 7th.

Cyprus has expressed concern over potential retaliation for Britain’s use of its Akrotiri airbase on the island to bomb Yemen’s Houthis. After the Cyprus government spokesman Theodoros Gotsis called for an end to the Red Sea crisis, hundreds of Cypriots rallied at Akrotiri to protest against British missions flown from the base.

Pressure to end the war and disruption of shipping by insurance and European firms is also building on Israel, the US, and UK. Ships have been rerouted around the tip of Africa, delaying deliveries and increasing costs.

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Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times