Middle EastAnalysis

Relief as Middle East appears to retreat from the brink of regional war

Exercise of restraint may be an inflection point for region if the US and Europe commit to ending the war in Gaza

The Middle East retreated from the brink of regional war on Friday after Israeli drones were shot down over an Iranian airbase near Isfahan. Seeking to end this dangerous escalation, Tehran announced it would not retaliate and Israel said its operation was over.

While there were simultaneous Israeli strikes on military sites in Iraq and Syria, neither Baghdad nor Damascus threatened retaliation. Iran’s other allies, Lebanon’s Hizbullah did not step up assaults on Israel and Yemen’s Houthis did not increase strikes on Red Sea shipping. These attacks began in response to Israel’s war on Gaza following the October 7th raid on southern Israel by Hamas.

Friday’s exercise of restraint by Iran and Israel could be an inflection point for the volatile region if risky behaviour is discouraged and the US and Europe commit to ending the Gaza war. The conflict in Gaza is seen by Arab states as the trigger for ongoing regional violence and destabilisation.

Tension rose steeply after the April 1st Israeli bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus which killed 16 people, including seven Iranian Republican Guard officers. Despite Israel’s provocation, Iran said it would not retaliate if the UN condemned the attack on the consulate or Israel implemented a ceasefire in Gaza.


In advance of Friday’s de-escalation, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates warned Israel against striking Iran in response to last weekend’s foiled Iran’s mass missile and drone strikes on Israel.

The first country to censure Israel’s targeting of Iran was Oman, which often mediates between Iran and the West. Egypt warned of the consequences of an escalation. Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi condemned the actions “that threatened to drag the region into war” while the United Arab Emirates foreign ministry urged “utmost restraint”.

Executive director of Washington’s Quincy Institute think tank Trita Parsi posted on X: “If Iran continues to downplay the Israeli attack, dismiss it as nothing and as a result, stops the cycle, it will expect to be recognized as the more rational and restrained party escalatory to this conflict.”

This would be welcome in the western-allied Gulf, in particular, which has reconciled with Iran after six years of estrangement. For Iran and the Arab states, the Gaza war has become the main source of friction with the US and its pro-Israel European allies.

In mid-October Parsi, writing on the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft website, said US president Joe Biden “had to push for a ceasefire in order to prevent the slaughter in Gaza from escalating into a regional war with Iran. Instead, he vetoed 3 UN resolutions demanding a ceasefire & undermined a fourth. So here we are.”

Biden has demonstrated no change in policy by preparing to transfer more than $14 billion worth of arms to Israel, prolonging the Gaza war. Arab states are also angered by Thursday’s US veto of an Algerian-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution recommending the admission of Palestine to full UN membership. They see this as evidence that Biden is not serious about supporting the post-Gaza war two-state solution involving the creation of a Palestinian state which could end the 75-year-old Arab-Israel conflict.