Tehran Fans Flames Of Escalation Fears With Warning On Israeli-Hamas War

Iranian leaders have called for an "immediate" halt to Israel's offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and warned "other fronts will open up" in the conflict, fanning global concerns that the war could quickly escalate.

Israel pounded southern Gaza for an 11th day on October 17 in response to a Hamas attack inside Israel that killed more than 1,400 Israelis, with at least another 199 being taken back to the Palestinian territory as hostages. The conflict is already the deadliest in five Gaza wars for both sides, with Palestinian officials saying more than 2,800 people have already died in Gaza during the Israeli assault.

The Israeli response has pushed hundreds of thousands of civilians to try and leave Gaza to the south, exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the territory, which has seen its supply lines for electricity, fuel, and other goods from Israel cut off. Relief convoys that have been waiting for days in Egypt were said to be headed towards the Rafah border crossing with the Palestinian enclave on October 17.

International observers have condemned the Hamas attack but have also said that while Israel has the right to defend its citizens, it needs to enable a plan to deliver humanitarian aid to those civilians caught up in the fighting that has seen Israeli forces pound Gaza for days as they prepare for a ground invasion to wipe out Hamas, which rules the enclave.

“If the crimes continue, Muslims will be impatient, resistances forces will be impatient, and nobody will be able to prevent them,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on October 17.

Iran, a staunch backer of Hamas, has denied any involvement in the incursion and attack on Israel.

Added Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian: "Any option is imaginable," he said, when asked if Iran could step into the conflict. "No one can stand on the sidelines."

He did not say whether that meant direct Iranian action or moves by other armed groups supported by Iran such as Hizballah, which is located in Lebanon.

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem on October 18 to show support for Israel and then head to Jordan to meet with Arab leaders as they look for a diplomatic solution to ensure the conflict doesn't broaden and that humanitarian aid can be delivered.

"The way I see it, if Iran and its allies decide to escalate, it will come from the Syria front, not Lebanon, although Hezbollah will still be a key player in any case," Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said in a post on X.

Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he doesn't believe Tehran "at present" wants the war to expand as "they understand that they also have a price to pay."

He added in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Iran could face a "very significant dilemma" following its tough talk because "if they do nothing, it will certainly present them as weak."

If Tehran does intervene, Zimmt said, “then they could lose their more important strategic arm, which is Hizballah” in retaliatory Israeli attacks.

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Key Words: Iran, Israel, Hamas, Middle East, Hezbollah

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