USA & Iran flags on stormy cloudy orange sky background

One word is constantly missing in action in the international discourse around Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. A word that encapsulates almost all regional war theaters and is the key to understand Middle East instability. The international community very often uses the word “Gaza” to that end; yet in reality, that word should be “Iran”.

US intelligence officials were quoted in the media as anticipating an imminent Iranian retaliation over the strike related to Israel in Damascus. Iranian officials and state media are vocally threatening Israel, even calling off all of the nation’s domestic and international flights. Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei vowed revenge in Hebrew on X, then in a ceremony honoring the end of Ramadan this week: saying Israel “must be punished”.

Many voices in the media and senior officials behind the podium seem to have been dumbfounded by that surprising development. Israel seemed to have decided, quite impulsively, to target six senior Iranian generals, including IRGC commander Mohamed Reza Zahedi that reportedly oversaw Tehran’s terrorist efforts in Syria and in Lebanon. Khamenei falsely claims that Israel attacked Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Syria; the explosion actually took place in a premises adjacent to the Iranian consulate, thereby not on “Iran’s own soil”, as he put it. Yet many international outlets slam Israel for “striking an embassy”. One headline slammed this attack as Israel’s way to “beg for World War III”.

Yet anyone who has been paying close attention has long realized how Gaza is but one theater out of a larger war waged by the axis of evil – the Russia-China-Iran axis – against Israel, the West, and regional pragmatic Arab countries. The wars in Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen, and tensions with Hezbollah indeed have an intertwined connecting line. What has been crystal-clear for people in the region was left almost unmentioned in statements by world leaders, analysis in many media outlets, and resolution in international forums. Framing the situation as “Israel’s war against Gaza” cannot explain the seven-front war conducted against Israel these days by Iran-backed militias, nor the fueled tension and instability around the region and the world; “the Iranian octopus” or the “axis of evil” definitely can.

At the IDSF, we have been constantly referring to the situation between Israel and Hamas not as Israel’s war against Gaza, as it is often referred to, but as the First Israel-Iran War. When framed this way, an immediate domino effect is triggered. Members of the European Parliament, US Congress, and influencing figures from around the world seemed to have internalized the larger reason that keeps Israel busy in an existential war for six months now.

Framing is said to be everything. Yet when President Biden gave a 6,417 word-long State of the Union speech last month, Iran was mentioned once – vaguely. The President didn’t mention Iran once in his previous SOTU. This week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and UK Foreign Minister David Cameron held a joint press conference; 6,809 words, and the word Iran was vaguely mentioned once, alongside other countries around the world.

In long press briefings by Blinken and spokesperson Matthiew Miller; in a 10-minute interview with coordinator John Kirby; in a 20-minute long analysis of the war by a prominent American news network – none of them mentioned Iran once. How can this gap be possibly explained?

Whether by the force of habit, by lack of knowledge or by the sheer interest to appease aggressors, the international community has mostly failed to mention Iran’s responsibility to the ongoing carnage around the region. A regime that funds most of Hamas’ budget, is openly supportive of it, and hosted a Hamas military drill on Iranian soil just a few short weeks before the October 7 attacks, virtually enjoys international immunity. Condemning Israel’s “deliberate targeting of civilians”, a country that oversaw the mass civilian evacuation from war zones to safe zones precisely to avoid civilian casualties, seem to be a much more relevant clickbait than accurately switching the limelight to Iran’s strategy of wreaking havoc around the region in order to export the Shi’ite Islamic Revolution.

It is no secret that for decades, Iran has been stirring up instability around the region, funding proxies with billions of dollars per year, amassing the region’s largest stockpile of ground-to-ground missiles and attack drones, and every day gets one step closer to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran has been unapologetically open on its aspiration to destroy Israel while taking over the Middle East, instilling the Shi’ite Islamic Revolution in Iran in multiple countries around the region, even attempting to commit terrorist attacks on European and American soil. A few days before the October 7 massacre, Khamenei vowed to “tear away the Zionist cancer” from the region.

Systematically leaving Iran out of the discourse bears a catastrophic PR result for Israel’s efforts to explain its war strategy, and a disservice to the West’s interest in stability. Now, as Iran is reportedly bracing to retaliate, possibly even initiate a strike against Israel, the US and the international community seem to be light years away from accurately framing the situation. Resolution and statements keep focusing on the situation in Gaza, while the conflict cauldron is meticulously stirred in Tehran.

Yet instead of pressuring Iran, the Biden administration is focused on preventing Israel from carrying out strategic operations in Gaza. The President himself gave an interview just this week, harshly criticizing Israel’s policy in Gaza and its intention to launch an operation in Rafah as a “mistake”. Again, while making no mention of the main destabilizing force in the region.

All roads lead to Rome, says the famous proverb – well, in the Middle East’s case, all roads lead to Tehran. Yet shortly after the explosion in Damascus, US officials were quick to clarify they had no previous knowledge of the attack. It is reportedly urging regional countries to dissuade Iran from retaliating. Instead, the Biden administration should make clear to Tehran, that any attack on Israel will be immediately seen as an attack on the United States – and the response will be accordingly. The only way to push back on Iran’s regional aggression is therefore not appeasement, nor Israel-bashing, but moral clarity and the projection of power.

The article was originally published on ynetnews