As Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei has remained cautious over direct involvement in the Gaza war, lower ranking officials continue to speak with bluster about defeating Israel.
Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and a power insider in Tehran, threatened on Sunday that “New fronts will be opened in the Gaza war, and if the situation in remains grave, it would be impossible to prevent reactions by Muslim youth.”
Rezaei, who was speaking to Iran-affiliated Al Mayadeen television, hinted at other groups of the “Resistance Front” getting involved in the war and insisted that Israel will be defeated. Other Iranian officials have made similar claims since Israel launched its attacks on Gaza after Hamas’ October 7 terror attack. However, so far, the Iranian regime has not used its own military forces to respond to Israel.
Khamenei appealed to Muslim states with political ties with Israel on Sunday to at least cut them for “a limited time”, state media reported on Sunday, weeks after he called for an Islamic oil and food embargo on Israel.
“Some Islamic governments have condemned Israeli crimes in assemblies while some have not. This is unacceptable,” Khamenei said before reiterating that the main task of Islamic governments should be to cut off Israel from energy and goods.
“Islamic governments should at least cut off political ties to Israel for a limited time,” Khamenei added.
This was a substantial climb-down for a man who has made Israel’s destruction the main ideological linchpin of his 34-year rule. The fact that Iran’s most powerful proxy military group, the Lebanese Hezbollah, has refrained from starting an all-out war against Israel, as Hamas faces a dire situation in Gaza, is another clear sign that Tehran is unwilling to risk everything at this stage.
In the meantime, Iran’s rulers have succeeded in securing the release of as much as $17 billion dollars that was blocked in South Korea and Iraq because of US sanctions. The Biden administration began approving the release of the funds from June, despite domestic opposition, and approved another big chunk this month, as the war raged in Gaza. The most astonishing aspect of Washington’s decision is that it came amid almost daily attacks by Iranian proxy militias on US military bases in Iraq and Syria.
It is not clear if this concession by the Biden administration is what keeps Tehran hesitant to expand the conflict, or it simply feels unease given its precarious situation at home. Since the United States imposed sanction in 2018, Iran faces an intractable economic crisis, which in turn has led to public anger and rounds of protests. The Islamic Republic faces political instability, with the ever-present specter of more popular protests.
After decades of calling for Israel’s destruction, the Islamic Republic seems to have shied away from military assistance to Hamas and is calling for a ceasefire. On Monday, President Ebrahim Raisi wrote to leaders of 50 countries asking them to use their influence to end the fighting. These included, the leaders of China, Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Kenya and Jordan. Once again Raisi asked these countries to impose economic sanctions on Israel.
However, during a joint summit between members of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League in Saudi Arabia’s capital on Nov. 11, Muslim states did not agree to impose wide-ranging sanctions on Israel, and Raisi had to put his name to a joint statement that actually endorsed a two-state solution – or Israel’s right to exist.