With Iran’s Strikes, Arab Countries Fear an Expanding Conflict

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Arab countries, from the United Arab Emirates and Oman to Jordan and Egypt, have tried for months to tamp down the conflict between Israel and Hamas, especially after it widened to include armed groups backed by Iran and embedded deep within the Arab world. Some of them, like the Houthis, threaten Arab governments as well.

But the Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel over the weekend, which put the entire region on alert, made the new reality unavoidable: Unlike past Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and even those involving Israel and Lebanon or Syria, this one keeps expanding.

“Part of why these wars were contained was that they were not a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “But now we are entering this era where a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran — that could drag the region into the conflict and that could drag the U.S. in — now that prospect of a regional war is going to be on the table all the time.”

For the moment, the only countervailing force is the desire of both the United States and its longtime foe Iran to avoid a widening of the conflict, said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s program director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am heartened by the fact that the only ones who want a war are Israel and Hamas,” he said. “The Iranians are still talking to the Americans,” he said, referring to messages sent in recent days between the two by intermediaries including Switzerland and Oman.

The Iranian message, said Mr. Hiltermann, made clear they were looking to demonstrate their power, not expand the war. “They said, ‘There is going to be an attack, but we are going to keep it limited.’”

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