Western policymakers are increasingly worried we’re in a 1914 moment, says Gideon Rachman in the FT – that the Israel-Hamas conflict could quickly escalate into a much wider war, pulling in Iran, the US and Saudi Arabia. How might this play out? We had one indication last week, when American forces bombed Iran-backed militias in Syria, in retaliation for attacks on US bases in Syria and Iraq. If those attacks continue, “the next US response will be even fiercer”. Another danger is that Hezbollah, the Tehran-aligned militant group in Lebanon, steps up its attacks on Israel, prompting the Israelis to retaliate. That could trigger Iran to send its own troops to support Hezbollah, and Israel to strike back not just in Lebanon but in Iran itself.
Where things could get really dicey is if Tehran decides to “finally act on its occasional threats to close the Strait of Hormuz”, the sea passage through which much of the world’s oil flows. That would “send the global economy into a tailspin”, and almost certainly lead the US – and perhaps Saudi Arabia – to reopen the strait by force. Iran proxies could then hit back at US targets across the region, in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Syria and Iraq. All the players are alive to these risks, of course – the crisis has already led to an “unprecedented conversation” between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iran. No one wants a “catastrophic war”. But then the same was true in 1914. “Let us hope this time is different.”