I argued in my column for The National two weeks ago that the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus (which killed seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals) was a reckless act that increased considerably the danger of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

This, I have to say, was no great insight on my part. Any serious observer of the geopolitics of the region could see that Israel’s provocation was intended to elicit a response from Iran and its regional allies and, in turn, bring Israel’s Western allies to its defence (despite their increasing nervousness about the scale of the Zionist state’s slaughter in Gaza).

So it has turned out. In addition to Iran’s retaliatory attack on Israel (which involved 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 110 ballistic missiles), its Lebanese ally Hezbollah is believed to have launched two waves of rockets on the Golan Heights (the Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967). Iranian-allied groups in both Iraq and Yemen are also believed to have fired missiles at Israel.

In truth – despite the mainstream Western media’s hyperventilating about “Iran’s first-ever attack on Israeli territory” – the Iranian action was extremely ineffectual, and was always likely to be.

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In addition to Israel’s own military capabilities (including the famous Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, which was largely paid for by the United States), Israel received military assistance in countering the attack from the US, the UK, France and long-standing Western ally Jordan.

More than 99% of the ordnance fired by Iran and its allies was brought down either before it reached Israeli airspace or immediately upon it doing so, and none of the cruise missiles fired by Iran made it as far as Israel.

US officials briefed broadcaster CBS that a grand total of five ballistic missiles evaded the countermeasures by Israel and its allies. Four of these are believed to have landed, with minimal impact, on the Nevatim air force base in the Negev desert.

All of which fits well within the prediction made by Marwan Bishara, the excellent Middle East analyst of news channel Al Jazeera English.

On the eve of Iran’s action against Israel (and immediately following Iran’s seizing of a container ship connected to Israel on Saturday), Bishara suggested that, while the Iranian government had to be seen to respond to the April 1 attack in Damascus, it would want to do so in terms that did not lead to a wider war with Israel and the US.

The National: Israeli Border Police stand guard as relatives of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters protest outside of the U.S. Embassy Branch Office calling on President Joe Biden for the immediate release of all captives, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday, April

In fact, noting that the US and Iran have back-channel contacts via Oman, Bishara argued that it was even possible that the Americans might give a nod and a wink to Iranian action that would enable Tehran to save face while having minimal impact on Israel.

The attacks – eye-catching though they were – fit Bishara’s description perfectly. That said, neither Bishara nor any other serious observer would deny that a plan in which Tehran saves face and the US restrains Israel is fraught with dangers.

What, for example, if the most belligerent elements in Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition Israeli government – such as the fascist minister for national security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a long-standing supporter of the late Israeli fascist leader Meir Kahane – were to prevail, prompting Israel to escalate matters further (by bombing targets in Iran, for instance)?

Whatever the dangers of the Israeli-Iranian tit-for-tat attacks, it is incumbent on people of conscience to keep their focus on the central issue in the Middle East at this time – namely, the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

There is a gaping chasm between the quick and effective action taken by the US, the UK, France and (notably) the Arab state of Jordan to shoot down Iranian missiles and drones targeted at Israel, and the shameful lack of action by those same states to prevent the utter devastation of the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday, US president Joe Biden described his administration as being “devoted” to the security of Israel. “Devotion”, as Bishara noted on Al Jazeera, is an extraordinary term to use with regard to relations between countries. It certainly goes well beyond “commitment” or “solidarity”.

If only the US – the richest and most powerful state in human history – had shown “devotion” to the safety, security and the right to life of the Palestinian population of Gaza. Imagine if, as Netanyahu planned his revenge on Gaza following the October 7 attacks on Israel, Biden had made the continuation of the US’s massive military and economic assistance to the Israeli state dependent on the protection of the civilian infrastructure and human life in the Gaza Strip.

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Had that, rather than “devotion” to Israel, been the priority in the White House, we would not now be looking at a Gaza that resembles the kind of vision of apocalyptic destruction that we usually only expect to see in movies. More than 33,000 Gazans would not now be dead and more than one in every 50 children in the territory would not be dead, maimed or injured.

The World Health Organisation would not be having to report on Israel’s wholesale destruction of Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, and its eradication of the overwhelming majority of the Strip’s hospitals and medical services.

And the US administration itself (in the shape of secretary of state Antony Blinken) would not have to acknowledge (in the middle of last month) that its ally, Israel, has manufactured a famine that puts the entire surviving population of Gaza (more than two million people) at risk of starvation.

The events of recent days have exposed the priorities of Biden in Washington, Rishi Sunak in London and Emmanuel Macron in Paris. For them, the interests of their regional ally, Israel – a state created as a Western colonial outpost in the Middle East – come far ahead of the lives of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Those of us living in the major states of the West must channel our anger at the moral hypocrisy of our so-called leaders into building an ever-bigger movement in solidarity with Palestine.