Letter From the Editors

The front pages of the global press could not accommodate this week’s many fateful events in global security. Russia’s accelerating offensive in Kharkov Province lost top billing, and something truly momentous nearly escaped notice entirely – the end of the Russian humanitarian mission in the Transcaucasus.

The consensus among NG’s expert sources was that “withdrawing peacekeepers from Karabakh will not diminish Russian influence in the South Caucasus. However, a decrease in influence has already happened.” Armenian scholar Aleksandr Iskandaryan elaborated: “They failed to prevent both the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and the expulsion of Armenians from there, and after that it became entirely unclear what they were doing there.” Putin has scarcely mentioned the mission since he accepted Aliyev’s apology for the death of five peacekeepers in the final Azerbaijani operation last year.

Even when parties to an international force incident are not as friendly as Russia and Azerbaijan, it need not result in a full-scale war. A critical cycle of tit-for-tat between Iran and Israel began on April 1, when the Israeli Air Force struck the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, killing a number of military personnel. The location and timing of the strike irritated not only the Iranians, but Israel’s Arab neighbors, Western allies and even some of its domestic population. Iraqi expert Adel Jalil Abud Yassin, for example, said the move was “a maneuver to distract from the situation in Gaza. Netanyahu wanted to drag all the great powers into a big war, but he failed. All the players in the Middle East conflict realized that nothing good would come of this.”

Apparently, Iran also realized as much, but a serious public challenge requires a serious public response. Iran decided to demonstrate its recent advances in drones and missiles, launching over 300 – unprecedentedly, from its own territory – but telegraphing the punches ahead of time. “Washington may have played a role in persuading Tehran to launch those projectiles over a period of several hours, not all at once. This made the attack largely demonstrative,” Denis Leven explains in Novaya gazeta Europe.

A few projectiles landed at an Air Force base in the Negev, with no casualties reported at the scene. While, as Leven recognizes, the strike “signals a new level of escalation for the entire Middle East,” Iran clearly intended it as a deterrent rather than a ramp to war. “Our attack is over,” the Iranian chief of General Staff announced, “and we don’t want to continue it.”

Analysts around the world tried to make sense of the attack and anticipate Israel’s reaction. Grigory Lukyanov predicted that “The Israeli leadership cannot allow this to happen. The response, of course, should be demonstrative to exactly the same extent as Iran’s attack on Israel.”

The world breathed easier once a few (presumably Israeli) missiles inflicted some property damage near Isfahan, and the belligerents seemed to let it go at that. Military expert Yury Lyamin says the strike “is not particularly noticeable, and both sides would be able to get out of the exchange of strikes without losing face.” Researcher Lyudmila Samarskaya notes that for Israel “in a symbolic sense, the principle of deterrence has been restored.”

Netanyahu must have been the one most deterred, however, since he certainly won no domestic points for the episode. The Oct. 7 hostages’ families are still protesting in Tel Aviv, accusing him of cynically prolonging the war to avoid snap elections. On the hawkish side, his own cabinet ally Itamar Ben Gvir had one word for the Israeli counterstrike: “Weak.”

The party most troubled by the exchange, however, was probably Ukraine, which is jonesing for US antiair systems and struggling to build manpower. In an interview with Republic, Washington-based scholar Eric Shiraev concedes, even while trying to allay concerns over congressional funding. that “attention has been diverted to the Middle East.” Shiraev reminds us that “America is paying with dollars. . . .while Ukraine is paying with the lives of its people.”