Tehran, Iran – Iran has warned Israel of regional escalation if the Israeli military enters Gaza for a ground invasion as the war with Hamas enters its second week.
“If the measures aimed at immediately stopping the Israeli attacks that are killing children in the Gaza Strip end in a deadlock, it is highly probable that many other fronts will be opened. This option is not ruled out and this is becoming increasingly more probable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
“If the Zionist entity [Israel] decides to enter Gaza, the resistance leaders will turn it into a graveyard of the occupation soldiers,” he added.
Since the Palestinian armed group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack inside the Israeli territory on October 7, Israeli air strikes have killed more than 2,670 people – a quarter of them children – and wounded nearly 10,000 others in Gaza, where a catastrophic humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
The United Nations estimates one million people – nearly half of Gaza’s population – have been forced from their homes, as the Israeli military prepares for an expected ground invasion.
At least 1,400 people, including 289 soldiers and some foreign nationals, have been killed on the Israeli side, officials said on Sunday.
Tehran has rejected claims it was directly involved in the Hamas assault on Israel last weekend.
Amir-Abdollahian on Saturday met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar, where they discussed the Gaza crisis “and agreed to continue cooperation”, Hamas said in a statement.
Also on Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said all Islamic nations have a duty to come to the aid of the Palestinians.
With God’s grace, this movement that has started in #Palestine will advance and result in a complete victory for the Palestinians.
Oct. 14, 2023 pic.twitter.com/euuXmBfV7G
— Khamenei Media (@Khamenei_m) October 14, 2023
Iran has also engaged in a diplomatic offensive in an effort to stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Amir-Abdollahian also visited Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where he met President Bashar al-Assad after Israel bombed the airports in Aleppo and Damascus.
Earlier on Sunday, the Iranian minister met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha.
“If the attacks of the Zionist regime against civilians and the defenceless people of Gaza persist, no one can guarantee that the situation will be under control and the scope of the fighting won’t expand,” he told Qatar’s emir, who also earlier held a telephone conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Amir-Abdollahian reiterated Tehran’s call for an urgent meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Gaza.
Regional power Saudi Arabia has reportedly put its normalisation talks with Israel on hold, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday holding talks with the Iranian president on the Israel-Hamas war – their first phone call since restoring diplomatic ties.
Meanwhile, Israel is also preparing for the possibility that the war may expand to multiple fronts. It said it bombed the airports in Syria to stop potential Iranian mobilisation efforts there.
On Sunday, Israel declared its border with Lebanon a closed military zone as clashes with Hezbollah continued.
On Saturday, the US-based news website Axios reported that Iran has warned Israel through the UN that it does not want the Gaza conflict to escalate, but will have to respond if Israeli strikes continue.
Iran has not officially commented on the Axios report.
The Iranian media have extensively covered the recent developments, especially the losses suffered by Israel since the Hamas attacks last week.
In the first few days of the war, several Iranian newspapers used an image of Palestinians standing on top of a captured Israeli tank and waving the Palestinian flag as their front page cover.
“Mortal wound” – said a headline in “Iran”, the official newspaper of the government, which in its op-ed said scenes created by Hamas in the occupied territories “seemed apocalyptic” and showed “cowardly Zionists running away”.
Kayhan, the ultraconservative newspaper whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, said four “catastrophes” await Israel if it decides to go ahead with a ground assault on Gaza: sustaining heavy casualties due to the complexities of urban warfare; risking the lives of dozens of Israelis taken captive by Hamas; facing mounting pressure from the international community; and growing “regional isolation” as normalisation hopes fade.
Khorasan, another conservative newspaper, went with “The Unprecedented Humiliation of the ‘Losing Horse’” as its main headline earlier this week – a reference to comments made by Khamenei, who warned that any country that decides to normalise relations with Israel will engage in a “losing gamble”.
“As the Europeans say, they are betting on the losing horse,” Khamenei had said.
But highlighting the big hit inside Israeli territory and how it retaliated by targeting civilians in Gaza was not limited to conservative newspapers only. More moderate and reformist media outlets also raised similar issues in their coverage of the conflict.
“Israel’s Black Saturday” was the headline in the reformist Shargh, while Etemad detailed how Hamas had “attacked the heart of occupied Palestine”.
Etemad also underlined the 2.2 million Gazans in danger and Israel’s “impossible” order for over one million to flee northern Gaza as it cut off their water, electricity and internet. The newspaper also condemned Israel’s illegal use of white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza and Lebanon.
“The political condition inside Israel is quickly turning against [Israeli PM] Benjamin Netanyahu and the ruling coalition due to hit the Zionist regime took from the resistance forces,” it wrote.