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17 April 2024

Kickl leading Austria?

Could Hebert Kickl become the next Austrian chancellor? His FPÖ party is consistently leading in the polls, at around 30%. It is under his leadership that the far-right party managed to leap ahead of the ÖVP and the Social Democrats in 2022. It has consistently remained in the lead since then.

If the polling results are confirmed in the upcoming elections this autumn, he would theoretically have a right to this job. But whether he will get it also depends on Austria’s president and the ÖVP. There could be a coalition of three or four parties to prevent the FPÖ from leading the government. This seems to be the preferred scenario for Alexander Van der Bellen, Austria's president.

In the past, when the FPÖ was part of the government, it was always assumed that the top position goes to the ÖVP. At national level, the FPÖ was part of a coalition five times since Jörg Haider assumed leadership and turned the party into what it is today, but never before did it come ahead of the ÖVP in the polls. This time, it stands a real chance of coming first.  

The media is now also looking into whether Kickl has what it takes to become chancellor. A recent book by the two journalists Gernot Bauer and Robert Treichler tried to shed some light on who Kickl is by interviewing people who have known him throughout his life. The profile that emerged is that Kickl has been a loner since early childhood. He used to say about himself that he is good at nothing, but can learn everything. Kickl did not finish either university or his military service, but once he met Haider, he slowly rose inside the party.

Kickl is very different from the previous leaders. Haider and Heinz-Christian Strache were charismatic, social, and communicative. Kickl is disciplined, controlled and mistrusting. He built his inner circle of reliable allies when he was leading the interior ministry. He has no scandal-ridden past like his predecessors, but likes to disappear to do some climbing in the mountains. An escape that he may not find the time to do if prime minister.

Is Kickl an extremist? Not as much as one might think, according to the authors, even if he embraces extremist ideas. Kickl wants to weaken the EU in order to strengthen the nation-state. If he were to become prime minister, he would govern with referenda even if the results were be in contradiction with EU legislation. His belief is that law has to follow politics, not the other way around. Kickl has supported Viktor Orbán in the past. He also did not distance himself from the re-migration crowd, which held its most infamous meeting in Postdam, where they discussed the forced eviction of millions of migrants from Germany, including people with German citizenship. Kickl knows how to polarise and use the us-against-them formula.

Unlike the last two times, when the FPÖ came to power without a real plan, Kickl will come prepared. He is already looking into personalities who could fill the jobs. Even if he will not be Austria’s next chancellor, he will use his position as the main leader of the opposition party to bide his time. A bit like Marine Le Pen, whose support only grow since her party came first in the 2022 legislative elections to become the main opposition party.

16 April 2024

von der Leyen - game set?

Don’t take Ursula von der Leyen as the next president of the European Commission for granted, writes Politico after interviewing various people. The mood seem to be turning against her in Brussels. Every mishap she made in the past, as well as her appointments is brought up against her.

Partly this wave against von der Leyen is due to her assertiveness, as if the job is already hers. Power does something with people, and it prompts a backlash. One such reaction already happened. A cross-party initiative in the European parliament, including her EPP group, against the Commission’s decision to pay out €10bn from the EU budget to Hungary, which was frozen over the rule of law disputes, has started. Another is a rebellion of four top commissioners against the nomination of German MEP Markus Pieper to a lucrative job of as representative for small and medium-sized enterprises. He resigned yesterday even before he could even start the job due to mounting pressure. Then there is the investigation of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office into how von der Leyen negotiated big vaccine contracts during the pandemic, and her use of text messages.

Von der Leyen is currently the only candidate there is for the job as president of the European Commission. The German government felt it had no other choice but to support von der Leyen, despite being from the opposition party. This reminds us of the time when the conservative José Manuel Barroso was supported by the Spanish Socialist government for a second term. To support a candidate for this top position in the EU just because they come from the same country, or region in the case of Barroso, is a poor reason for such an important choice. She was the only candidate on the ballot list when the EPP endorsed her as their candidate with 400 out of 499 total votes. Some made the point that this is a lukewarm endorsement, given that there are 737 delegates that had voting rights and 591 that were registered to vote. But an endorsement it is for now.

There are also some other hurdles that von der Leyen still has to overcome. The French decided to reserve their judgement and keep their cards for themselves. Michel Barnier refused to back her at the EPP congress, while Thierry Breton, the internal market commissioner, stirred up a kerfuffle with a snipe tweet shortly after the vote. More importantly, Emmanuel Macron refrains from endorsing her, keeping the maximum leverage until the last moment. France is a vote she cannot do without.

She needs a qualified majority amongst countries in the European Council to win her second term. She is most likely to get support from the 12 conservative leaders, but how far can she mobilise beyond that? Her staunch support for Israel is not going down well in Ireland, Spain and Belgium. Hungary and Slovakia have been critical in the past. 

Another even more formidable challenge will be the next parliament. Von der Leyen was narrowly endorsed last time, winning with just 383 votes, slightly above the minimum of 374. The next parliament will turn further to the right and far-right. How does this affect her chances? The EPP is largely expected to win the elections in June. This would confirm von der Leyen as the natural candidate for the job. But the EPP alone will not be enough to get her the nomination. According to the poll of the polls, the EPP, the S&D and Renew could do it but only if nearly all of them voted to back her. This is unlikely. The winners in this election will be the far-right and the eurosceptics, according to the polls. This means her nomination could get more difficult also because she is so strongly invested in Ukraine against Russia, and engaged in a polarising rhetoric. She made no friends with the AfD in this campaign, referring to them as Putin’s friends in our societies that need to be defeated. Could Giorgia Meloni become crucial in negotiating a way forward? And what will her price be in return?

It may be easier for a new candidate without a past to get their backing. Names like Roberta Metsola or Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic have been put forward. In the end it will be the result of power-brokering between member states once the election results are known and the candidates for European Commission, European Council and European Parliament.

15 April 2024

From uni back to trades

How is AI changing the job market? The US media reports of rising job losses in the tech sector, 33,000 in two months this year alone. A PwC's Global CEO Survey finds that 25% of chief executives expect to reduce headcount by at least 5% in 2024 due to generative AI.

For young people, these are daunting prospects when they are to decide which path to take after school. If graduating from universities no longer guarantees a stable and life-long income for certain careers, how to pick the right path?

Could we see a return to high-skilled manual work? We noted an interesting story from Axios that the number of US students enroling in vocational programmes jumped 16% last year, while college enrolment has been declining continuously since 2019. The number of university students shot up in 2008 as the millennial generation was sitting out the recession. But studying in the US is expensive, and students end up with a pile of debt once they left university.

The EU is not the US, and in most EU countries studying is not expensive at all. But costs are only one factor. The prospect of earning capacities is quite another. Are white-collar jobs losing their safe-income reputation as blue colour jobs once did with the advent of automatisation of production? These expectational shifts will have a structural impact on the labour market when people choose their career path and lead to misallocation of labour.

There are already labour shortages in certain sectors in the EU as well as in the US. This is also doe to low population growth and the looming retirement of the baby boom generation. One way to fill those vacancies is by relying on migration of foreign workers. As we have seen in the EU, this is easier said than done for most countries, except perhaps Spain.

Another way to fill the gap is through a qualitative shift of skill sets inside a society. Shifting to vocational training is one way this could happen. There are also good reasons to see trades as more future-proof. The environmental challenges and changes our economies are facing not only needs architects and engineers, but also highly skilled trades people to implement new techniques and improve on it. When we went to university in Germany in the 1980s it was not uncommon for people to have completed a 3 year apprenticeship first. This got out of fashion in the fast pacing 1990s. But perhaps these career choices are coming back? We noticed in our surroundings more young people who are ready to make that conscious choice not to go to uni and learn a trade first with their hands-on approach to their career path.

12 April 2024

Israel - end of the bi-partisan consensus

Could the attack on the aid workers from World Central Kitchen in Gaza, with the formidable José Andrés as its advocate, lead to a real policy shift in US politics towards Israel?

The State Department and leading pro-Israel Democratic voices in Congress have suggested that the US should put conditions on military aid to Israel going forward. A letter written by Democrats from the House of Representatives called on Joe Biden to reconsider his recent decision to authorise the transfer of a new arms package to Israel, and to withhold this and any future offensive arms transfers until a full investigation of the World Central Kitchen attack is completed.

Whether it will change US politics remains to be seen. It is still only a letter, signed initially by 40 Democrats in the house, but the list has been growing since. It includes staunch pro-Israel supporters like Nancy Pelosi. If this were to succeed, it would be a first action to signal to Israel that there are consequences for defying US requests for military restraint and its call to increase humanitarian aid.

More could come from a vote in Congress on the support bill that Speaker Mike Johnson still has put forward. Whether support for Israel is packaged together assistance for Ukraine and Taiwan, a bundle that already passed the Senate, or each package is voted on separately, the number of Democrats to oppose backing support for Israel is likely to grow.

Will this prompt Benjamin Netanyahu to rethink his Rafah operation or increase humanitarian aid into Gaza? That depends how biting those threats are, and how Netanyahu can gain political leverage from Biden turning against him.

Support for Israel is becoming a dividing issue between Democrats and Republicans ahead of the November elections, suggesting that the end of a bi-partisan support for Israel is beckoning. Donald Trump recently suggested that Democrats hate Israel, his way of attracting Jewish voters. A Gallup poll finds indeed that support for Israel has fallen significantly amongst Democrats since 2001. The party's voters are now more in favour of Palestinians with 49% in March 2023, while support for Israel amongst Republicans has risen from 59% to 78% over the same period.

But there are important generational differences. A New York Times poll found that 46% of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 sympathised more with the Palestinians, compared to the 27% who sympathised more with Israel. By contrast, 63% of those over 65 sympathised more with Israel, while only 11% sympathised more with the Palestinians. The same poll found that 34% of Democrats sympathised more with the Palestinians, while only 4% of Republicans sympathised more with the Palestinians.

A lot of this has to do with access to information. News reporters are not allowed into Gaza, and we see TV hosts walking on egg shells to stay politically correct. Young people though get their information from videos on social media and the internet. Their access to the Palestinian narratives is less filtered and controlled.

We still have our doubts that Biden will put into action his increasingly critical rhetoric. This is a generation that grew up with Holocaust stories and fears for the security of Israel. The generation of millennials and Gen-Z, however, see a modern Israel as a powerful nuclear-armed nation that is capable of defending itself. Also, after the black lives matter movement sharpened their sense for social justice, they have come to see Palestinians as the oppressed group. The high death toll and disproportionate response only fuels that perception of power imbalance. Another factor is religion. Evangelists are still a formidable force and a staunch supporter of Israel. But the number of believers is falling.

Anger over Biden’s lack of action may not be enough to cost him the vote in November. After all, the alternative of a Trump presidency is more chilling for Democrats. But expect the bi-partisan consensus on supporting Israel to come to an end eventually once a new generation of politicians come into power.

11 April 2024

... except from Meloni

Italy is perhaps the country where the recent European Parliament vote in favour of the EU’s migration vote will weigh most heavily. Giorgia Meloni had staked political capital on backing the agreement. Implicitly, the bet on the pact was also a bet on the philosophy that to achieve her policy priorities on immigration, it was better to work with the EU, not against it. That has paid off for her. But in the next parliamentary term, she will have to deal with what we think will be a familiar problem for her political project: fair-weather allies on the far-right.

The most important part of the pact for Italy, which passed along with the rest of it in the EP, is the so-called solidarity mechanism. Each year, Italy receives a large number of migrant arrivals via the Mediterranean. These migrants generally want to move on to other countries. But under the Dublin regulation, they are supposed to file any claims for asylum in the first EU member state they arrive and register in. This means they are Italy’s responsibility. It also means that other countries can return asylum-seekers to Italy if they find they have registered there first.

Successive Italian governments have been unhappy about this for a while. They have argued that this is unfair on Italy, and that there should be some sort of burden-sharing mechanism. This is something the new pact delivers. Countries who receive fewer asylum-seekers will now have to contribute, either by accepting more, providing financial assistance, or through logistical support.

This doesn’t go quite as far as what the Italian government may have wanted. But it’s probably as good as it’s going to get for it, given the political circumstances. The Italian government backed the pact in the EU Council back in October. Since then, Meloni’s stance publicly has been that she does not see it as a long-term solution, but that it’s better than nothing.

We see the pact passing as a win for her domestically on two sides. One is that she can claim a victory over Italy’s opposition, who voted against some of the pact’s provisions in the EP. Another is that she can stand up more effectively to her more avowedly Eurosceptic allies, like Matteo Salvini. His party, Lega, also voted against some of the provisions in the pact.

But at the European level, the vote demonstrates a stark choice that Meloni will have to make. Her European allies in the ECR political group voted against the pact, including Poland’s Law and Justice. So did Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz. Fratelli d’Italia was alone amongst parties that should be its natural allies. The logical conclusion is that in the EU, Meloni will slowly enter the gravitational pull of the centre-right even if a formal tie-up doesn’t happen.

10 April 2024

How to respond to Rafah?

Israel is preparing for a military operation in Rafah, Benjamin Netanyahu said no force in the world will stop them. Entering Rafah crosses red lines for many of Israel’s supporting nations. At the same time, truce negotiations are ongoing in Egypt, where Hamas rejected the Israeli proposal for a ceasefire.

Since the Oslo agreement, western nations have left it in the hands of Israelis and Palestinians to find a solution that would allow both people to co-exist peacefully on this land. But this approach has never succeeded, and instead led to a radicalisation on both sides. Palestinians won’t leave their land, even if they have to die there. And Israel won’t be able to 100% eradicate Hamas by killing civilians. It will just create new reasons for radicalism.

We believe that the west would need to put the two-state solution firmly on the map to take the wind out of radicalism. Once the Palestinians are assured that their place is for them to keep, the reasons for supporting Hamas is gone. This has been the west's strategic blindspot since the Oslo agreement.

Netanyahu seems to thrive politically on a vision for Israel to be isolated in this world, and it ticks the boxes for some of his most messianic ministers. But it has disastrous consequences for Israel and the region in the long run. 

Yesterday, Ireland promised that it will soon recognise Palestine, together with some like-minded EU countries. Micheál Martin, Ireland’s foreign minister, said he expects this to be a matter of weeks, not months. Under the Oslo process, international recognition of Palestine was to follow after Israel and Palestine reached a border agreement, which never happened. The idea is now to turn this process around and create facts. Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Malta work along similar positions. When and how this recognition of Palestine is happening is not clear and depends on the international peace initiative. But it could split the EU further over Israel, while the EU seems more united on Ukraine.

Arms deliveries to Israel are another topic. Western nations are coming under increased pressure domestically and from abroad to cut their military aid to Israel. Conditioning military aid is gaining some traction in US Congress, while Germany had to defend itself in the International Court of Justice against Nicaragua’s case accusing Germany of facilitating genocide with its arms deliveries. In the UK, the government had to defend its position on export licences for arms deliveries after three former judges and 600 members of the legal profession called for a halt in arms sales to Israel, arguing that it could make the UK complicit in genocide.

How will this all end? Whether Netanyahu goes ahead in Rafah or not, Western democracies will come out of this Gaza war with their human rights reputation severely shattered. There will be geopolitical consequences in the region too. Al-Monitor’s extensive poll compares how the US, China and Russia are perceived in Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia and Turkey. They find that while the US is still perceived as a crucial player in the region, they prefer Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingping over Joe Biden. Biden’s support in the region plummeted from 59% in 2020 to just 17% due to the US support for Israel. Most still see the US as key to resolve the Israel-Hamas war. But they also see a rising role of China and Russia over the next ten years, and welcome closer ties with both countries.

Depending on how the US and other Western nations play their cards to solve the conflict and prevent further human suffering, Russia and China could emerge as the geopolitical winners in the region.

9 April 2024

Hollande, the tortoise

Could Francois Hollande run against Marine Le Pen in the 2027 presidential elections? As far-fetched as this seemed only a year ago, it is slowly taking form and shape. As is so often the case, political ambitions in France are expressed by publishing a book. Hollande is no exception to this rule. He is currently travelling throughout France to promote his latest book, where he is explaining Europe to a young audience. This book works well as a backing for Raphaël Glucksmann, the lead candidate for his own party, Place Publique, and the Socialists in the European elections. According to a poll for Challenges, the EU list led by Glucksmann is rising in the polls, from 9% last December to 13% in March.  So with Glucksmann in Brussels, and Hollande in Paris, could this be a winning ticket?

Hollande’s popularity is rising in the polls, and he is now the fourth most preferred personality in politics according to the recent Elabe poll, with 29% saying they have a positive image. Amongst those who voted for Macron in 2022, he even scored 42%, progressing 5pp in only one month. By contrast he lost 5 points amongst left voters still at 43%, while he still roams at 58% amongst left supporters. With 25%, he is also the second most popular figure amongst those who abstained in the elections.

But it is one thing to become a dream candidate of the centre-left. It is quite another to win against Le Pen in a second round.

There is the first-round competition first. It is not inconceivable that neither Edouard Philippe nor all of Macron’s possible dauphins get enough support, and that they fall behind a candidate Hollande. Philippe has been the darling in the polls since he was prime minister under Macron’s first term, polling at over 50%. But this popularity has been slowly eroding since 2022, and is now down to 40%. Partly the problem is that Macron does not leave any meat on the bone for his successor. Some of Philippe’s strongest positions on pension reform have been integrated into Macron’s reform bill. Potential competitors like Gabriel Attal or Bruno Le Maire are closing in. It is thus not clear whether there is any candidate strong enough to get into the second round.

Then there is the disenchantment of the centre-left with Macron. The pension reform and the immigration bill were a reminder how far the president will go to the right to get things done. The war in Ukraine puts security policy up front and centre in the debate. The focus turns from those revolutionary times under Nupes to a more serene version for the Socialists. Hollande, meanwhile, remains circumspect when asked about his ambitions, only saying that he is playing his part in those efforts. If Hollande continues to play his little music until 2027, this may well end up becoming a variation of the tale about the race between a hare and a tortoise, where the tortoise is able to get the prize in the race with a trick over the hare that exhausted all its powers by running. But this is only the first part of the tale.

If Hollande were to run, tragedy could unfold if Hollande makes it into the second round, just to lose to Le Pen. This is the crux of the French system, a two-stage game where candidates needs to think well ahead to make a decision not only for themselves and their party, but for the best course for the country as a whole. Not running is all of a sudden an option with merits.

8 April 2024

A moment missed

We have not seen Wolfgang Schäuble's book yet, but some journalists have, and it contains an interesting passage on a conflict with Angela Merkel during the sovereign debt crisis. We generally do not dwell on historic events, but the EU's failure to create an economic union during the years of 2008-2012 constitutes one of the pivotal moments in its history. It was one of those moments of bifurcation. The EU's subsequent history would have turned out very different.

Schäuble writes he proposed to Merkel the creation of an economic union in 2010 right at the start of the debt crisis. 

Here is the passage (translation is ours):

"I hoped to be able to develop the European Monetary Union into an economic union via a separate monetary fund - similar to the IMF. It was not possible with Merkel in 2010."

Schäuble writes that Merkel was still reeling from the fight about the Lisbon Treaty in the previous years. The reason why Merkel did not go for Schäuble's proposal was to avoid a foreseeable conflict inside her own party, and within the coalition. In 2010, the CDU/CSU led a coalition with the FDP, and we doubt that the FDP would have accepted an economic union. 

He writes that she had enough power back home and in the EU to have succeeded. But she did not want to risk a power struggle at the time. Schäuble then adds that his idea of political leadership differed from hers.

We should probably treat this notion of a pro-European Schäuble with some caution. It is far from clear why an IMF-like construction would have constituted an economic union. The ESM is in many respects similar to the IMF. That would still be so even if Italy had not vetoed the ESM treaty that would have brought the institution under a formal EU umbrella and given it a backstop role in the banking union. The IMF itself plays an important role, but few people would claim that it constitutes a global economic government. We suspect that Schäuble's idea of an economic and monetary union was one that did not involve any common debt instruments or a capital markets union, a project he did not prioritise during his eight years as finance minister. Schäuble's vision of an economic union would also probably not have found a majority in the European Council. 

Interesting also was the discussion the two had on the ECB. Merkel wanted an ECB bailout right from the start. For her, it was the least controversial way out. Merkel told him that she would not have to answer critical questions from her Bundestag group because they believed in the independence of the ECB. The cynicism that speaks from these lines is one of the reasons why the euro crisis escalated, and why it was ultimately resolved the way it was. Which is also why it is still not resolved, because a central bank will always act under constraints. 

A robust historical analysis of that period has yet to happen. We have yet to see an intelligent book written about this period that goes beyond journalistic or macroeconomic story telling. We have to see whether there are more details in Schäuble's book on the euro crisis, or whether this is all about his relationship with Merkel. But what already becomes clear from those few lines is that the EU had missed a unique moment.

5 April 2024

Who will be Slovakia's next president?

In Slovakia, presidential elections often turn into camps that split on pro-Eastern and pro-Western lines. This time is no different. The electorate is split between a pro-West camp that feels threatened by Russia’s aggressions, and a camp that is more attuned to Moscow’s narratives.

The last polls ahead of tomorrow’s second-round election is a tight race between the two candidates: Peter Pellegrini, former parliamentary speaker and prime minister backed by Robert Fico’s coalition, and Ivan Korcok, a former foreign minister and career diplomat who surprisingly came out on top in the first round. The polls show no clear winner, at least not within the margin of error. The last two polls before the 48h moratorium suggest that Pellegrini wins with 51.1% and 51.7% of the vote respectively, while one poll indicates that Korkok could just about make it with 50.1%. But the polls got it wrong in the first round, so they may not have picked up what is going on this time either.

How far either candidate can outperform the other depends on whether they can attract the voters of candidates that dropped out of the first round. It also depends on the mobilising forces of smear campaigns that have been launched against Korcok. When it comes to addressing voters from first round candidates, for Korcok this means addressing the Alliance party with its ethnic Hungarians, and assuring them despite his Orbán-critical stance. For Pellegrini, this means getting votes from supporters of Stefan Harabin, the pro-Russian politician who came third with 11.7% of the votes. A recent poll suggests that 60% of his voters may turn up tomorrow, many of them in favour of Pellegrini. Then there is this smear campaign run by Pellegrini sponsors, portraying Korcok as a candidate who would not act in the interests of Slovakia. This may mobilise Pellegrini voters, but could also counter-mobilise Korcok voters too. This is what happened when Andrej Babis used the false dichotomy of “war vs peace” against Petr Pavel, notes Visegrad Insight.

Both men are not nearly as controversial as candidates in past elections have previously been. But the geopolitical situation today means that the choice between the two directions matter more.

In the end, voters need to decide whether they want a president that is a counterweight to Fico’s government, or a carte blanche. In Slovakia's parliamentary system, the president does not have much power. But the results will matter for whether the government under Fico can continue implement Victor Orban’s playbook. After Fico came back to power last year, he moved fast and cut weapons delivery to Ukraine, dissolved the Special Prosecutor’s Office, revised the penal code and plans to take more control in state media. Pellegrini as president is likely to give him a free hand, and cement Fico’s power to do so. With Korcok, the president would be a counterweight, who could frame and change debates in the country and take legal action as he sees fit to stop Fico’s power grab.

While largely ceremonial, the president has some powers, as demonstrated by the incumbent, Zuzana Caputová. She signed off Fico’s penal code reform despite her disapproval. But then she filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which suspended parts of the law to allow the judges to look into this.

3 April 2024

Israel's escalation bet

The IDF’s military attack that killed World Central Kitchen aid workers led to a storm of condemnation worldwide, and prompted aid organisations to pause their work in Gaza at a time when they are needed most. Israel’s targeted strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria is a first open attack against Iran, and could escalate the war to the wider region. No one was expecting Israel to initiate an escalation in this shadow war with Iran where containment is key. It is a message from Israel to Iran to end Tehran’s self-declared immunity, a way of holding them accountable for financing its proxy militias: Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis. It implicates the US more directly in the conflict as well.

Israel’s attack on an annex building of the Iranian consulate in Damascus allegedly killed Hassan Mahdavi, Al Quds Force Commander in Syria and Lebanon, and several of his colleagues. Since 7 October, Iran has officially stayed out of the military confrontation of its militia Hamas and Hezbollah with Israel, signalling at a diplomatic level that it had no interest in an escalation of war into the wider region.

After the attack on one of its premises and killing such a high ranking commander, the regime in Tehran has now has to chose its military response. What are the options? Alon Pinkas puts forward four scenarios in his op-ed for Haaretz. The first is that Iran refrains from reacting immediately, and waits for the right time and target. The second would be that Iran has no choice but to act swiftly by targeting Israel’s ships, embassies or individuals, with the risk of reciprocal deterioration. The third would be escalating the war through Hezbollah, opening up a new front against Israel that is far more lethal than it was so far. The question here is how much leverage Iran has to get Hezbollah to wreak havoc over Lebanon. The fourth scenario would see an angered Iran reacting not only against Israeli targets but US ones too.

The assumption of the US administration has been from the beginning of the war in Gaza that a conflict in the wider region would draw the US in too. To avoid this, the US has been working at the diplomatic level to avoid another war between Israel and Lebanon. In response to the Damascus attack, the US administration immediately sent a message to Iran that it was not properly informed by Israel ahead of the attack, as reported by Axios. How could they not been informed?

While the US and Iran are sending their signals, Israel is raising its price, testing the red lines of both. It is a dangerous moment where escalation can easily happen, and take on a life of its own.