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Why the Israel-Iran conflict isn't a reason to worry about a third World War

The diplomacy and firm boundaries set by allies of both countries poured cold water on what could have been a conflagration.

The tit-for-tat strike that had analysts and world leaders wringing their hands in worry that a World War III would fire up in the Middle East finally happened Thursday, when Israel launched missiles at a military installation in Iran. The bombs landed inside Iran with a thud, away from any civilian areas, proving the point that both Israel and Iran can hit each other where it hurts if and when they want.?

This latest round of geopolitical chicken now seems to have come to rest, but only because the two countries used some caution when wielding weapons of war.

This latest round of geopolitical chicken?—?which began after an Israeli?strike April 1 on an Iranian consular building?in Syria killed two of Tehran’s top generals?—?now seems to have come to rest, but only because?the two countries used some caution when wielding weapons of war, opting to prove a narrative point with their attacks rather than a wholly destructive one.

It can be challenging to see missiles launching from one country to another. But look beyond the weaponry and fireworks, and you’ll see both Israel and Iran verbalized the need to save face with their respective people — by showing strength in the face of an attack on their homeland — while also looking for an off ramp from landing themselves in an all-out war.?

In the last week, Israel’s war Cabinet discussed options to respond. Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he wanted Israel to “go berserk” in response to Iran’s retaliatory attack and the usual war hawks seeking regime change came back into public light. But war Cabinet member and opposition leader Benny Gantz said that Israel must strengthen the “strategic alliance and the regional cooperation” that allowed it to weather the Iranian attack, including the rapid deployment of U.S. and Jordanian air force planes.?

On the Iranian side, where just a few days ago President Ebrahim Raisi warned that “the tiniest act of aggression” would draw a response, the desire to de-escalate now sounds like dismissing Israel’s capabilities outright. Rather than acknowledge the strike inside its borders, the leader of Iran’s army, Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, said explosions heard near the city of Isfahan “were from our air defense firing at a suspicious object. Isfahan is home to nuclear facilities. There has been no damage from the incident.” Former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the exchange as “fireworks.” And Iran’s official news agency was quick to release photos showing life as normal in the areas closest to the target site. For the people of Iran, who live in a tightly monitored media environment, the message is clear: Israel is not a threat, therefore we can be at ease.

The United States, for its part, officially distanced itself once again from Israel’s tit-for-tat, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing that Washington “has not been involved in any offensive operations,” though the rules of diplomacy and the realities of U.S.-Israel military ties demanded Israel give Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a few hours notice of the strike. This notice was especially necessary after Israeli officials acknowledged they “miscalculated” when attacking Iran’s Embassy in Syria in early April, catching the U.S. and everyone else in the region off guard.

In short, the diplomacy and firm boundaries set by allies of both countries poured cold water on what could have been a conflagration. Using some self-serving storytelling, both Israel and Iran managed to shelve their egos and save their enmity—and millions of lives — for another day.?

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