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There are 10 conflicts underway in the Middle East. Here's what you need to know


We'll start this hour with the Middle East, where the death toll in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 25,000, according to the health ministry there. Yet the fighting between Israel and Hamas is just one of 10 conflicts going on in the region. Israel is also exchanging fire with Hezbollah to its north and Syria to the east. Those conflicts have prompted other Islamic militias to act in solidarity with Hamas and Hezbollah. On the Arabian Peninsula, Houthi rebels have been conducting a long-running war against the Yemeni government. Now they've begun firing rockets at U.S. ships in the Red Sea and directly at Israel.

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have also attacked U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria as recently as yesterday, when militia rockets wounded an Iraqi soldier, and an unknown number of U.S. troops are being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries there. On the same day, an Israeli strike in Syria killed five members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. New Yorker writer Robin Wright says some of these conflicts existed before but could now escalate and are now all merging into one giant war as regional forces come together in their opposition to Israel. Robin Wright joins us now to explain. Welcome to the program.

ROBIN WRIGHT: It's always great to be with you.

RASCOE: Let's start with Iran. That country is behind a lot of the fighting, both directly by attacking neighbors with missiles and indirectly by supporting militias like Hamas and Hezbollah. Is that right? Like, is Iran playing a big role in a lot of this?

WRIGHT: Iran is a major player in that it's created a network of allies or proxies across the Middle East. There are four major militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but there are cells in others. Unlike the United States, which tapped into allies in creating NATO after World War II, Iran has gone out and tapped into disaffected communities within states and in defiance of governments to create a network of allies - arm them, train them, equip them and help them strategically in moving forward their disparate causes and their different flashpoints.

RASCOE: When you look at these conflicts, obviously, you know there can be a lot of attention on Iran and the U.S., but you are making the case that there's a lot more going on.

WRIGHT: I think there are three big reasons that you've seen the merger of these conflicts, and one is that many of these militias in the axis of resistance are now two generations old. They're battle hardened in their local conflicts. They are well-trained, well-armed, and they've been at this for a long time. The second reason is that there's an attraction to some of these militias and these causes, in part because there's no viable alternative, no -isms or ideologies that attract them. And so these Islamic movements backed by Iran are attractive. I mean, I think there are people who may not like the tactics that Hamas is engaged in, but they admire or envy the fact that they've stood up to both Israel and U.S. influence.

And I think the third reason is that the United States has, in many of these conflicts since 9/11, exerted its military muscle, has turned first to force as the way to solve them. And that hasn't always been effectively or efficiently or simultaneously accompanied by diplomacy. And so you've seen, as a result, these conflicts merge in a way, find common cause because there aren't alternatives and because force has defined what's happening or played out on the ground for so long now.

RASCOE: When you look at how much of all of this is tied to the Israel and Hamas war, it seems like some of this obviously preceded it. But how much is that pouring gasoline on the fire?

WRIGHT: Gasoline may be the right word. The 10 conflicts have brought together diverse rivals in different arenas over disparate flashpoints, and the tensions that have played out between Israel and Gaza have, in a way, merged these different conflicts. They have common links, and the kind of sympathy in the Arab world and in Iran for the Palestinians in Gaza has conflated the conflict, has brought the different diverse conflicts together. And, of course, the U.S., strongly allied with Israel, has brought it into conflict with some of Iran's proxies, as well, as we've seen play out with the Houthis in Yemen.

RASCOE: What does it mean, though, to have all of these conflicts kind of merging? I mean, to me, just hearing that and thinking about the Middle East, to have all of these conflicts now coming to a flashpoint, to me, it seems very concerning. How concerned should the rest of the world be about this?

WRIGHT: Oh, deeply concerned. This is a moment where you have rivals merging forces and challenging - whether it's Israel or the United States or the West, there's a danger that this can't be solved just by creating a two-state solution, for example. This is something that's going to take - that has the potential to become a much bigger war, to escalate, to lead, you know, the United States deeper into conflict in the region at a time the U.S. is also facing help for its allies in Ukraine against Russia, at a time there are other threats with China threatening Taiwan. The Middle East once again is endangering to suck away the attention, the resources and the capabilities of the United States to a regional war that the Biden administration had wanted to kind of put on the backburner or walk away from to focus on Asia.

RASCOE: That's New Yorker writer Robin Wright. Thank you so much for joining us.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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