Time To Seize An Iranian Ceasefire Opportunity

Iran seems to be floating a plausible way to stop both the genocide in Gaza and the slow-burning regional war. This week could be a Moment—or it could slip away

Time To Seize An Iranian Ceasefire Opportunity
"The Fates" by Francisco de Goya

Edited by Sam Thielman 

IRAN APPEARS TO BE MAKING AN OFFER that the U.S. and Israel can’t refuse. If they do, it will be at everyone's peril. 

Over the weekend, based on a conversation with an "Arab diplomatic source," the experienced journalist Ali Hashem reported for Jadeh Iran that Iran is proposing not to retaliate against Israel for last week's escalatory Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus—if Israel will agree to a ceasefire. 

I am in no position to confirm or refute Hashem's report. As a professional reporter, I have to note that he's relying on a single source (red flag #1) that isn't the Iranians, i.e., those closest to the news at issue (red flag #2). The New Arab slyly notes in its piece on Hashem's reporting, "it was not clear if this Arab source was from Oman where Iran's top diplomat was on Sunday as part of a regional tour." To make explicit what's floating between the lines here, perhaps Hashem's source is someone who has been directly privy to this Iranian initiative. Only Hashem and his source know. 


Even if it's untrue, or overblown, or whatever, this is the kind of public diplomatic whisper that clever negotiators can turn into reality. That is, if the will to do so exists. 

For six horrific, stomach-churning months, we at FOREVER WARS have documented the clear Iranian strategy on display in the Middle East. Tehran, through proxies, has used military attacks on the U.S. to compel Washington to restrain its client Israel, while hoping not to trigger a direct regional-power conflict. This strategy hasn't yielded the desired outcome, and neither has the U.S. response of retaliating militarily against those proxies to get Iran to call it all off. Together, these dueling approaches have created a really, really dangerous escalatory spiral that both combatants swear not to want

Amid that dynamic, Israel last week took the hugely provocative step of bombing the Iranian consulate in Damascus. The Iranians promptly warned the U.S. the U.S. to "step aside" from its coming retaliation against the Israelis. And whatever President Biden's stated distaste for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu—a distaste evidently not strong enough to stop U.S. material aid for Israel's destruction of Gaza—the White House readout of their Apr. 4 phone call conveyed that Biden "made clear that the United States strongly supports Israel in the face of those [Iranian] threats." 

This possibly-illusory diplomatic offer is a long overdue off-ramp. Anyone who wants to stop both a genocide and a regional war has been looking for precisely such an opening. Whoever gave Hashem this news over the weekend clearly wants to put pressure on the ceasefire negotiations that resumed on Sunday in Cairo. As of this writing, there are mixed reports about how close to a deal the two sides of those negotiations are—Egypt is saying there's been a lot of progress, but both Hamas and Israel are tamping down expectations. But the talks are now at the stage where the opposing sides discuss internally the contours of whatever's been offered in terms of a ceasefire and hostage release. Decisions from those discussions are expected to emerge over the next 48 hours. 

There have been so many heartbreakingly false starts after the first ceasefire ended. This may be another one. But now the Iranians are apparently giving the Americans a pathway to not only preempt a surely-bloody Iranian retaliation against a regional ally, but to deescalate the Middle East. Iran would be showing it can lose face—one of its prime enemies just attacked an internationally-protected diplomatic compound, and Tehran would be letting that slide—if doing so means Gaza can live. The U.S. is represented in the Cairo talks by CIA Director Bill Burns, the most experienced Mideast diplomat the Biden administration has, and Burns surely understands what an opportunity this would be: Washington can get everything it currently says it wants, and all at once. 

The Americans would get the chance to show the region that Washington is not fully insane—and can pivot to portraying itself as a firefighter instead of the guy who handed the arsonist the gas can. And to save face, they may well boast, like JFK after the Cuban Missile Crisis, that they went toe to toe with the Iranians and made them blink. The time to adjudicate the truth of that will be after the end of a genocide, the return of 130 people who have endured six months in captivity, and the recession of the tides of regional war. 

I trust Burns also understands what the Iranians will understand it to mean if the talks once again don't produce a ceasefire. It'll mean Washington is so committed to a genocidal act undertaken by its Israeli client that it will spurn the Iranians even after the Iranians offer to eat a little shit. It'll mean that neither the Israelis nor the Americans have experienced sufficient pain. It'll mean that there's no more point in Iran restraining its Axis of Resistance coalition as that coalition tests where the U.S. threshold of retaliation is. And the clients Iran hasn't restrained, the Houthis, have shown themselves so resilient against a U.S. naval campaign that the U.S. is floating compromises with them. (The commander of a four-destroyer squadron participating in that campaign, Navy Capt. Dave Wroe, told the BBC that the Houthis are waging the most intense and sustained naval operation the U.S. has faced since World War II. That's largely a measure of 75 years of such overwhelming U.S. blue-water dominance that naval warfare has declined, but still.)  Remember: Hezbollah has not entered this war in earnest. Yet. 

It's probably stupid to attempt reading the Israeli reaction to such a fluid development. But Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who's a member of the war triumvirate with Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, appears to be saying that Israel is at an "opportune moment" to bring the remaining 130 hostages home—as so many in Israel so desperately want. Gallant says that six months in Gaza has allowed Israel "to be flexible, to act freely and to make difficult decisions in order to bring back the abductees," which is the language of face-saving ahead of a climb-down. Yet at the same time, Gallant is saying that an IDF pullback in Gaza is to "prepare for future missions, including ... in Rafah." Jewish supremacist and cabinet member Itamar Ben-Gvir is threatening to bring down the Israeli government unless Netanyahu carries through with sacking Rafah. And Netanyahu is in both political and criminal jeopardy the moment he ends the assault. Gallant's comments appear to signal that Israel has leaders who are prepared to step back from the brink even if Netanyahu isn't. 

The stakes over these next 48 hours are as high as they get for humanity. They are the highest for the people of Palestine, a people who in the face of international abandonment and betrayal have had to summon a resilience that ought to be legendary for the rest of human history. Let's hope that this time, in Cairo, a breakthrough finally emerges. 

"IT IS CONVERTED INTO A PILE OF SAND." Hind Khoudary reports for al-Jazeera about what Khan Younis, one of Gaza's major cities, looks like after the IDF pulled back from it. 

WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, the superhero spy thriller I co-wrote with my friend Evan Narcisse and which the masterful Jesús Merino illustrated, is available for purchase in a hardcover edition! If you don't have single issues of WVW and you want a four-issue set signed by me, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics

No one is prouder of WVW than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, which is available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is a new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN