Best hope for wider Middle East de-escalation after US strikes remains progress in Gaza

Iranian proxy groups have consistently attacked Israel and its allies since the war in Gaza broke out, almost four months ago.

There have been more than 160 attacks on US troops in the region over the course of the war and the US has often responded, including killing a commander of the Popular Mobilisation Units on the outskirts of Iraq's capital Baghdad.

From the Houthis targeting commercial and naval shipping in the Red Sea, to Hezbollah firing missiles into Israel and smaller Shia militia flying drones at US bases in Iraq and Syria, there has been a regular tempo of attacks.

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The strike on a base on the Jordanian border was the first to kill American soldiers, hence the much larger response from Washington.

The targeting of Iran's al Quds force directly, for the first time, marks an escalation in US military activity.

The Quds force, an elite and clandestine branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, is separate from the country's main military and responsible for training and arming proxy groups abroad.

But Washington has stopped short of going at Iranian interests on Iranian soil which, it is hoped, will limit any retaliation.

Ironically, this escalation in the wider region comes at a moment when there might be a ceasefire in Gaza.

A framework, negotiated by Israel, the US, Egypt and Qatar, has been put to Hamas.

It would see the release of the remaining 136 hostages in phases, over a lengthy ceasefire lasting six weeks and possibly longer.

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Hamas is yet to officially respond, although it hasn't rejected the deal outright. However, there are reports the leadership is divided - with some in its ranks wanting to push for more, including the release of high-profile Palestinian prisoners and the guarantee of a permanent ceasefire.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is flying to the region this weekend to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the Occupied West Bank - his trip deliberately coincides with the US strikes and possible Gaza hostage deal.

Although the US strikes are designed to degrade the ability of Iran and its proxies to carry out attacks, they will unlikely deter them, as we have seen with the campaign against the Houthis in Yemen.

In fact, the best hope for wider de-escalation remains de-escalation in Gaza, which is why a new hostage deal is so important, for so many reasons.