Amjad Ismail Al , Agha
Within an unstable regional climate, both Iran and Israel are seeking to strengthen their strategic position vis-à-vis each other. This is evident through a series of policies that frame the actions of Tel Aviv and Tehran, both at the regional level, and those policies that chart an external path that includes political investment for pretexts that start from two main determinants. One of them is Israeli desires to put an end to Iranian policies in the region, the need for Iran and its factions to leave Syria, as well as the framing of its nuclear program, which Israel sees as an existential threat. The other includes Iranian concerns stemming from Israel’s efforts to impose its control over the region, through normalization agreements, as well as Israel’s efforts to portray Iran as one of the most important factors of regional instability, and to market it internationally.
In between, a new factor has emerged related to the intensification of Israeli attacks against Iranian positions in Syria, offset by Iran’s strengthening of the strength of its factions in the region by supplying them with more weapons. Still, the two countries seem to be uninterested in military confrontation, but miscalculations cannot be completely ruled out, which could lead to a full-scale regional war. It is undeniable that these developments, which have fueled the course of tension between Tel Aviv and Tehran, especially that Iran’s unprecedented expansion in the region in general, its military consolidation in Syria in particular, the doubts and fears surrounding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, as well as American policies and anti-Iranian rhetoric and its foreign policy, all of which were welcomed by Israel, invested in expanding its relations, and hereby concluded peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Within political realism, however, relations between Tehran and Tel Aviv were not entirely hostile, as there was a time when the two countries engaged in multifaceted political, economic, and security cooperation, among other areas. However, this cooperation, which sought to advance Israeli-Iranian interests, ended in one blow in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which adopted an explicit rhetoric of “destroying Israel.” It is important to recall that Khomeini has used the Shah’s relations with Israel and the United States as a trump card to discredit the Shah, undermine his legitimacy, and accuse him of allowing Israel to infiltrate Iran’s economic, military, and political affairs. Within weeks of the Iranian revolution, Tehran severed all official ties with Tel Aviv, ushering in a new era marked by fierce hostility to Israel and open calls for its destruction that have continued to this day.
As the contours of Iran’s nuclear program became clear, alarm bells rang internationally and regionally, and international sanctions were imposed on Iran, until the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. The agreement was vehemently rejected by Israel, and it did not succeed in dissuading Barack Obama’s administration from completing it, until Donald Trump, who announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the reimposition of US sanctions with the application of a policy of maximum pressure.
Iran’s nuclear program is Israel’s number one threat, but Tehran’s nuclear weapons program has by no means been the only source of confrontation between the two countries. The wars in Syria and Iraq have allowed Iran to consolidate its positions as a springboard to increase political influence and military entrenchment in the two countries, and Syrian, Iraqi, and Lebanese territory has been used to create a land corridor to the Mediterranean, in an attempt to impose Iranian hegemony in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. This development was viewed with great concern in Israel. Not only has the threat posed by Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip grown dramatically over the past decade. All of this was unacceptable to Tel Aviv, which has waged an ongoing campaign to prevent Tehran’s military entrenchment in Syria and its use of Syrian territory.
The relations between Iran and Israel, and their attempt to strengthen their strategic position vis-à-vis each other, have created a kind of unstable balance of terror, as Iran is deterred by Israel’s strategic capabilities, in terms of its enormous air force, and its multi-layered anti-missile and nuclear-armed air defense system, while Israel understands that a huge human and material cost will hit Israel in the event of any confrontation in the military sense. The balance of terror between Tel Aviv and Tehran has prevented a large-scale fire between the two countries, but this possibility cannot be completely ruled out if a revival of the nuclear deal being discussed between Iran and the Joe Biden administration fails. Until the deal is completed, escalation between them is not ruled out, which means a shadow war between the two sides continues, even if the agreement is revived, which Israel considers futile and insufficient to deter Iran.