November 17, 2018

Iran and Israel in the Modern Strategic Era

In the past few months Israel has been performing a reassessment on the relative threat that Iran imposes on the region. The Western World is gradually (and drastically) changing, Superpowers are colliding in the Middle East and struggling for influence. Through all of that - we must take a deeper look regarding Iran's position and how it influences Israel

Basing on all the violations that already been witnessed it's probably what's already happening. Credit: The Final Call.

There are some significant changes in the Middle East throughout the last couple of years, especially with the involvement of the Great Powers in the region. All of these contribute to the establishment of a new Strategic Reality in the area, which affects the position of Iran. These is also the beginning of a change in the approach of the US towards Iran, a change that the world is waiting to end, so they could set their eyes on the new policy of the US when dealing with Iran. It is still unclear and uncertain what said policy would be. The consequences of Iran’s changing position, of course, also impact the Civil War in Syria, Iraq, the War in Yemen, and most relevant to us – Israel.

On a first glance Iran seems like the big winner from those changes – the survival and persistence of the Assad Regime thanks to Russian intervention, the impending defeat of ISIS, and also the sustainability of the War in Yemen.

Despite being an Arab country, Iran hasn’t experienced the turmoil of the Arab Spring, most of all thanks to its internal procedures and the Iranian political infrastructure.

In order to come to an understanding of how exactly Israel is connected, we must first look at the changes in the Superpowers relating to Iran.

All of this begins with a single question – what is “power”?

Power is the currency of political and strategic life. The relations of strength are the decisive factor when everything else is equal. Power is the source which “persuades” the target to act and conduct in a matter that it wouldn’t have done otherwise.

What is a “Source of Power” in the Modern Era? Territory and Population are way up the list as very important factors. Population translates to institutional, military and economic power. Those are the ingredients, despite the fact that their weight has changed. Nowadays, power does not have to be “Hard Power”, but can also exist as a soft, non-aggressive equivalent.

There is a need to conduct a reassessment on Iran just as a result from the election of Trump as the new US President, his future policy, and his future personality. The United States is one of the biggest, largest Superpowers, a part of the P5 and a pillar of foundation in many organizations such as NATO. Changes in the Foreign Policy and the regime of a Superpower redefine the game, especially towards Iran and Israel.

As of today, the changes in relations between the Superpowers come into play as Axes and frictions between them, although the big difference is that there is no all-out war between any two Superpowers or more.

There is a need to understand the approach of the US towards Iran, how Iran sees itself through the eyes of the US, how the US perceives its own strength and how she may be inclined to use it. The US is in the middle of dealing with radical Islam, ISIS, bomb threats of Jewish Centers and very frequent displays of Antisemitism. The US, led by Trump, thus returns to a decisive, aggressive approach, relieving itself of any soft claims. It is a dynamic and dangerous arena which may also blow up as a result of tensions between nuclear states.

The Middle East has always been a place of collision between the Superpowers, especially in regards to Israel, Jerusalem and the holy places. However, will it persist now that the US is redefining its priorities?

Israel is not a state that deters from using its powers. Military-wise, Israel is among the top 10 most powerful countries in the world. Despite that, it shows restraint, and even though it is not afraid to use brute force, Israel is not inclined to do so either. Restraint is also strength. On the other side – there is Iran, which is not afraid to use its power to change and destabilize the region, and also shows inclination to do so.

There is a very fragile system of relations. It still remains to see the weight that that rising Superpowers, such as China and India, will grant to Iran as well.

About the Iranian Nuclear Agreement.  

In many ways it is possible to see some similarity between the Iran nuclear deal and the Oslo agreements.

Both deals got a major push despite the great amount of opposition. Both deals have been made by a strong side (P5+1/ Israel) and a weak side that was in a critical mode of crisis and nearly collapsing (Iran/ PA). In addition, both deals ended up giving said side a second wind. The PA has turned from a being a terror organization into a legitimate Palestinian leadership that represents the majority of the Palestinians, and gained worldwide acknowledgment and the role an observing country in the UN. Iran has turned from a semi-isolated country with a deep economic distress to a major regional power, with influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yaman. Iran is the main threat on both the Sunni Muslims and the Israelis.

And that’s before it gains nuclear power.

Is the deal enough for stopping Iran from getting nuclear power? No, the deal will slow the progress but it can’t completely prevent Iran from gaining the nuclear power it so desperately want. The deal, however, does stop the establishment of nuclear facilities, and forbids Iran from enriching uranium but allows iran to develop advanced centrifuge.

In the past Iran only had basic centrifuge with the ability to enrich one uranium unit per year. If Iran had been trying to create a single nuclear warhead a year back then it would have taken 3,000 centrifuges to do the job. Now, however, Iran is developing advanced centrifuges which are 20 times more efficient than the basic centrifuges. So at the time that Iran will decide to create nuclear warhead, they could do so faster than they could before the deal. On top of that there is no guarantee that Iran won’t violate the terms of the deal and there is no possible way to supervise it in the current position. The supervisors are able to access only the declared nuclear facilities. They can’t access the non-formal facilities or even look for any. Iran didn’t even grant them permission to enter military facilities to check if there is any ongoing development of explosive warhead.

From unofficial sources we’ve discovered that Iran does possess missiles that can reach beyond 2,000 Kilometers despite the deal forbids Iran from developing missiles with said ability.

As for right now there are 3 possible actions that Iran can take:

  1. Respect the deal.
  2. Allegedly respect the deal but doing as they please secretly
  3. Abandoning the deal entirely and leaving NPT.

When asked in a convention about Iran, the majority of the Israeli public who were present said that the second option is most likely to happen.

And basing on all the violations that already been witnessed it’s probably what’s already happening.

US-Iran Relations as a guideline for Israel

Iranian media published articles which conveyed that in a struggle between the US, Turkey, Israel and Iran, Iran would do well. This goes to indicate there is an emergence of competition between Iran and Turkey in the Middle East.

Trump has given no signal of going in a direction of renouncing the Nuclear Agreement which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 (US, China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany). Professional opinions regarding the topic of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are heavily divided. Some believe that renouncing the deal is a mistake, due to sanctions already being lifted by the US and discussed on the UNSC. In their opinion, the US would much rather enforce and strengthen the deal to the agreement, preventing minor violations which may become routine if they are overlooked upon.

Trump, however, is drastically changing the US approach regarding Iran, condemning and putting an eye on it and its violations. It remains to be seen if such approach will persist through his candidacy, as we are delving deeper and deeper into it. We may be witnessing a departure from regular sanctions, as opposed to Obama’s policy, which was predictable by both US allies and enemies. The Iranians are unable to read into Trump’s policy as “the Madman in the White House”, which gives him the strategic benefit of uncertainty to draw out the paranoia of the Arab leaders.

Trump hasn’t dictated his goals and expectations towards Iran, although he has to show the willingness to go beyond what was previously done, in order to get Iran’s attention. Iran is acting behind the scenes, and according to German Intelligence the Nuclear Agreement has already been violated. In the long run – the US has a lot of work to do, including enforcing the agreement, if Trump intends to live with it.

However, Iran’s head of Atomic Committee advised the leadership to remain responsible when dealing with Trump, who he claimed to be “thin-skinned”. The Iranian leadership is aware that the agreement they got into is very beneficial for them. Despite that, Iran has a long history as violator of agreements and deals. It may be inclined to expand its nuclear program because the clauses and premises of the agreement allow it to do so without reprisal. The US should find a way to punish and limit Iran in response to violations, and a key target is the Iranian fragile economy.

This matter relates to Israel in the form that Israeli PM Netanyahu, alongside most of the government, heavily opposed the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. “It is better to have no deal than a bad one” was one of Netanyahu’s main phrases at 2015, when the agreement was signed. An agreement that does not hinder Iran from developing nuclear capabilities would not contribute to the stability of the Middle East. The agreement may not allow Iran to develop sufficient nuclear strength to oppose a threat on the Western World, but there are little to no implications for Iran should they ever develop the necessary arsenal to jeopardize Israel’s security.

The strategic world is destined to align itself according to Trump’s solidifying approach to many topics, one of them being the Iranian nuclear agreement. An approach condemning the Iran Nuclear Deal, as observed when Trump met with PM Netanyahu on February, would benefit Israel’s stance regarding said agreement, and so give it a strong backwind in the face of the instability that Iranian threats create. Iranian Leader Hassan-Rouhani has been less than kind in the past month regarding his approach to Israel and the US. With Iran’s inclination to conduct missile tests, Israel needs the pro-Israel approach of Trump in all topics.

As the structure of the Superpowers in the Middle East is adjusting itself, influencing Iran and the strategic approach in which it is being perceived as, Israel with no doubt would be impacted as well.

Ofir Agai
About Ofir Agai 3 Articles
Ofir is an Israeli analyst specialized in diplomacy and the changing political landscapes in the US and in the Middle East. He has a rich, professional background in International Relations and Political Science from a very young age.
Contact: Website

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