Although it does not appear to be so astonishing as it looks, political pundits seem to have an undeniable ‘proof’ of Israeli hostile policy towards Iran. According to recently leaked audio recordings, Israel did plan to attack Iran at least three times in the past. The recording with former Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was leaked to Israel`s Channel 2. It detailed three strikes Barak had allegedly planned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Barak, who also previously served as prime minister, acknowledged to CNN that the recording is authentic.
Plans, however, could not be carried out because of various reasons. Notwithstanding this lack of executions, what appears certainly important to contemplate upon is the war preparations going on in Israel. For instance, according to the leaked audio, Israel could not carry out an attack in 2010 because, “at that crucial moment, essentially, the answer from the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) was that the accumulated capability does not meet the threshold of the IDF chief of staff that he can say this is operational,” says the report, attributing the statement to the Ehud Barak. However, by 2011, Israel did have, as the report reveals, enough capabilities to launch the attack. That is to say, within just one year, from 2010 to 2011, Israel did manage to make preparations on such a high scale as to be able to come in a position to execute what was not execute-able just in the previous year.
With the US-Iran nuclear deal clearly in place, Israel-Iran relations are fast heading to the abyss of geo-political tussle. It was but ‘natural’ for Israel and Iran’s “Sunni” rivals to expect a more aggressive and more assertive Iran once the deal got finalized and sanctions lifted off. And, perhaps, this is precisely what Israel had assessed back in 2010. Iran—with or without nuclear warheads—has been a tough state to deal with, and once sanctions were lifted and its economy given a boost, it would certainly act out its aggressiveness in the open to challenge Israel’s and “Sunni” States’ regional hegemonic ambitions. As such, the “best option” for Israel and other “Sunni” States was to pre-empt Iran’s re-emergence as a well-integrated, both economically and militarily, regional power—hence, Israel’s war plans and Saudi’s covert alliance with it.
It is, therefore, not so much the threat of Iran as the perception of an aggressive Iran that is driving Israel, as also Arab states, crazy, which in turn forces Iran to counter-act. According to their calculations, dealing with a sanctions-free Iran would certainly be a mountainous task. According to this assessment, If Iran’s sanctions-induced economic hardship in recent years could not prevent it from spending billions and its own soldiers’ lives keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, Iranian involvement in the region will certainly increase after the deal is signed, creating paramount difficulties for them.
The real question about Iran’s regional behavior is not, therefore, whether a nuclear deal is too dangerous for the Middle East because it will give Iran more ability to make trouble. Trouble, as we can see, is already not lacking in the Middle East. The crucial question, therefore, is how Arab States and Israel respond to this development. It is quite clear that the broader regional power struggle with Iran remains the single most important consideration for Arab governments— not ISIS and other extremist terrorism, not the civil wars erasing state borders, and not domestic instability. Similar is the case with the state of Israel which spends more time in making grand plans to eliminate Iran than in effecting a peaceful resolution of territorial conflict with Palestine.
The above cited leaked audio clearly outlines the one way Israel knows to deal with Iran: War. For Arab States, the only way out is proxy wars. As a matter of fact, Sunni allies are already upping their efforts in countering Iran regionally, as the Yemen operation and the renewed investment in the Syrian rebels demonstrate. Iran will have both the means and the incentive to respond in kind. This, therefore, is a recipe for an escalatory spiral, perhaps most particularly in Syria and Iraq.
What this means is that, no matter how much the US government asserts its primary regional interest in ‘combating’ ISIS and Al Qaeda, major regional actors will certainly remain resolutely focused on the Iranian threat as their primary concern. And it means that, in reassuring and bolstering its partners as part of any Iranian nuclear deal, the US cannot limit itself to the nuclear issue, or to traditional defense and deterrence.
Even if the US does not insert itself deep inside Iran-Arab States-Israel power tussle, Arab States, already in a covert alliance with Israel, do have a window opportunity to convert this covert alliance into an open and re-assert their position. As a matter of fact, this is already happening. It is quite evident, and Iran’s rival states are certainly aware of it, that the benefits to Iran from sanctions-relief amount to the estimated $100 billion, and that sanctions relief will take months even to begin, and will take far longer to fully play out in the larger geo-political game. Hence, weapon deals worth billions of dollars as well as more funding for Syrian “rebel” forces.
For the Arab States, as also for Israel, it is of crucial importance that conflict-situation with Iran is maintained; for, it allows them to divert their population’s attention away from domestic problems such as the failed governance, corruption, repression and abuses of fundamental human rights (that produced the Arab uprisings). It is not a coincidence that the so-called “Arab Spring” was followed by conflict not so much at home as in other states such as Syria, Iraq and now in Yemen. By propagating Iranian influence in these conflicts, Arad States not only present the world with an over-simplified picture, but also use that very situation to snub and manipulate their domestic population.
For instance, Saudi Arabia has been, especially since the beginning of conflict in Yemen, seeking help of local clerics in inciting anti-Shia sentiments in local youth to impress upon them the crucial need for ‘jihad’ against the infidels. This, on the part of ruling cliché, is a political tactic to wean the youth away from demanding radical political reforms and re-focus them on the question of re-establishing “Sunni” supremacy in the Arab world. War, for Arab states, is therefore a useful tool they continue to deploy to keep their domestic over-lordship intact and political supremacy unchallenged.
A (proxy) war between Iran and its regional rivals is, therefore, most likely to continue on a much higher scale than it has been the case so far. With Arab States stoutly refusing to introduce reforms in their domestic political systems and with their extremely intolerant attitude towards religious and ethnic minorities, Iranian influence inside these States is most likely to increase. This is quite evident from the increasing Iranian influence in Saudi Arabia’s Shia-dominated region. As a matter of fact, the receptiveness that many Shia leaders have shown towards Iran’s foreign policy and religious practice gives Tehran a ready means to expand its reach in Saudi and Yemen. The war between them is, as it stands, now coming to the point where Arab States themselves might be fighting it not in Iraq or Syria or Yemen but in their own streets.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”