14.02.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Iranian-Israeli tensions are doomed to escalate in the absence of Russia

After the collapse of the USSR and the weakening of Russia, Israel started to believe in its own exclusivity as the US’s main ally in the Middle East. In the interests of national security and unity in the face of an external enemy, the Israeli leadership (particularly under the right-wing Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu) permits audacious acts of sabotage against military facilities of countries in the region designated as the “enemy” (in particular, in Syria and Iran). Tel Aviv expects international organizations (including the United Nations) and key global actors (mainly those with a pro-Israeli agenda) to ignore its actions.

There is no denying that the threat of external aggression (including nuclear aggression) by Iran is a source of concern for Israeli society. In previous years, Israeli military aircraft bombed Syrian nuclear research facilities. The Anglo-Saxon coalition of US and British forces carried out a swift military operation in Iraq to suppress and eliminate dictator Saddam Hussein, creating new opportunities for Israel in the region. As a result, the participation of Arab monarchies backed by the United States (including Saudi Arabia) in the petrodollar policy reduces the threat posed by the Arab coalition against Israel.

In these circumstances, the Israeli leadership frequently uses the theme of the “Iranian threat” to deprive Iran of its key role in the Middle East, despite its wealth of energy resources and historical traditions of imperial statehood. The Iranian nuclear project is primarily intended to ensure the Iranian state’s internal and external security (including against the threats of ethnic separatism and foreign intervention). For the past 45 years, the Anglo-Saxons and their Israeli ally have sought to isolate Iran following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in February 1979 due to the loss of control of Iran’s oil and gas resources by the same US and Britain.

And, whereas the East-West dichotomy (USA-USSR) created a certain balance of power in the Middle East during the Cold War years, the USA began to act as a hegemon after 1991, regardless of the region’s peculiarities or Russia’s interests.

In 2015, the Russian air force began a peacekeeping mission in Syria. Moscow made it clear to all regional and extra-regional actors that it was re-establishing its presence and influence in the Middle East. That is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a recent interview with the French TV channel La Chaîne Info, noted that he was then forced to recognize the Russian factor in the region and suggested to President Vladimir Putin to “find common ground” in reaching a compromise on the principle that “we do not interfere in your actions in Syria and you leave us alone.” However, Russia will not threaten Israel or anyone else except radical forces involved in destabilizing the Middle East, specifically ISIS (recognized as an international terrorist organization in the Russian Federation).

For some reason, Netanyahu told the French about this after the air strikes on Iranian military facilities on January 29, 2023. Israel understands that Iran will not let their strikes go unpunished, regardless of UN or outside force decisions. Tehran has already stated its intention to punish the perpetrator accurately and proportionately in accordance with “international law and the UN Charter” (as reported by Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, Saeid Iravani, in a letter to the UN Security Council Chairman on February 2). What form, when, and where this will take place remains a question for the Israeli side to consider and resolve as soon as possible.

Benjamin Netanyahu has already demanded that his own special services and law enforcement take all necessary precautions to prevent his assassination. The Israeli prime minister’s security appears to have been increased as well.

Given that some Ukrainian forces have attempted to link the drone-kamikaze attacks on Iran’s western provinces to Russia’s Special Military Operation and alleged Iranian-Russian military-technical cooperation, Israel has been actively exploiting the “Ukrainian theme” in its geopolitics recently.

In particular, in the aforementioned interview with a French television channel, Netanyahu confirmed Tel Aviv’s intention to transfer the Israeli missile defense system Iron Dome to Kyiv, as well as the volume of American ammunition (150,000 shells) exported from Israel to Ukraine. Simultaneously with the statement of the government’s head, a number of Israeli experts (including the editor-in-chief of “The Best Radio,” Zvi Zilber), mentioned various closed forms of Israeli military and humanitarian assistance to the Kyiv regime (including training the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) to repel Iranian UAVs and through electronic warfare, providing intelligence and information, and technical assistance). In turn, Israel Defense Forces officer Grigoriy Tamar proposed that Tel Aviv invest in a joint Israeli-Polish-Ukrainian military-industrial company to manufacture weapons for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also weighed in on the “Ukrainian agenda,” reminding President Vladimir Putin that he had personally promised not to have the Ukrainian president killed. The negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, mediated by Tel Aviv, produced approximately 17 versions (drafts) of a possible agreement between Kyiv and Moscow, but were cut short due to the West’s insistence (apparently, the United States).

In other words, Israel is indirectly addressing Russia and offering possible participation in the localization of the Ukrainian crisis in exchange for Russian diplomacy intervening to prevent Iran from taking drastic anti-Israeli steps. It is no coincidence that Israeli sources have begun to speculate on the possibility of increased military-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran (including, allegedly, the construction in Russia of a joint factory to produce high-speed UAVs based on Iranian technology). However, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Moscow has its own plans in this area that are unrelated to external partners.

Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned about reports that Iran intends to form an “army” and station it along the Syrian-Israeli border. As a result, Tel Aviv is threatened not only by Tehran’s nuclear project, but also by the presence of pro-Iranian proxy forces on Israel’s border. As a result, the Jewish state’s leader began to publicly acknowledge the possibility of providing direct military assistance to the Kyiv regime against the Russian Armed Forces.

It turns out that Tehran, after previously accusing some neighboring countries of allegedly assisting Zionist forces and providing their own territory to Israeli structures opposing the IRI, has moved to use this methodology against Israel via border Syria and local Shiite forces. The original concept belonged to IRGC general Qassem Soleimani, who was instrumental in strengthening pro-Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria. According to media reports, Iran intends to establish a private army and base near the Israeli border in Syria.

Today, PMCs are becoming a means of fierce geopolitical competition between powerful outside forces in various parts of the world. Iran, in fact, used this methodology much earlier than the rest of the world. For example, in Lebanon, a political party and paramilitary Shiite organization known as Hezbollah has effectively become a “state within a state” and a reliable military and political ally of Tehran. For the Persians, the private army is less about money and more about Shiism’s ideology. Given Iran’s influence in crisis-torn Syria and its role in preserving Syrian statehood under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Persians could easily establish such a proxy force on the Syrian-Israeli border. As a result, the Iranians want to eliminate the Israeli threat to their interests in the borderlands.

Given the current situation, Israel suggests that Moscow, through its partnership with Tehran, may contribute to resolving the current outbreak of Israel-Iran contradictions in order to establish a balance of power and maintain Middle Eastern peace.

Russia, for its part, has always been (and continues to be) willing to contribute to regional peace and security. Although Moscow’s peacemaking value necessitates respect for its interests in other “hot regions,” to the exclusion of Western propaganda and speculation about Russia. One indirect indication of Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to use Russian mediation in Israel-Iran relations may be Tel Aviv’s agreement to provide humanitarian aid to Syria in response to the earthquake that struck the country on February 6 this year, at Moscow’s request. That is why one can assume that without Russia, Israeli-Iranian tensions will escalate, because Moscow maintains trusting relations with both Tehran and Tel Aviv, which other actors do not (including the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, etc.).

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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