06.04.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

The Conflict Between Israel and Iran Adopts New Contours

The Conflict Between Israel and Iran

Israel is renowned for its active diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East and surrounding areas. Tel Aviv is seeking partners among the pro-Western countries of the Arab East, the de-facto Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, NATO Turkey, and the newly formed Muslim countries of the post-Soviet space, for obvious reasons of localizing external threats arising from the consolidation of the Islamic world (including both Sunni and Shiite parts). Israeli diplomacy is largely affected by pragmatic economic aims as well as geopolitical concerns, particularly the search for new oil and gas-rich energy areas for oil and gas imports.

Given the tense nature of Israel-Iran relations, as well as their lack of geographical proximity, Tel Aviv, on the one hand, is attempting to pinpoint military strikes primarily by combat manned aircraft and unmanned vehicles, as well as, as part of special sabotage operations, to localize the spots of pro-Iranian proxy forces near its borders, specifically in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. On the other hand, it is actively involved in acquiring bridgeheads near the Islamic Republic of Iran’s borders in order to deploy its military units in conducting local operations to destroy individual military facilities on Iranian soil.

Several Israeli leaders and analysts believe that the present Iranian mullahcracy regime’s strategic aim is to eliminate the Jewish state in the Middle East by making groundless accusations of Zionism. In this context, Tel Aviv sees its strategic duty as preventing Tehran from developing weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, Israeli competent experts with experience in national security service divisions, such as Yaakov Kedmi, the former head of the Nativ liaison bureau, believe that modern Iran has already approached the stage of developing nuclear weapons and is one of the so-called “threshold countries”.

That’s why, according to Yaakov Kedmi, the United States doesn’t want to launch a military operation against Iran and spark a large-scale war in the Middle East, as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is intermittently seeking. The reason for this position in Washington is that the Americans do not rule out the very possibility of Tehran using nuclear weapons against coalition forces and Israel. In the event of a prolonged conventional battle, Iran is capable of withstanding and dealing irreparable damage to Israel and its partners in Iran’s geographical context. Transferring military equipment and personnel to Iranian territory would be challenging for Israel for purely geographical and logistical reasons.

The complication of the possibility of a lightning military operation against Iran is also evidenced by China’s diplomatic success in launching the process of restoring relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This fact in the regional agenda “nullified” Israel’s aspirations for anti-Iranian support from the Persian Gulf’s wealthiest Arab monarchs.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu administration pursues its strategy of escalating tensions with Tehran rather than looking for chances for mutually beneficial deals including key external actors (including Russian peacemaking diplomacy). Tel Aviv places some faith in Baku and Azerbaijan’s proximity to Iran in this regard.

It is well known that Israel has significantly contributed to the development and modernization of the Armed Forces of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) and is one of the primary suppliers of modern weapons and military equipment worth billions of dollars to Azerbaijan, including combat and reconnaissance drones, artillery and communications means, combat and reconnaissance drones, small arms and ammunition. A significant amount of this military collaboration has helped Azerbaijan construct a modern army, implement successful military reforms, and be victorious in its military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020.

Naturally, Azerbaijan generously compensated Israel for the armaments with the supply of its premium oil in addition to the payment of dollars. Israeli companies have established themselves successfully in Azerbaijan’s energy and financial industries, and they have taken the initiative in integrating cutting-edge technologies into the Caspian Republic’s economy across a variety of sectors, including agriculture, the military industry, logistics and transport facilities, information communications, education, and science.

It is safe to say that a positive experience in the development of the strategic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan over the past 20 years is an example of constructive relations between Jewish and Shiite states, pragmatic thinking and multiculturalism. Also, the fact that Azerbaijan is one of the few Islamic nations to establish a consulate in Tel Aviv indicates the significant potential and opportunities to develop mutually beneficial ties with Israel.

According to Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan George Dick, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will attend the joint meeting of the intergovernmental committee in Baku in April 2023. Cohen intends to propose Mikayıl Cabbarov, Minister of Economy of Azerbaijan, a $200 million package of active cooperation in innovation, advanced technologies, agriculture, tourism and investments at this meeting.

As a result, the opening of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Israel on March 29 this year with the high-level delegation from Baku, headed by Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, just confirmed the unique nature of interstate relations. It is no coincidence that the head of the Azerbaijani delegation, Jeyhun Bairamov has received high attention of the Israeli Government and had audiences with the Foreign Ministry Eli Cohen, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally.

Everything would be fine, but, for some reason the Iranian issue was presented as a common regional threat, against which joint action is needed, in the speech of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on the occasion of the visit of his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov. In particular, Cohen stated: “Azerbaijan and Israel share Iran’s threat. Iran threatens our region, and creates non-stability in the Middle East by supporting and financing terrorism. We should jointly act against Iran. We should not allow Iran to expand its nuclear opportunities.“

First, when did Israel combine the Middle East and the South Caucasus into a single region? Second, where and when did Iran threaten to deploy nuclear weapons against South Caucasus countries, particularly Azerbaijan? Third, given Baku’s triumph in the last Nagorno-Karabakh war, recognized by Tegeran, and Iran’s potential to become a very successful economic partner of Azerbaijan and Russia for the transit of products along the North–South International Transport Corridor, why should Azerbaijan become involved in the Iranian-Israeli conflict? Finally, why would a nuclear-free Azerbaijan need another battle with a neighbor engaged in a nuclear project?

Perhaps this is why Israel worked so hard to assist Azerbaijan in defeating Armenia in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in order to establish a foothold in Baku-controlled territory along the Aras River on Iran’s northern border. Several specialists are still puzzled by the economic viability of Azerbaijan building a network of airfields in Fizuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, and Qubadli districts of Nagorno Karabakh which are geographically close to Iran in a short period of time. For Tehran, for example, these facilities are viewed as a danger of the expansion of logistical infrastructure for the deployment of Israeli combat aviation units and drones in the event of a conflict with Iran. Obviously, the Baku authorities deny such a possibility, while Tel Aviv, according to the same Eli Cohen, suggests uniting the two nations’ resources, including their military forces, against Iran.

Baku is hardly ever dependent on Tel Aviv. That’s why, President Ilham Aliyev responded to Iran’s suspicions by openly stating that Azerbaijan follows a policy of non-alignment and independence and will not offer its territory for hostilities to any state.

Likewise, on March 29 this year in Moscow, executive negotiations were held between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. The Russian side believes that the “tensions” in the relations between Baku and Tehran “are temporary in nature and will be overcome as soon as possible.” Within the context of the project for the North-South international transport corridor, Moscow depends on the maintenance of peace in the area and the promotion of trilateral cooperation including Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Russia declares its willingness to actively participate in helping to resolve the long-standing issues between its southern partners (Azerbaijan and Iran).

The confrontation between Israel and the Anglo-Saxon coalition with Iran, engaging Azerbaijan, does not fit it with the Russia’s interests. Moreover, Russia has agreements and shared interests with Azerbaijan and Iran, both of which are significant regional partners. Instead of adding new contours to the continuing confrontation, Russia is attempting to engage in constructive diplomacy in the Caucasus and the Middle East by working with its allies to find solutions to disagreements and crises. If Moscow and Baku had not signed a number of military accords, how would Russia act in the case of a military war involving third parties and Azerbaijan? Consequently, Iran remains Russia’s long-standing regional partner, and the peculiarities of modern geopolitics and Western sanctions draw the two countries closer together in economic and military-technical cooperation. Thus, in contrast to the militant regional diplomacy of the West, we see a constructive approach of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

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

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