Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the relationship between Iran and Israel has not been a good one. Recent events in the Middle East have exacerbated the problem, however, and tensions are high. These recent events include the actual conflict between the two armies in Syria, as well as the potential failure of the Iran Nuclear Deal as a result of US withdrawal. The decision by the US to withdraw from the deal was likely to happen with Trump, but it was aided by Israeli pressure.
The dislike and distrust between the two countries cause great instability in the Middle Eastern region, and the threat of conflict remains a real possibility. Iran’s religious hardliners believe that Israel has violated Muslim territory, and is an illegitimate state. Israel is against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and has been publicly declaring that Iran is violating their international agreement to not develop nuclear weapons. Israel is fearful that Iran’s power will grow across the region and the threat of a strong neighbouring country.
The close relationship between Israel and the United States has added fuel to the fire and is another reason for the resentment between Iran and Israel. The news last week of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Deal was greeted with joy from Israel, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has been campaigning against the deal since its inception. Netanyahu and Trump had been in talks prior to the withdrawal of the US, which more than likely influenced the decision.
Israel’s role in this withdrawal and the consequential imposition of sanctions against Iran by the US has placed a strain on an already tense relationship. Although the consequences of these sanctions will not be as severe as the ones imposed in 2006 by the UN, they will still negatively affect Iran’s economy. Fortunately for Iran, it is looking likely that the EU, China and Russia will continue to trade with Iran as they attempt to keep the deal afloat without America.
The recent events in Syria between Iran and Israel have been labelled a ‘proxy war’ by observers as forces have engaged in armed conflict in parts of the country. Although Israel has to an extent stayed out of the fighting in Syria, there are currently Israeli soldiers occupying and administering the Golan Heights, which borders Syria and Israel. The UN has previously declared this occupation as illegal, but Israel remains in the area.
Iran has been a clear supporter of the Al Assad government in Syria and has sent thousands of Iranian soldiers down to support Assad’s army. Syria is an important regional ally to Iran, and the fall of the Syrian government would create uncertainty and difficulty for Iran in the region. Iran and Syria have long been regional allies and as such Iran is ensuring that the Assad government remains in power.
Israel is concerned, however, that Iran will gain further territory and control in the region if the Syrian government remains in power. Israel is also concerned with Iranian plans to build military bases in Syria, as it would put a militarily able Iran on the border of Israel. Israel has previously declared that they would be targeting any Iranian bases that are put up in Syria.
The physical confrontation that occurred earlier this month involved 20 rockets being fired by Iran into the Golan Heights region, controlled by Israel. In retaliation, Israel targeted Iranian and Syrian military infrastructure around the country. The international response to the attack was mixed. The United States, of course, supported the actions of Israel, saying that they had the right to defend themselves from Iran. Russia, who is on a similar side to Iran, has not reacted to Israeli actions. While it looks as if neither Iran nor Israel is prepared to enter into conflict with each other, there is only so much hostility that can occur before things are taken to the next level.
The foreign intervention and influence in the Middle East by the United States have had a significant impact on the relationships between all states in the Middle East. The foreign policy objective of preventing a regional hegemon has to a large extent succeeded, or at the very least made the journey a difficult one. The propping up of Israel by the West has created an uncertain and unstable region. The animosity shown towards the state by Arab nations has created a need for Israel to constantly be on the defensive and alert towards the actions of their neighbours.
On a human level, this causes immense stress and tension between the people of Israel and those in the region, especially in Palestine. The human side of instability in the Middle East is something not commonly focused on by journalists or analysts of the region. Imagine constantly being on alert and almost waiting for the conflict to erupt between your country and your neighbour. Not only this, but the levels of corruption and poor economic function throughout the region do not help matters either. High levels of unemployment remain present throughout the Middle East, and after the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011; we know the dangers of this factor.
Part of the problem with the Middle East is that there is so much history between the states and nothing is clear-cut. There are differences in religion, identity, language, culture and political stance. There are disagreements between tribal groups and those in the city. There is a conflict between modernity and keeping the traditions of Islam alive. There are so many contradictions and difficulties surrounding life in the Middle East, and to make it worse there is the problem of foreign intervention.
To expect such a turbulent region to become one that mirrors that of the West is not only unreasonable but ignorant. Entities in Europe took hundreds of years to form into the strong states they are today, and they did not do so peacefully. Europe was wracked with violence for hundreds of years in order to develop into the functioning state system it is today. And yet people are critical of the Middle East for engaging in the same behaviour that created Europe centuries ago. Forgetting how the West became what it is today is hypocritical, and further alienates people and governments in the Middle East.
The solution to reducing the instability in the Middle East is not going to be simple and is not going to be found in the West. It also will not be expedited by continued foreign intervention in the region. There is a reality for states in the Middle East to agree to discussions about the future of their region. I think these discussions should be held without foreign parties, as the advice of foreign states will always be to suit their own interests. If states in the region could put aside their differences and focus on developing a strong region, they may discover a way to function without reliance on outside powers. People in the Middle East deserve a region that is safe and secure and one that is focused on benefiting the region as a whole.