Iran was one of the first countries to recognise Israel in 1948 and the second Muslim country after Turkey. During the rule of the Shah, Iran had close diplomatic relations and direct flights to Israel. The spread of Pan-Arabism also brought the two countries closer as both countries considered it a threat. Both countries remained allies of the US in the region and Iranian oil was continuously shipped to Israel during the 1973 war.
The Islamic revolution changed everything and Israel became a foe from friends. The new Iranian policy was to establish Iranian control in the region (ME) and the destruction of Israel being the enemy of Islam. Iran frequently referred to the state of Israel as the ‘Little Satan’ and ‘Great Satan’ to the US. Despite this, during the Iran-Iraq war from 1981 to 1983, Israel sold 500 million dollars’ worth of weapons to Iran to destroy Iraqi military power, a threat to Israel. The Iranian nuclear programme started in 1950 with the technical assistance of the US and Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1974. Rapid progress and expansion of nuclear activity was reported during the tenure of president Ahmadinejad.
In 2011, it was the IAEA which revealed that Iran is using the facility for developing a nuclear bomb. The relations between the US and Iran deteriorated after the fall of the Shah. President Bush in 2002 termed Iran and North Korea as the ‘axis of evil’ and a threat to world peace. The US concern is that a nuclear Iran is a threat to Israel and will destabilise the region. President Ahmadinejad once said that Israel will “be wiped from the map”. The Israelis are taking the threat seriously and according to them their existence is threatened from a nuclear Iran.
They all have plans to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities with or without the US. Nuclear developments in Iran have brought the Gulf states and Israel closer under the pretext of confronting a common threat. The Gulf states have interest in aligning themselves with Israel. Israel prime minister Bennett made his first official visit by an Israeli leader to the UAE. After the establishment of diplomatic relations by the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have followed. They have normalised their ties with Israel sponsored by the US known as ‘Abraham Accords’.
The Gulf states and Israel fear the expanding influence of Iran in their neighbourhood and see it as a threat to them. In the past, Iran supported Syria and rescued the Assad regime through its bases and local militias. According to Israeli officials, the victory to Assad has brought Iran on its border, next to Golan Heights. According to Israeli estimates there are some 80000 fighters in Syria under the control of Iran including Hezbollah fighters, the Iraqi and foreign volunteers. According to Israel and Arab sources in Iraq, Iran is supporting political parties and also local militias.
In Yemen, it is actively supporting the Houthis against the Saudi-led alliance. Iran also supports the strong faction of Hezbollah in the North of Israel, a constant threat to Israel. In 2019, missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia by the Houthis were blamed on Iran. On the other hand, Israel is attacking Iranian installations in Iraq and Syria controlled by the Quddus force. Recently, Israel defence minister Benny Gantz told American officials in Washington that he has instructed the Israeli Defence Forces to prepare for a possible strike against Iran. Israel has also given the US the timeline of a possible offensive.
Israeli media revealed that the government has allocated a 1.5 billion dollars budget for an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities. An Israeli delegation led by former prime minister Netanyahu visited Washington this year to consult the US administration on a proposed new Iranian nuclear deal.
Netanyahu said, “A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us. Only one thing will obligate us to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans”. Israeli government is strongly opposing the nuclear deal talks in Vienna with Iran which ended without making headway. The Israeli prime minister Bennett has demanded a halt to US participation in the talks. The nuclear deal was previously signed by the Obama administration in 2015, and in 2018 the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Again in 2019, the IAEA announced that Iran had exceeded its agreed to limit on the volume of its stockpile of enriched uranium.
The Israeli assessment is that Iran is just weeks and months away from the ability to build a nuclear bomb. In the past, Israel has been targeting Iranian nuclear facilities and scientists affiliated with the programme. Iran accused the Israeli secret services of an assassination programme for its scientists. Recently, Mohsen Fakhrizadah, known as the father of the Iranian nuclear programme was killed in an ambush.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, it was done by Mossad with the help of its agents in Iran. Since 2007, six Irani nuclear scientists have been killed or wounded under mysterious circumstances. The Israeli authorities neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. There are also tensions between Iran and its neighbour Azerbaijan. Iran shares a 700-kilometre-long border with Azerbaijan, a Shia majority country. Iran has shown its concern to a joint military exercise of Azerbaijan with Pakistan and Turkey, though 500 kilometres away from its border. Iran is also fearing an increasing influence of Israel on its doorstep in Azerbaijan. Israel was the second largest arms supplier to Azerbaijan from 2011 to 2020 after Russia. Now the likely options available to Israel against attacking Iranian nuclear facilities could be a surgical strike along with the US or without it.
Israel has a history of surgical strikes, the first one was carried out against Iraqi nuclear facilities in Baghdad and the second was Entebbe, Uganda. The Iranians fear a similar attack by the US and Israel. Although Israel can go for a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, however, the Israeli security and political leadership are divided on it, even the public. According to a recent article published in the New York Times, “Israel does not have the ability at least not anytime soon”. According to the article only USAF can carry out such an attack.
In the case of a strike, it will have serious consequences for the region. Firstly, it will disrupt the oil supply to the rest of the world as the Persian Gulf is the main source of oil. Secondly, any war in the region will inflate oil prices. Thirdly, the region can plunge into a sectarian war which will be disastrous for the Islamic Ummah. Fourthly, public opinion in the Middle East is generally against Israel despite recognition of Israel by some Arab countries, which will not be favourable. Today, Iran is isolated, vulnerable and facing an economic crisis due to the sanctions. Iran needs to cooperate on Security Council resolutions and the commitment made to the IAEA to avoid misery for its people without compromising on its security. The Muslim Ummah has not become a force within world politics. Constant fighting among themselves and division on sectarian lines has continued to divide the Ummah and prevent it from taking any unified action. Only a united Ummah can hope to influence world opinion and world politics.