An American-led war on Iran is still a possibility, despite the fact that US President Donald Trump has openly expressed his lack of enthusiasm for it now, in contrast to his National Security Advisor John Bolton. Israel comes to mind in this instance, despite the unlikely possibility of Israel participating directly in a military confrontation, especially after Washington explicitly asked Israel not to interfere in the event of a war. This is similar to the position during the second Gulf War in 1991.
However, Israel is an influential factor in the US escalation against Iran. No one can ignore the satisfaction and joy of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government at Trump’s more hostile policies towards Iran — which have not been without incitement by the Israeli Prime Minister — compared to those of his predecessor Barack Obama. Trump took the US out of the nuclear deal with Iran, and then designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organisation, before imposing sanctions on Iranian oil.
Netanyahu believes that Iran is at the heart of the challenge posed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the other resistance groups. For him, tackling the perceived Iranian threat is a priority because it is the spearhead and supporter of Hamas; if it is weakened and reined in, he thinks, Hamas can be dealt with more easily. However, despite the importance of the support that the movement and other groups receive from Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have managed to develop their own capabilities and have adapted to the siege conditions. They have already passed the self-formation phase.
Moreover, foreign support for Palestinian resistance is not limited to Iran, as the armed groups have received support from Arab and Muslim countries. Hence, there is no inevitable link between reining-in Tehran and reining-in Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The movements are based alongside the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948 as well as the Gaza envelope settlements. These densely populated settlements are both a burden and a thorn in the side of Israel, and Gaza cannot be silenced by a siege, hunger and military or economic oppression.
The most effective US tools against Iran are economic sanctions. Washington’s troop deployment is just to show that it is serious and hints at its deterrent strength. Sanctions are intended to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, as they are its main source of income. The sanctions have hit the value of the Iranian currency, which is reflected in the rising costs of everything in Iran, including basic necessities. The declared goal of this is to force Iran to sign a new nuclear deal with terms that are more in line with the visions of Trump and his administration. The focus has been on the nuclear deal, with no mention of other issues or demands, such as Iran’s regional role and its ballistic missile programme. “We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons,” Trump told journalists. “It’s not too much to ask.”
The “maximum pressure” sanctions imposed on Iran, which aim to push it into a corner, could, according to Israeli analysts, push Tehran to harm the stability of the region. Israel’s Channel 13 revealed that the Israeli Mossad spy agency relayed intelligence to the US that Iran was planning to carry out a military operation against its interests in the region.
Since Israel is at the heart of the most hostile developments in the US-Iran relationship, it is, along with the Arab Gulf states, concerned about the consequences and potential dangers of war. Israel’s Maariv newspaper quoted security sources saying that the state is afraid of any conflict spreading and resulting in Iran targeting Israeli sites abroad through proxy groups. Israel also fears attacks from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights carried out by groups guided and instructed by the Revolutionary Guards Corps. It is studying the possibility of targeting Iranian sites in Syria.
In summary, the escalation of Washington’s conflict with Tehran constitutes both a threat and opportunity for Israel. The former in the sense that the consequences of the war may affect it directly, and the latter because it would benefit from reining-in Iran either by means of a military or economic war, as that would deprive Hamas and Islamic Jihad of regional support with an active Iranian presence in the Palestinian issue. Israel will also benefit from deeper ties with the Gulf States which are rushing to establish normal relations with Tel Aviv at the expense of Palestine. In doing so, it will hope to convince the regional capitals that Israel is closer to them than Iran, which threatens their security and interests.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Arabs Al-Jadeed on 21 May 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.