clashes between Israel and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border have caused much
speculation of a looming military confrontation between Israel, Hezbollah and
Iran, which backs the militant group. The exchange of fire in early September
followed the crashing of two reportedly Israeli drones in Beirut in late
August. A spate of other drone strikes across the region in recent weeks, some
against Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, has also been blamed on
scale war is unlikely to break out imminently between Israel and Iran. The
rhetorical sparring and the limited military exchanges between Israel and Iran
and Hezbollah, serve the political ends of both countries.
officials constantly point the finger at Iran as the source of instability in
the region, a position shared by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
But Iran is
not solely run by hawkish madmen who constantly scream “death to America”.
There are pragmatists in Iran who do wish to improve the country’s relations
with its neighbours – including Israel. Still, these pragmatists face one big
problem: they are politically and constitutionally outmanoeuvred by hawks who
want to see the 1979 Iranian Revolution exported throughout the region.
Iran doesn’t have an appetite for a direct military confrontation with Israel,
no matter how much its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claims he wants to
annihilate the Israeli regime. That’s one of the main reasons why Hezbollah is
beneficial for Iran. It acts as a buffer, allowing Iran to threaten Israel at a
distance. If anything, Iran’s rhetoric and its use of militant proxies, whether
in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Yemen, has strengthened Israel’s ties with the US
and improved its relations with the GCC states.
to be the leading Muslim country in the world, and the country that stands for
the Muslim cause – an unofficial title Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also vying
for. For each of these countries, the demonisation of Israel is a powerful
instrument with which to achieve that goal.
reminding the world of its militant intention towards Israel has been a useful
tool to gain more influence in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. This
has boosted Iranian popularity in the Arab streets – at least with those who
want to champion a robust stance towards Israel – though not with Arabs who see
Iran’s encroachment into their affairs as Iranian expansionism.
part, Israel also benefits from its demonisation of Iran and Hezbollah – a
cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy. In his 2018 address to the UN General
Assembly, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the 2015 Iranian
nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran, had “fuelled Iran’s campaign of
carnage and conquest throughout the Middle East”. Israel is concerned that
Iran-backed militia could begin targeting it with drones too.
for Israel to highlight the threat of Iran, Hezbollah, and even Hamas to
Israeli security is always supercharged during election season. With Israelis
heading to the polls on September 17 for the second time in 2019 and Netanyahu
trying to secure his position, the recent drone strikes are also a bid for votes.
needs to be very careful not to be too heavy handed. Through strategic drone
strikes, Israel is trying to signal to the Arab streets that it is not
targeting Arab states per se, but rather Iranian-backed militia such as
Hezbollah. Many Arabs, in particular the Saudis, also see these Iranian-backed
militia as their main security threat.
result, the past several years have witnessed a sort of uneasy detente between
Saudi Arabia and Israel.
a Saudi-Israeli co-operation on military and intelligence matters concerning
Iran have sky rocketed in recent years. Although it’s very hard to deny the
obvious mutual interest both Saudi Arabia and Israel have over Iran, this
doesn’t mean there is an official alliance between the Saudis and Israelis.
co-operation would be controversial in the eyes of many, due to the historical
animosity between Arab states and Israel, not to mention that Israel is still
technically at war with all Arab states – with the exception of Jordan and
having Iran as a common enemy, the Saudis and Israelis have served each others’
ends very conveniently. For example, both pushed the US to pull out of the Iran
nuclear deal, which the Trump administration did in 2018.
any official public Saudi-Israeli co-operation against Iran would severely
hinder the legitimacy of the Saudi state. It could also embolden Iran, which
would use it to argue that it, and not Saudi Arabia, is the leader of the
Muslim world. This means Saudi policy towards Israel must be kept at a distance
– not too close, but not too far.
At the same
time, the perception of Israel is also gradually changing within Saudi Arabia.
In a recent Twitter poll by the Saudi owned Al-Arabiya news broadcaster, 73% of
respondents said the current Israeli strikes on Iran and her militias are
Arabia and Israel have another thing in common: within both countries calls are
growing from nationalists for a more robust approach to counter Iran. Combined
with the growing perception of the threat from Iran-backed militias in Lebanon,
Syria, Iraq and Yemen, this can only increase the Saudi-Israeli harmony
Headline: Middle East tensions: what Lebanese border strikes mean for Israel,
Iran and Saudi Arabia
Source: The Conversation