JISS - The Jerusalem Institute for Stategic Studies

Iran is on the march, presenting a significant security challenge to Israel and to moderate Sunni countries. It is investing blood, figuratively and literally, in realizing its aspirations for a Shiite corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, in strengthening its influence in the region via militia forces, in building a nuclear option, and in threatening Israel.

 

What Drives Iran

Iran under the current regime is driven by three underlying motifs, each in and of itself important in its eyes. Each one of them is powerful enough to enable Iran to mobilize the Iranian people to pay the price for its policy. Taken together they are an engine that is currently unparalleled among the Muslim countries in the Middle East.

A. The Shiite-Sunni divide is the first motif. The Shiites see themselves, almost from the beginning of Muslim history, as a persecuted minority. They are a minority comprising 15% of the Muslims overall and of the Muslims in the Middle East as well (according to the accepted definition, in the area that spans from the Strait of Gibraltar to Pakistan).

This feeling intensified, in most cases over the last few centuries, with the emergence of nation states in the Middle East. Even in countries in which they comprised the largest ethnic group they also did not receive their proportionate share in the government. In Iraq and Bahrain, they were excluded entirely from the government, and in Lebanon they received the less significant share of the ruling cake (according to the Lebanese constitution the position of the chairperson of the parliament).

Of course, in countries in which they constituted a minority, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, they were not part and parcel of the government system. Their status in Syria changed when a Shiite religious cleric (Musa al-Sadr) recognized the Alawites, who had never been considered Muslim, as Shi’a coreligionists, in a way as Shiites who had strayed too far, although there was (and continues to be) real controversy surrounding this issue.

The 1979 revolution in Iran produced a drastic change. This was the first time in the modern era that Muslim clerics ruled a country, made decisions and exercised their governing power in every area of life. However, in contrast to the dreams of the “Muslim Brotherhood” (the Sunni organization founded in Egypt in the 1920’s), the change of political and religious significance in fact took place in a Shiite country. For the Shiite religious leaders who ruled in Teheran this was an historical opportunity, and they turned the Shiite struggle against their Sunni neighbors and their oppressive leaders into a key component of their policy. This was also the message that served them in mobilizing the Shiite communities in the region.

Teheran has turned the Shiite struggle against Sunnis into a key component of policy.

Thus, actively and decisively they invested in Shiite communities throughout the Middle East. The Shiite community in Lebanon is the most prominent example. They also joined forces with oppressed Shiites throughout the Middle East – with the Shiites in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein and with the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s oil province that had been relatively quiet up until Khomeini’s revolution in Iran.

As mentioned, Iran’s greatest success was in Lebanon, where it sagaciously took advantage of the fact that Lebanon was a priori a very weak country, and that the deciding power in this country was Syria, its dictatorial neighbor, that was governed by the Alawite minority (12 percent of its mostly Sunni population, up to the migration in recent years following the civil war in Syria).

The Lebanese model of establishing an armed Shiite organization that drew its power from Iran was the preferred model of Iran’s religious leaders. Hezbollah was proof of the strong ties between the Shiite diaspora and Iran, and of transforming the Shiite community into an execution arm for the purpose of “exporting the revolution.”

B. Iran added to it Shiite vision a broader vision, that of a revolution throughout the entire Muslim world. It was for this reason that the Iranians did not balk at Sunni groups with a revolutionary leaning. Thus, their fingerprints were evident in Sudan, where there are no Shiites. Their success in Sudan was short-lived. They gained tangible influence in the country, but in recent years were shoved aside, following Saudi efforts and Sudanese concern that Sudan may pay a price for its involvement in the ammunition supply route between Iran and the Gaza Strip. Iran’s influence reached even as far as Algeria, at least according to claims of the Algerian government.

Concern regarding Shiite influence was also voiced in Egypt, but they appear to have been unfounded. Iran’s greatest success among the Sunnis was in fact with a daughter organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Hamas. This organization received abundant Iranian assistance in the form of money, training and weapons. The Iranians were even willing to forgive Hamas for its betrayal of the Alawites and the Iranians during the battles in Syria in 2011-2012, just to gain another stronghold in the region and another instrument in its battle against Israel.

Thus, the Iranians have two intertwined motifs that serve as beacons as to where they direct their revolutionary energy in the Middle East. One is rebuilding the Shiites’ standing throughout the region and placing them under the wings of Iran, even though it is not an Arab country. The second is to ignite a revolutionary fire to be used against the leaders that seek to maintain the status quo in the Middle East – so that regimes that support Iran will replace them in the Sunni world as well. This last effort was for the most part a complete failure, except, as noted, for Iran’s relations with the Hamas.

C. Notwithstanding, Iran is not only driven by Shiite and revolutionary motifs. No less important for understanding Iran is its deep-rooted memory of Persia, which connects Teheran’s leaders to the undying dream of rebuilding the Persian Empire. This memory is about an ancient nation, with a rich culture, in an expansive land, and the great frustration that stems from Iran’s inferior standing despite its magnificent past. This feeling is also accompanied by heavy concerns, the result of a complex history in the course of which external forces tried to rule or influence Iran against its will in the modern era, the 20th century, as well. During WWII the British virtually rule Iran directly. After the war the Russians captured parts of the country and attempted to annex them to the Soviet Union, and in the 1950’s a CIA-assisted coup overthrew the government that was not in line with US interests.

Iran’s leaders have not relinquished the dream of building a Persian Empire.

The combination of pride on the one hand and apprehension on the other leads Iran to be both active and suspicious at one and the same time. This is also the reason that it is continuously scrutinized and studied with great fear in different parts of the Arab world. And even among the Shiites, mainly in Iraq, there are those that oppose Iran. The motif of tension between Arabs and Persians still plays a role in Middle Eastern politics, and should not be ignored.

Thus, for example, Iran’s insistence in Syria stems from the importance it attributes to relations with a country that supports the Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is a priority for Iran, as well as its commitment to Assad, who supports the Hezbollah and has a connection to Iran. No less important however, Iran’s flagrant involvement in Syria should be understood as an expression of its desire to realize an old Persian dream and to achieve, for the first time since the days of the Persian Empire, direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, and perhaps even a naval base on its shores.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has spoken about a “Shiite Crescent” that cuts across the Sunni world, and he knows what he is talking about. This is Iran’s opportunity to build a Shiite corridor, from Teheran to the Levant, opposite the age-old “Sunni Crescent” that is currently backed to a large extent by Iran’s foremost rival – Saudi Arabia. What’s more, at the edge of this scheme, on the shores of the Mediterranean and to the south of Lebanon where the Shiite Crescent is directed, is the Jewish State – the State that the leaders of Iran cannot accept its existence from the religious aspect, and their battle against it strengthens their legitimacy in the Arab world.

Elements of the motifs analyzed above can be found in almost every Iranian undertaking, internal as well as external, and only taken together can they explain Iran’s aggressive behavior, a country that does not hesitate and is not reluctant to take risks.

Iran advances it capabilities through four parallel efforts: the effort to establish itself economically and to maintain the rule of the conservative forces; the effort to maintain its nuclear program and advance its ballistic missile capabilities that will enable it to become a nuclear or nuclear threshold country in the post-nuclear agreement period; the effort of the Revolutionary Guards, primarily building its intervention capabilities far from Iran’s borders, while using Shiite militias from various countries to advance its interests; and what appears to be an effort to deploy terror cells throughout the world, although their use in carrying out terror attacks was all but halted recently.

The Internal Effort

The sea-change in Iran’s ability to realize its aspirations to strengthen its internal system took place following the signing of the US-lead nuclear agreement (July 2015). Iran began to slowly build its economy, and investments in its economy have increased, albeit at a slower pace than initially envisaged (by myself and many others in Israel who were concerned that the involvement of financial entities in the Iranian economy would be faster). The trajectory however is clear, and as time passes more entities and countries will join the promising economic venture. Economic development has not been accompanied by political or structural reforms, and therefore Iran remains a country with extensive personal and institutional corruption, with part of its economy functioning clandestinely by entities tied to the Revolutionary Guards.

Considering the structural problems and Iran’s dependence on the faltering energy market in recent years, there is internal discontent, yet it does not appear to endanger the regime. If the regime succeeds in mobilizing the economic resources needed to strengthen the country, which increasingly appears to be the case recently, the regime’s hold on the country will improve and it will be able to fortify, as it has already begun to do, its military capabilities as well, mainly the country’s air defense system.

The Iranians understand that a nuclear umbrella is their best insurance policy for survival of the regime.

The nuclear issue should also be viewed and understood in this context. The Iranians understand that the most significant guarantee for the regime’s survival is a nuclear umbrella. The gap between the handling of the nuclear capabilities of Iraq and Libya – whose leaders were eliminated, and the avoiding stance with respect to North Korea – that is becoming a nuclear state right in front of our eyes, clearly proves this. For Iran, the nuclear agreement (July 2015) was a watershed event that enabled it to rejoin the community of nations, yet as far as it can be discerned Iranian leadership has not given up its dream of a nuclear capability. And as noted, its determination to develop this capability may have in fact grown stronger recently, after what appears to be a similar North Korean effort is bearing fruit.

Iran learned a great deal about missiles from North Korea. There are countless rumors, that have not been verified, regarding cooperation in the nuclear area, and the Iranians are undoubtedly studying the consequences of North Korea’s behavior and the US response – and this process encourages it to take the path that leads to a nuclear weapon. Some experts maintain that Iran does not appear to be intent on nuclear weapons, but rather only the effort that will lead it to become a nuclear-threshold state.

Practically speaking, the significance is no different, since a nuclear-threshold state is a state whose path to a nuclear bomb can no longer be stopped. The discussion about its nuclear capability only revolves around the timetable, in other words how long will it technically take to produce an effective nuclear weapon. For the State of Israel this means that Iran will have nuclear weapons, and the rest is just a matter of semantics, and nothing more.

As part of Iran’s proper behavior and compliance with the agreement it signed, it is developing an impressive missile capability. This is the case because this issue was not in any way limited by the agreement. Iran continues to develop the next generation of centrifuges – because the agreement permitted it to do so. Thus, at the end of the agreement period, it will have the ability to produce centrifuges that are at least ten times faster, in other words the time needed for enrichment will be at least ten times shorter. Thus, the current agreement grants Iran the legitimacy to prepare its enrichment capability and the launch device of its future weapon, so that the transition period to its having effective military nuclear capability from the end of the agreement period will be very short. The significance is that towards the end of the agreement period there will be no way to stop Iran, except by force.

In the latter stages of the agreement, there will be no way to stop Iran from going nuclear, except by force.

Any diplomatic alternative, including reinstating the sanctions, will be slow in relative to the rate at which post-agreement Iran will have nuclear weapons. Iran’s goal is clear. Iran needs the time up to the end of the agreement, in other words within a decade, to build a strong economy, to produce long-range missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, to prepare faster centrifuges and to complete its air defense system – so that it will be impossible to attack its nuclear assets that will begin to work immediately at the end of the agreement period.

The effort to build Iran’s economy and to reestablish its nuclear program is the solid foundation that enables Iran’s leaders to realize their plans outside Iran.

The External Effort

The Iranians have not relinquished, and have in fact intensified their expansion orientation and pursuits parallel to their internal strengthening efforts and maintaining their nuclear option. After Iran’s signing of the nuclear agreement, Russia decided to send significant air power to Syria and to operate decisively in that country, in full cooperation with Iran and the Hezbollah. This decision played into the hands of the Iranians who took full advantage of this new situation and new circumstances. No one planned this, and no expert predicted this outcome of the nuclear agreement, but the Russians understood it as the legitimacy to act in Syria, hand in hand with Iran. This is reflected in the supply of S-300 ground to air missiles and in joint fighting alongside the Hezbollah and the Iranians in Syria.

Thus, Iran gained a more opportune and favorable standing in Syria in three areas: Syria itself became an Iranian protectorate of sorts and almost all Iranian requests have been answered favorably by the Assad regime. The Syrians were even willing to mislead the Russians, who were promised that the new weapons sold to Syria would not be transferred to the Hezbollah. Yet, despite this promise, both the supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (known in export markets as Yakhont), as well as new air defense missiles, were covertly transferred to the Lebanese organization that serves as Iran’s long arm in the region. The Syrians took a big risk, even of clashing with the Russians, in order to pander to Iran and its protégés from the Hezbollah.

The Iranians have intensified their expansionism in parallel to domestic rebuilding and maintenance of the nuclear option.

The Iranians themselves continued to arm and strengthen the Hezbollah, primarily by transferring precise weapons that will constitute a drastic change in Hezbollah’s capability to fatally endanger Israel’s security. According to recent publications, the Iranians want to build a weapons manufacturing plant that Israel will have difficulty destroying, and the plant’s production will eliminate much of the need to transfer weapons through Syria, an area that is exposed to Israeli attacks. Israeli will not be able to remain indifferent to such a development. In a long process, and taking advantage of Syria’s weakness, the Iranians strive to strengthen the capabilities of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and to enable this organization to operate at the same time from bases that will be built in Syria.

Iran’s intention is to develop and establish in Syria a combined organization of the Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards (in addition to Shiite militias from the Shiite world, from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, that operate under the leadership of Iran), a sort of state within a state. This will enable Iran, when needed, to act against Israel from two fronts simultaneously, Syria and Lebanon, and if they succeed in undermining the stability in Jordan, also to operate from its territory. The Iranians will focus their efforts from two or three areas, while Israel will have to spread its operations and capabilities between them.

There is a connection between Iran’s nuclear efforts and the build-up of Hezbollah.

It is important to understand the connection between Iran’s efforts in the nuclear area and its building of the Hezbollah’s capabilities, and not just because the goal of these two undertakings is, among other things, the elimination of the State of Israel. To a large extent, by building the force of the Hezbollah the Iranians have created a “Korea-like situation”. An interesting situation has emerged in the face of the challenge of North Korea’s nuclearization. Among the East Asian countries currently aligned with the United States, the country that is most adamantly and clearly opposed to any use of force against the north is South Korea, although it is supposedly the country most threatened by its neighbor to the north. The reason for this “moderation” on the part of the south is North Korea’s ability to cause fatal damage to the capital of the south, owing to thousands of artillery batteries within range of Seoul. Thus, conventional deterrence – serves the goal of building the nuclear capabilities of the north.

To a large extent Iran is trying to use the Hezbollah for precisely the same objective, an organization that is the long arm of Iran and which for all intents and purposes Iran controls. The firing power of this organization is meant to deter Israel from acting against Iran’s nuclear program, considering the price Israel will suffer from the Hezbollah’s arsenal of 120 thousand rockets and missiles.

Hezbollah firepower is meant to deter Israel from taking action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Thus, from Israel’s perspective, the picture must be seen in its entirety, and it is important to understand the link between Iran’s maintaining its nuclear program, reinforcing its hold in Syria and its arming of the Hezbollah. After it will have military nuclear capabilities, it will be easier for Iran to take risks, to act directly against Israel, and even to utilize the Hezbollah – because after all no one will take the risk of all out fighting against the Hezbollah when it is backed by its patron with nuclear weapons. Then the Hezbollah will change from an organization whose primary role is to deter, to an organization whose main function is to make Israel’s life miserable under Iran’s nuclear umbrella. This mode of operation was best described by Nasrallah who compared Israel’s resilience to that of a spider’s web that will, in his words, turn out to be fragile and crumble under the massive fire power that will strike Israel’s home front.

Hezbollah will become an organization whose main function is to make Israel’s life miserable under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

For Iran, the next stage, the stage beyond the strengthening of its hold in Syria to better serve its needs and that of the Hezbollah in order to deter Israel, is to further its vision to become a real superpower. That is why it wants to maintain an airbase and aircrafts in Syria, as well as a naval base and a fleet in the Mediterranean. The extent to which Iran’s plan is coordinated with Russia, and whether such a significant strengthening of Iran in the Levant and the Mediterranean is indeed a Russian interest, is an interesting question for which there is no agreed answer.

Iran’s hold in Syria, that continues its significant influence in Iraq (directly on the government, and indirectly owing to the Shiite militias that it deployed throughout Iraq, many of its members are not Iraqi), clearly enables it to turn its dream of the “Shiite Crescent” into reality.

This is a geo-strategic endeavor of great consequence, because after stabilizing the corridor Iran will become the influential power throughout the area, and countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey will have to take it into consideration, and even find ways to collaborate with it, despite their strong concern about Iran. If it becomes evident that no one supports these countries, and in this matter their gaze is turned towards the United States, their movement towards cooperation with Iran might overcome their natural desire to defend themselves and clash with the threatening Persian Shiite rival.

After solidifying the Shiite corridor, Iran will become an influential power across the region.

Iranian expansion is seen in Yemen. The Houthis in Yemen, who were discontent with the government in Sanaa, are waging a bitter war, with the support of Iran, against remnants of the old regime who took hold of Aden after the fall of the capital. The Houthis are also fighting the old regime’s Saudi allies who came to their aid to prevent the founding of a state subordinate to Iran on their southern border.

Iran’s success in Yemen, if it is realized, will be of vital significance, because from Yemen it is possible to threaten freedom of movement in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects to the Suez Canal. This is an important international waterway, and an Iranian threat to the passage of ships through it deviates from the narrow boundaries of conflicts in the Middle East. As noted, Iran’s success among the Sunni’s was thwarted in Sudan, and that leaves Gaza, where the Hamas, an arm of the Muslim Brothers, continues to receive assistance from Iran.

This is an example of Iran’s pragmatism, its willingness to cooperate with a Sunni organization that religiously should be its hated rival, in order create another threat against Israel. Apparently, there are priorities even among enemies. At the same time, Iran has full control over the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, also a Sunni organization in Gaza that it funds and equips, to ensure that the Hamas will be under pressure to continue the struggle against Israel, and that Iran will maintain influence over the goings-on in Gaza.

Iran’s Advantages and Weaknesses

Iran’s great advantage in its efforts and actions stem from three factors:

A. After the 1979 revolution Iran became the leader of the Shiites in the Middle East. This achievement is very pronounced in Lebanon, where the leader of the Hezbollah is also the personal emissary of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and relations between local Shiite leadership and Teheran are very close. In Iraq, with the two holiest cities to the Shiites are located, and which was traditionally the seat of its religious leadership, especially the Arab Shiites, there was a certain degree of opposition of senior religious clerics.

The opposition was to the Iranian religious approach that enables the intermingling of the religious leadership and the political leadership, as well as to the pretention of Iran’s leader (prior and current, Khomeini and Khamenei) to hold the position of the supreme religious adjudicator that must be obeyed, and as a result the Iranian clerics are in fact the leaders of all Shiites. The Shiite leadership in Iraq was undermined already during Saddam Hussein’s reign, and it is quite clear that it lost in the struggle for supremacy among the Shiites in the world. Bringing Shiite militias from outside Iraq, that usually receive orders from Iran and their power continues to grow, further established the supremacy of the Persian over the Arab-Iraqi leadership.

The Sunnis on the other hand failed to establish similar leadership status, and no Sunni leader is willing to bow his head to Sunni leadership from another country. From the Arab Sunni point of view, Egypt lost the almost natural leadership position it held when it was the largest Sunni Arab country – because of its weak economic standing. Turkey, a large and strong country, is despised by the Arabs who still remember the Ottoman empire, and the Arabs will not accept Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by a Bedouin family, as a state of leadership stature despite its extraordinary wealth. The other Gulf States are small and fight among themselves, and therefore are not candidates for leading the Sunni world. The gap between the unity of the Shiite leadership and Sunni fragmentation – is conspicuous and very significant for the Sunni-Shiite struggle.

The Sunni world has failed to establish a leadership accepted and recognized by all countries.

B. Iran is willing to invest and to take risks in achieving its goals. It does not hesitate to use force, in both external and internal conflicts. In 2009, there were protests in Iran, somewhat of an outburst of the Arab Spring that erupted a year later. However, in Iran these protests were suppressed with the blood of the protestors whose claims were similar to those in the Arab world, where regimes were toppled. Iran is involved in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and the Revolutionary Guards actually participate in the fighting. Iran’s dead are flown home in caskets and this does not deter Teheran. Although relatively few fighters have been killed up to now, Iran does not hesitate to use its military force, way beyond the supply of weapons and a great deal of money, to help its Shiite allies throughout the Middle East.

Iran does not hesitate to use force, in both external and internal conflicts.

C. Iran has a vision, that connects its desire to change the standing of Shiites in relation to the significant Sunni majority, with the Persian dream to renew the days of the Persian Empire, and to advance Iran’s influence as part of the large sweeping dream and the historical aspirations to be a superpower on a regional scale, and in the future even beyond. What parts of this vision stem from a religious, Shiite, outlook, and what is the product of Persian history that strives to renew its days of glory – it is hard to discern, and in practice it is less important, because in reality the two elements are intertwined.

The fact that Iran is willing to pay a price, in blood and in other resources, and to take risks, gives it a real advantage over its rivals in the Middle East, including Israel. All its rivals are on the defensive, they react to Iran’s actions but do not initiate. This also holds true for Saudi Arabia that demonstrated resolve in saving the regime in Bahrain, and in its (up to now) failed intervention in Yemen against Qatar. The largest ally of Iran’s rivals, the United States, is in the process of withdrawing, and the willingness of these countries to invest and take risks is very small.

In fact, Russia, that has economic difficulties, demonstrates a momentum, because it is also ready to invest, sometimes decisively. This difference was very pronounced in Syria, where large forces clashed, each of them representing the different parties in the Shiite-Sunni struggle. The Iranians did not hesitate and had no scruples, while the Saudis, the Gulf States and Jordan wavered, the Americans did not decide, and the Russians fought.

When it became clear to Israel that the Sunni side does not have serious intentions to act together and significantly, it withdrew inwards and did not take part in the colossal struggle in Syria. Israel decided to make due with tactical activity that pertains to preventing the transfer of tiebreaking weapons to the Hezbollah and the building of Iranian or Hezbollah bases on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. In contrast to the Iranian momentum, and its willingness to invest and take risks, the passivity of its Sunni rivals and Israel’s caution are pronounced.

Iran’s Weaknesses

Iran has weak points that up to now have hardly been challenged.

Iran’s economy is dependent on the export of energy in a market of buyers, not of sellers, and it is easy to cause damage to this critical element of the Iranian economy. The Iranians are not liked in the Arab world and even in Lebanon there is quite a lot of discontent in light of the heavy price the Shiite community pays in the war waged for Iranian interests and in which the community’s sons participate daily in Syria. The struggle has also not been fully decided in Iraq, although it appears that the Iranian leadership made a wise move in building strong entities in Iraq over which it has total control.

The internal struggle in Iran has supposedly ended, and the nuclear agreement with the US (at least until it is, if it is, cancelled) eliminated any possibility of building an opposition that will be assisted by external entities in its struggle against the dictatorial regime that oppresses its citizens. The United States did not understand how much the Iranian regime needed the legitimacy it received with the signing of the nuclear agreement, for its nuclear project and for its own legitimacy, both internally and externally. In contrast to assessments of entities in Europe and the US, post-agreement Iran is neither more democratic nor open towards its citizens, and it is certainly no less belligerent externally.

Post-agreement Iran is neither more democratic nor open towards its citizens, and it is certainly no less belligerent externally.

Nonetheless, Iran, in its hunger for achievements, swallowed more than it can chew.

Iran is a country with a glorious past and strong mechanisms consolidated over its long history that has withstood difficult challenges – at the same time this is a country that is corrupt at its core, a country in which those close to the regime enjoy abundance, while many do not have and will not have anything. It has minorities that feel that the state does not care about them, and it is not at all certain (and this is an understatement) that all Iranians share the great vision of the religious clerics – which is realized in part at the expense of the Iranians’ welfare.

The problem is that it is very difficult to assess the weight of these weak points, and it is even less clear what can motivate those opposing the regime to act.

Summary

Iran is a country on the march both internally and externally. It is the great winner of the war in Syria (as is Russia, the senior member of the winning coalition). And now it wants to realize the next move that is intended to enable it to establish a land corridor to the Mediterranean Sea and to build a permanent base on its shores, for both its air force and navy.

After Iran integrates these achievements (should they be realized), and despite its internal weaknesses, the time will come to proceed full speed, towards the end of the nuclear agreement, to the building of a nuclear umbrella. This umbrella will enable Iran to accelerate its standing as a regional superpower, and to ensure the continued existence of the current regime.

From Israel’s perspective, there is a clear connection between Iran’s support for Hezbollah – as an organization whose conventional capabilities are supposed to deter Israel that is under the threat of more than 100,000 missiles and rockets – and Iran’s continued building of its nuclear power. In the future, Hezbollah is meant to operate freely against Israel under protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

It’s not clear how the US intends to stymie Iranian hegemonic ambitions and its drive for nuclear weaponry, despite the declarations of the US president in this regard. Nor is clear how the US plans to work with regional actors to this end. How the US acts in this grave matter is of the utmost long-term significance.

For Israel and the Sunni states in the Middle East, realization of the Iranian vision will pose a critical challenge with far-reaching security ramifications. Only concrete cooperation between Iran’s rivals and the US will make it possible to thwart Iran’s ambitions.


photo credit: Bigstock


 

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