Iran and Israel: a Strained Relationship

As featured in Edition 39, available here.


BY JHANVI MEHTA (2nd year - History and Politics - Leeds, UK)

Iran and Israel’s relationship has become enormously strained in recent months, particularly after the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, as Iran’s quest for nuclear powers has complicated affairs between the two Middle Eastern powers.

Israel regards Iran as posing an existential threat to its armed and nuclear prestige, and has warned that it will act with military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Iran insists its nuclear programme exists only for peaceful rationales, and is set on continuing the development of nuclear weapons, following the collapse of the 2015 accord to halt its nuclear programme due to US withdrawal in 2018.



This strained relationship has meant that an alarming situation of conflict between Iran and Israel, whether direct or proxy, has become a growing possibility. Israel sees another nation in the region acquiring or developing nuclear technology as a direct threat. General Aviv Kohavi has insisted that in November 2021 the Israeli military was “speeding up the operational plans and readiness for dealing with Iran and the military nuclear threat.” Kohavi’s remarks follow a series of reported airstrikes by Israel within Syria, which come in addition to hundreds of strikes on Iran-linked military targets over the last decade.


Additionally, Israel’s recent international recognition from oil-rich Arab nations, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, has further inflamed tensions. Naval forces from the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, alongside the US, began a five day stretch of joint naval exercises in the Red Sea on November 10th, in preparation for a potential confrontation with Iran. Lt. Col. Shahar Shoshanna of the Israeli army’s Foreign Relations Unit, remarked that Israel’s normalisation of ties with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020 under American patronage has permitted the openness of greater military cooperation with the Arab world. This is causing a diplomatic crisis with Iran, as Israel seeks to prevent its allies from international talks with Iran, as these would be unproductive without forcing the end of its nuclear program.


Israeli officials are increasingly relying on the US and European nations to put forward an emergency motion to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) board, in the hope to brand Iran as breaching its obligations, based on the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the 2015 nuclear deal. This motion, planned for December 2021, would initiate a broader process to compel Iran to alter its conduct on the nuclear issue.


However, this may not be enough, as Russia’s power revival and China’s rise threatens the unipolarity of the US. With Russia and China obtaining profound diplomatic and economic interests in Iran, the US has to carefully consider their involvement in Iranian-Israeli tensions. Additionally, Iran seeks to bolster ties with Israel’s key partner in the Gulf region, the UAE. In late November 2021, Iran signed an economic cooperation agreement with the UAE and Turkey, which laid out conditions for trade and simultaneously set a timeframe for future discussions on Tehran’s nuclear goals. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has sought to tighten relations with Gulf nations following his election in June, which opened up the prospect of cooperating closely with the global oil market. This diplomatic move by Iran highlights their intentions to avoid the revival of the nuclear deal.


Although Israel has repeatedly stated it wouldn’t tolerate Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, Iran is at best disinterested in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Ali Bagheri-Kani, stated that Iran’s negotiations with external powers would be directed towards lifting sanctions against the country rather than agreeing to renew the nuclear deal. Israel is concerned with Iran’s new alliance with the UAE, and fears that an American relaxation of sanctions on Iran may result in Tehran receiving billions of dollars to finance its proxy allies in the Middle East. This could then strengthen the political influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.


Clearly, Iran’s attitude has been visible through walking away from talks, now suspended, on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal. By Iran failing to modify their stance and demands on the regulations being imposed on their nuclear programme, the country risks aggression from Israel. Though Iran has agreed to permit UN inspectors to reinstall cameras at their Karaj centrifuge facility, they refuse to compromise on nuclear discourse in their pursuit of power projection in the Middle East. Israel has attempted to diplomatically influence America’s stance on Iran amid an impasse on nuclear negotiations in Vienna, and is content with this deadlock, as long as Iran faces the brunt of sanctions.


It seems like a relaxation of tensions is far from feasible, however if nothing changes, it may not be long before something snaps.



Image 1: Unsplash (Seyed Gholamreza Nematpour - Iraqi flag)

Image 2: Unsplash (Levi Meir Clancy - Israeli flag)