Last year, prior to Mahmud Abbas’ request from the UN for unilateral recognition, we reported back from a discussion on how geopolitics were shaping the Middle East — or indeed vice versa, how the Middle East is shaping geopolitics. The guest speaker, Gil Yaron, was pessimistic, explaining how American, and by proxy, Israeli influence has waned. He painted the region as one not only in flux but in chaos, no longer looking outwards for guidance.
Has the situation changed since then? In many ways it hasn’t. Iran is still jockeying for regional leadership, and as the ringleader — and primary funder — of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah triumvirate, the Ayatollah’s regime is in a strong position to make good on their ambitions.
Standing in their way, however, are several obstacles. One is the Arab Sunni world, led by Saudi Arabia who have been busy consolidating their power by funding various Sunni groups in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Another obstacle is Turkey, a competing non-Arab country also vying for regional influence.
So Iran is strong, but perhaps not as strong as they first appeared during the Arab Spring’s early days. There’s another major reason for this according to Iran expert Alon Ben-David, and that the threat of an Israeli strike. Like most other experts on Israel’s military, Ben-David doesn’t advocate for a strike, but does credit the Jewish state with playing a vital role in mobilizing the international community against Iran by threatening a strike.
For the first time, ever, Ben-David argues, Iran is facing a united international coalition whose tough economic sanctions have the potential to force Iran to negotiate in part because its citizenship is starting to wonder if the Ayatollah’s ambitious nuclear plan is worth the price currently being paid.
For a variety of reasons, however, the Ayatollah will never fully give up the nuclear program; what Israel and the rest of the world hope is that Iran will abandon developing the technology necessary for creating a nuclear bomb, and instead focus only nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Should Iran not back down and continue to develop a nuclear weapon, Israel may be forced to strike, but a unilateral approach make cause more harm than success. The term “strike”, Ben-David explains, is incorrect because any action against Iran would entail an ongoing campaign. Iran’s nuclear sites are rapidly moving underground making them nearly impossible to detect let alone reach. Retaliation would be tough, especially in the form of Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, who are mobilized, armed to the teeth and ready to answer the pied piper’s call.
The Middle East remains precarious as ever, but contrary to what Yaron predicted last year, it seems that the US and Israel do still have a role to play in the Middle East. In fact, regardless of whether it has American backing, Israel will always play a vital role, its geographical position forces it to. Its challenge is to balance threats against actions for the maximum benefit and least amount of risk.