For a significant part of Israel’s modern history, a strategic concept has been in operation there of a so-called peripheral Islam which maintained that the main threat to the country came from neighbouring Arab states predominantly practising Sunnism which had to be resisted by offshoots of Islam – Shiites, Druzes and supporters of secularisation. On the strength of this, Israel developed privileged relations in the region, first and foremost with Iran and Turkey. However, following the anti-Shah revolution, Iran moved from the status of friend to the status of enemy, then with the increasing Islamisation of Turkey, relations also gradually began to deteriorate with Ankara as well. And then there was an unexpected turnaround. Israel embarked upon a new strategic project – the creation of an anti-Iranian-oriented Israeli-Sunni coalition… Reeling from the Arab Spring, the Sunni world is no longer considered to be the source of a serious threat there, unlike the increasingly united Shiites.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared his country’s intention to implement such a project at the latest UN General Assembly, devoting almost his entire speech to a single issue – the need to increase pressure on Iran, despite the conciliatory tone being adopted by the country following the election of its new president, Hassan Rouhani. As an example, Netanyahu declared that «Rouhani is a loyal servant of the regime». According to the Israeli Prime Minister, «Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing». «Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons», he declared. «If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet, in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others.» Having ascertained that his position does not have particular support, Netanyahu announced that he was ready to formalise and consolidate an anti-Iranian alliance with a number of Arab countries. He declared, for example, that «the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbours to recognise, finally recognise, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes».
In reality, as Israeli analyst Ben Caspit acknowledges, Israel’s government is aware that Iran is not aiming to produce nuclear weapons immediately. Iran’s plans include reaching «Japan or Germany’s capability», which means having the kind of scientific, technical and logistical infrastructure that would enable Tehran, if necessary, to produce such devices in «five to seven weeks». However, this situation also makes Israel uncomfortable. Israel is also uncomfortable with the prospect of normalising the situation with Iran, which is threatening Tel-Aviv with a loss of political influence in the region and its appeal in the eyes of the West as a necessary military foothold in the Middle East.
Experts observe that Israel is trying to keep Iran isolated and economically weak, «maintaining Iran as a country whose needs and security interests are not recognised as legitimate by its strong neighbours and the superpowers». The Israeli government is trying to mess up Washington’s plans to normalise relations with Iran, including through such bizarre schemes as forming an axis with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf.
In Israel, among other things, they are proceeding on the basis that warnings about the possible repercussions of tolerating Iran are hardly going to stop the West. Rather, Israel believes that countries in the Persian Gulf could exert pressure on the US and Europe, since these oil monarchies are still the main suppliers of energy to the Old World. Saudi Arabia has already announced that it will respond to the West’s dalliances with Syria and Iran by increasing its aid to Syrian rebels.
Analysts note that in practical terms, the formation of a new secret axis is becoming apparent in the increasingly frequent exchange of emissaries between Israel and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with a view to building a joint position, although the Israelis do not have diplomatic relations with a single one of them. Israel’s contacts with many leading Sunni states that were previously kept carefully under wraps are gradually coming to the surface. In knocking together an anti-Shiite axis, Israel is actively making use of intimidation from Persian Gulf countries for the forthcoming signing of a military agreement between Iran and Iraq. At the first stage, the agreement will concern naval cooperation between the two countries with regard to «security issues in [the] Persian Gulf».
Attempts to undermine Iran from within have not been abandoned, either. In this regard, the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech to the Iranian people on the BBC Persian TV channel is interesting. Among other things, Netanyahu declared: «Israel wants to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, but it must be a comprehensive and genuine solution. I have witnesses the Iranians’ desire for change and democracy. The Jewish people and the Iranian people could be friends again should the regime fall».
At the same time, many analysts within Israel itself believe that despite triumphant reports from the Prime Minister’s office, his speech at the UN proved to be relatively ineffectual. «Israeli politicians have too often gambled on the subject of the Holocaust and scared the world with the threat of Iran for Netanyahu’s speech to be received with complete confidence». They point out that the Israeli Prime Minister has already started to manoeuvre, announcing that he is prepared to meet with Rouhani himself. «I don’t have a problem with the diplomatic process», declared Netanyahu. «If I’m offered a meeting with Rouhani, I’d consider it. However, I would ask him outright: Are you prepared to dismantle your programme completely?»
Indirectly responding to the comments from his ally with regard to tolerating Iran, US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasised that it would be negligent not to examine the diplomatic possibilities of settling the Iranian issue. «We need to exhaust all of the remedies available before moving on to new ones», Kerry declared. The difference between the US and Israeli position on the Iranian issue is continuing to grow. «Netanyahu wants Iran to be given an ultimatum that Tehran will never agree to. The US is talking about discussions on the basis of equal partnership. Israel wants to dismantle all of Iran’s nuclear programmes, while the US is only talking about the military component. Netanyahu is unable to influence Obama’s plans himself, but it is not a good time to try and take action through US Congress either – relations between the American President and Congress are worse than ever».
The Reuters Agency quotes «one high-ranking Western diplomat» as saying: «Israel does not have the right to veto talks and an agreement with Iran». Its theatrical scaremongering of the whole world regarding Iran with its display of illustrations reminiscent of children’s drawing is now only increasing distrust towards the Israeli leader. According to the same diplomat, Israel’s opinion is important, but it does not have the deciding vote. «An Israeli representative will not be present at the signing of an agreement with Iran, when and if such an agreement is entered into», warned the source.
The Iranians themselves are giving as good as they get. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced, for example, that Israel’s indignation regarding the improved situation in Iran is pleasing to the Islamic Republic. «Israel is upset to see that its sword has gone blunt and Iran grows more powerful day by day», Rouhani observed. More importantly, it has become clear that contact between Rouhani and the US President during the UN General Assembly was limited to a telephone conversation only at the request of Iran. Rouhani, among other things, announced: «Before my trip (to New York), the Americans had sent five messages to arrange a meeting between me and Obama, but I turned them down. Then they raised a plan for a brief meeting, but I didn’t agree with it.» In addition, the President of Iran emphasised that he did not have any fundamental objections to talks with Barack Obama face to face, but that there were currently no «suitable grounds» for such a meeting. In other words, Obama needs at least some kind of diplomatic success in an internal and external situation that is complicated for him and, under these conditions, he is hardly going to have been susceptible to Netanyahu’s incessant war rhetoric regarding Iran.
The metaphor that Netanyahu applied to Rouhani prompted analysts to use it against the Israeli Prime Minister himself, dubbing him a «sheep in wolf’s clothing» since his threats to launch an attach against Iran’s nuclear facilities alone, without the support of the US, impressed no one. According to the Iranian delegation at the General Assembly, Netanyahu’s behaviour there had the opposite effect and from now on, as a condition of abandoning its nuclear programme, Tehran is intending to firmly demand the creation of a nuclear-free zone across the whole of the Middle East, «without exception», which, first and foremost, will mean a corresponding disarmament of Israel. There is no doubt that this is not quite the result Netanyahu was after when he talked about «wolves and sheep».
His hopes for a strange alliance between Israel and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf are unlikely to work out, either. A lasting Israeli-Sunni alliance is hardly possible. There is just too much separating the unexpected allies. Although the Gulf states are opposed to Iran, their interest is not only in weakening Iran, but Israel as well. They are probably supporting Rouhani’s request for the European states to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It is unlikely that Netanyahu can expect their help in isolating Tehran and concessions on the Palestinian issue in exchange. In this regard, the Arab world has already reached complete consensus, from which nobody has any intention of deviating. Ultimately, Netanyahu’s manoeuvres are only making a solution to the Iranian nuclear programme more difficult and are doing very little for Israel itself.