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Iran-GCC detente could ultimately dilute Israel's role in Middle East

Political realities of the Gulf region have been significantly shifting, and these changes are not going down well in Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs a meeting in Jerusalem on 12 December 2021 (AFP)

In recent weeks, Israel has sent a series of warning signals to Iran, aiming to mobilise support for targeting Iranian nuclear facilities while discouraging a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The simultaneous warming of ties between Iran and Gulf states will ultimately dilute Israel's role

Late last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed a readiness to escalate confrontation with Iran, noting that Israel would not be bound by any new nuclear deal: “Even if there is a return to a deal, Israel is of course not a party to the deal and Israel is not obligated by the deal.” He further emphasised Israel’s autonomy to act against Iran.

His comments came ahead of the latest round of Vienna talks between Iran and world powers, which aim to revive the nuclear deal that was scuppered by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. Israel shares Trump’s view that the nuclear deal is an insufficient mechanism by which to shut down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Top Israeli defence officials have reportedly been aiming to convince the US to attack Iranian facilities. But what is the end game here?

Familiar strategies

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Israel’s recent actions vis-a-vis Iran hearken back to the strategies it implemented in 2015, when the nuclear deal was being finalised. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged then-President Barack Obama to halt the process, citing alleged evidence of nuclear proliferation in Iran. The goal was to paint Iran as a rogue state that was systematically being militarised.

Iran-Israel tensions: The threat of nuclear disaster looms large
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In addition, various unpredictable developments have recently manifested across the Gulf and surrounding region. Afghanistan was recaptured by the Taliban; Arab states have initiated normalisation efforts with the Assad regime in Syria; Saudi Arabia and Iran have entered into negotiations; and hardliner Ebrahim Raisi won the Iranian presidency.

Indeed, the political realities of the Gulf region have been significantly shifting, and these changes are not going down well in Israel. Despite the Abraham Accords, which normalised ties between certain Arab states and Israel, the regional evolution points to a diminishing relevance for Israeli rhetoric.

While Netanyahu used the notion of “containing Iran” as a primary justification for the Abraham Accords, the simultaneous warming of ties between Iran and Gulf states will ultimately dilute Israel’s role, undermining its argument that Iran is a rogue state and regional destabiliser.

Risk of cyberattacks

Another factor in considering the end game is Israel’s cyberattacks, which have allegedly targeted Iran a number of times in recent years, as the US turned a blind eye. Israel might have deliberately overshot its initial demands with the US - ie, military attacks on Iranian facilities - so that it could then follow up with a more easily attainable demand for additional cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks allow Israel to further its propaganda and anti-Iran rhetoric. When compared with traditional military attacks, cyberattacks are lower risk, easier to carry out and result in less international condemnation for Israel.

Meanwhile, in the wake of renewed anti-Iran rhetoric from Washington and Tel Aviv, Gulf countries such as the UAE - who have found a new friend in Israel, while also starting to move away from their traditional enmity with Iran - will face a tough juggling act in the months ahead.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Dr Mahjoob Zweiri is an associate professor in Iran and Gulf studies and director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University. He tweets @mzweiri and his website is
Lakshmi Venugopal Menon is a PhD candidate in Gulf studies at Qatar University.
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