Time for critical decisions in the Middle East


Two years ago, the Middle East entered a new era in which power dynamics outlined a new security architecture with aligned and more flexible blocs, in continuous evolution and in line with the changes that have been taking place for a decade now, ranging from the so-called Arab Springs to the recent Abraham Accords. A security architecture whose axis is cooperation between those actors that defend stability in the face of Islamist subversion in the region, and which groups together the Arab Gulf states - except Qatar - Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Israel together with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, and which includes Turkey, which has gone from being an enemy to a possible political and economic ally. And all this in a context in which, from a strategic point of view, the political position of the United States could be described as absent while maintaining a still significant military presence.  

The new reality forces us to be pragmatic, and in geopolitics there are no vacuums. Israel encounters the Middle East at a time when competition between the United States and China is at its height - which also creates opportunities in the Middle East arena - and Iran's revisionist role in the region's politics is no obstacle to the United States and the European Union's desire to revive a nuclear agreement - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - that has, in fact, expired. President Joe Biden, who is not at his most popular, needs a positive response from Iran in the run-up to the mid-term elections, and the EU needs to revive its economy and find an alternative oil and gas supplier in the wake of the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine. For Iran to stop enriching uranium for military purposes in exchange for the lifting of trade sanctions, something the Iranian economy seems to urgently need, demonstrates a rather blatant geopolitical blindness. The EU's Draft Understanding is nothing more than a delaying tactic that provides no real solution for Iran's integration in the region or in the international arena. Moreover, the release of funds, far from alleviating Iran's economy, would provide the regime with more liquidity to openly finance what it already does covertly.  

Dialectics and information matter in International Relations as much as Intelligence. Beyond the narrative, disqualifications and more or less surreal accusations - Iran's civilian and military defence chief has gone so far as to say that Israel steals their snow, rain and clouds - the Ayatollahs' regime has been enriching uranium for 30 years to levels that are already considered very dangerous - above 60% and uranium metal production - and which could radically change the international, and not just regional, landscape. The pursuit of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent is not new, and although this type of weapon of mass destruction has not been used offensively since Hiroshima and Nagashaki, the potential challenge of its possession by a state that wages proxy wars through the armed groups or insurgents it finances, trains or supports - Houties in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas in Gaza, Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq - is very high. For Israel, the Hamas terrorist group is not - not at the moment - an existential problem, but Hizbullah is, because we are talking about the most and best armed non-state actor in the world that uses the failed state of Lebanon - where there is no counterweight - as a launching pad to attack Israel and intimidate Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Israel's priority is to maintain security on its borders, and while Hizbullah's interference in Lebanon is of growing concern, of greater concern is the strengthening of strategic ties with Hamas and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad in an attempt to neutralise Israel's integration into regional alliances and its normalisation as a legitimate and recognised state. In fact, in the last two weeks we have witnessed a significant increase in the level of tension with Israel, against the backdrop of the dispute over the maritime border and the exploitation of the Karish gas platform, taking advantage of the change of government in Israel and perhaps hoping that the maximalist measures put on the table by its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, will trigger an open war like the one that took place in July 2006.  

Naftali Bennet, former Prime Minister, explained last January, during the presentation of Israel's National Security Strategy in Tel Aviv, that the role of the government is to react to major threats to the state, internal and external, because strengthening Israel, over and above ideological choices, is a duty and an obligation for a country that cannot afford the luxury of fractures that jeopardise both national identity and the ability to confront external threats - military deterrence and soft power.  

Reading the changing map of the Middle East correctly also implies understanding that maintaining a democratic state in a dangerous regional environment is not incompatible with moves aimed - alone and/or in cooperation - at undermining Iran's aggressive and destabilising pretensions. It is not possible, in the current circumstances, to formulate a viable nuclear deal with Iran when there are two such antagonistic visions of the world and the region. And while the US and the EU have yet to learn that Iran has reached the tipping point, the time for Israel to make critical decisions has begun.