It was reported in the media on 13 June 2022 that Israel raised alarm and asked its citizens to leave Istanbul immediately and avoiding Turkey citing Iranian threats to kill or kidnap Israeli tourists in Turkey. Tehran has pledged to react against Israel, which it accuses of being responsible for the death of Hassan Sayad Khodai, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps colonel who was shot dead at the wheel of his automobile by two motorcycle riders on May 22.
Israel has stated that it is changing its regional strategy against Iran. This appears to indicate a public shift away from the campaign between the wars, which saw hundreds of bombings against Iran in Syria, and toward other forms of activities. In recent weeks, Israel is said to have intensified its attacks on Iran. Unlike the previous government strategy, which centered on sabotaging the country’s nuclear program and assassinating nuclear scientists, it now appears to have been expanded to include other scientists and officers in charge of missile programs and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), as well as members of the IRGC’s Quds Force. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appears to have condoned these attacks, keeping his commitment to inflict “death by a thousand cuts” (among them, the May 22 assassination of senior IRGC Quds Force officer, Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei). As per Israeli Prime Minister’s latest interview with UK’s Telegraph, Iran was “dangerously close” to producing nuclear weapons.
The Iranians, for their part, have sounded a defiant note in response to Israeli threats. Iran has increased the number of drone attacks against Israel. When the Islamic Republic fired a drone from Syria in February 2018, things became serious. Then, in early 2021, it attempted again from Iraq, and again in May. In the summer of 2021, it dispatched drones to Yemen and bombed a tanker. It also attempted to fly drones over Iraq on their way to the Jewish state earlier this year.
The Iran-Israel standoff sends mixed message across a volatile Middle East, which is reeling from the Arab Spring fallout. US is facing stiff and formidable challenge from Russia. The balance between Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is the most difficult test for Russia’s newfound role as a Middle East balancer. Since coming to Syria’s aid, Russia has discovered the Iranian workhorse to be a valuable ally in reviving the war-torn Arab republic.
With the unrelenting push of Western proxies decisively halted by the Eurasian behemoth, the tide swung in Damascus’ favor. The Syrian campaign solidified Russia’s position as the Middle East’s new Sheriff, allowing the Iran-led resistance axis to expand its authority across the region and gain an advantage over its arch-rival Saudi Arabia. However, Iran’s overtures have made Russia noticeably uneasy, as they pose a threat to Moscow’s regional legitimacy. By gaining Riyadh’s support, Moscow will not only solidify its advantages in the Middle East, but also ensure crucial markets for military armaments and nuclear technology. As a result, Moscow will use every diplomatic tool at its disposal to assuage regional fears about Tehran. Russia is fully aware that any delay in preventing Iran’s purported plan for a “Shia crescent” in the area will throw the regional power balance into disarray.
The Israeli accusations against Tehran are Russia’s other concern in the Middle East. Moscow is frequently irritated by Iran’s routine “rhetorical” attacks on the Israeli state, which only serves to exacerbate already tense situations. Israel uses the excuse of “Iran and Hezbollah” to invade Syria, further destabilizing Russia’s position in the Arab nation. An active conflict involving Iran will upset the status quo currently prevailing in the region.
Arab countries are more concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran than they are about a nuclear-armed Israel. Iran has always used its post-revolution “super-narrative” of anti-Israel resistance as a means of advancing its political goals. As a result, Iran sees itself as a regional superpower as well as the regional protector of Muslims. The Arab Spring shifted regional dynamics, reemphasizing sectarian and ethnic conflicts between Persians and Arabs, shattering this narrative.
In the last decade, another major international player China has considerably expanded its economic, political, and – to a lesser extent – security presence in the Middle East, becoming the region’s largest trade partner and external investor for many countries. China’s willingness for undermining the US-led Middle East security architecture or playing a big role in regional affairs remains limited. However, the country’s expanding economic clout is expected to draw it into deeper engagement with the area, potentially jeopardizing Western interests. Many Arabs find China’s story appealing due to decades of war, bloodshed and failed US policies in the Middle East, as well as US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from the region.
Beijing wants to increase its corporate interests in the Middle East through Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to make China the globalization’s driving force. The Middle East is vital to China’s economic progress since it is at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Arab countries are attempting to strengthen connections with China, mostly to diversify their oil-dependent economy through Chinese investments. Efforts to prepare the ground for a free trade agreement (FTA) between China and the Middle Eastern region are a good illustration of this. The negotiations for an FTA began in 2004 and were revived last year during Wang’s visit to the region. Military cooperation is also expanding between the two countries. According to reports from late December 2021, China and Saudi Arabia have been working together on ballistic missile manufacture since at least 2019. China is also selling its HQ-17AE air defense system to Saudi Arabia, as well as drones to the United Arab Emirates.
The rising clout of Russia and China in the Middle East, especially amongst the Arab countries is a direct challenge to the security architecture of US in the region. To reverse the growing trend, escalation of tension between Iran and Israel will serve Western purpose in challenging Russia-China close collaboration with Arab allies. The growing rapporteur between Arab Countries with Moscow and Beijing also poses as a roadblock for Israel’s regional ambitions, which is to advantage of the volatility and turmoil in the region and expand its sphere of influence. The Iran card is an ideal option for both these countries to upstage new world powers’ ambitions in the region.