What is Iran's known nuclear capability

Iran and Israel: Is War Inevitable?

This essay examines Iran's growing influence in Middle East politics, the Iranian nuclear program, and the strategic consequences of Iranian ambitions, all of which increase the likelihood of direct armed conflict between Israel and Iran. He concludes that Iran is continuing its nuclear and hegemonic ambitions undiminished. Any efforts to bring about "regime change" have been unsuccessful, and Iran continues undeterred. Hence, there is a high likelihood of a direct armed conflict between Israel and Iran.

This article reviews the ascendance of Iran in Middle East politics, the Iranian nuclear program, and the strategic implications of Iranian aspirations, which all increase the likelihood of direct armed conflict between Israel and Iran. It concludes that Iran’s nuclear and hegemonic ambitions remain uncurbed. Whatever efforts at “regime change” were made were unsuccessful, and Iran remains undeterred. Therefore, the likelihood of direct armed conflict between Israel and Iran is great.

1 Introduction

Iran's striving for supremacy in the Middle East and for the atomic bomb are fueling extremely high perceptions of threat in the region, and particularly in Israel.[1] In particular, the Islamic Republic of Iran denies a Jewish state the right to exist for theological reasons. Its leadership believes that Israel will either gradually fade under military pressure or be destroyed once it becomes weak and vulnerable.[2] Iran's deep-seated hostility increases Israel's perception of an existential threat from Iran. With Iran's nuclear and hegemonic aspirations still unchecked, the dangers of a direct armed confrontation between Iran and Israel are greater than ever today.

2 The Rise of Iran in the Middle East

Iran has always been a major player in the Middle East. It is a large country with over 80 million inhabitants that is rich in energy resources and has always been a regional power. With an imperial past and a newly discovered revolutionary zeal (since the Iranian Revolution of 1979), Iran is flexing its muscles in the region today and pursuing the goal of attaining supremacy in the Middle East and beyond. Systemic and regional developments facilitate the realization of these ambitions.

The Iranian revolution project has benefited from the Middle East policies of the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. The US military intervention in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Iran's strongest rival. In addition, the US failed to establish a stable successor government in Iraq capable of keeping the country united and strong. This undermined the balance of power in the Persian Gulf. President Trump's decision in spring 2019 to withdraw American troops from northeast Syria signaled that the United States had plans to leave the Middle East. This has improved Iran's chances of creating a “Shiite corridor” from Iran via Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. In addition, a large part of the Sunni Arab world has been in the midst of a deep social and political crisis since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” (clearly a misnomer), which has led to conflict and a political vacuum in these states. In several Arab states, governments have since lost their monopoly on the use of force, with the result that civil wars are raging there. Syria, Libya and Yemen are the best known examples. In Somalia, Lebanon, under the rule of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and, more recently, Iraq, central power is being challenged by militias. The clever revolutionary elite in Iran has capitalized on the weakness of the Arab states by funding and training Iran-backed militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen.

Fig 1:

The main people responsible for Iranian politics in the Middle East: Revolutionary leader Khamenei, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah and General Soleimani, who was killed in early 2020

The Sunni Arab states are weak and appalled by the progress made by the Iranian nuclear program and the successes of its deputies. Saudi Arabia has failed to contain Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Although Egypt survived the internal unrest caused by the “Arab Spring”, it is still struggling with an Islamist uprising in Sinai. Egypt is focused on meeting the food needs of its vast population, as this is vital to maintaining stability within. Accordingly, the country has little energy left to parry the Iranian challenge. Turkey, a strong, non-Arab Sunni state, has preferred to focus on curbing Saudi influence and on the Kurdish issue. In this context, Ankara tended to pursue common interests with Iran. Its potential to form a counterweight to Iran was thus not used. Under Erdogan, Turkey also took advantage of the weakness of the Arab states to create spheres of influence in former Ottoman territories such as Iraq, Libya and Syria, while gradually breaking away from the West. Iran's rise, on the other hand, paved the way for an entente between Sunni Gulf states and Israel. In the absence of a credible American security umbrella, both the Sunni states and Iran see Israel as the greatest obstacle to Iran's supremacy. Therefore, Israel has become a “red rag” for Iran for both religious and strategic reasons.

Initially, Iran waged a war against Israel through proxy in order to wear down the Israeli civilian population. Since the 1980s, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have trained and armed the Shiite-Lebanese militia Hezbollah and turned the country into a satrap state of Iran. Hezbollah has acquired over 130,000 missiles of varying ranges that can hit most of Israel. Iran is trying to improve their accuracy further. Hezbollah's stated goal is to “liberate Jerusalem from Zionist rule.” Similarly, after taking office in 2007 in Gaza, Hamas received massive military aid from Iran. The intention was to strengthen Hamas' capabilities in order to weaken Israel. When the Sunni Hamas did not support the Iranian position in Syria, Tehran provided financial and military aid to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad - an Iran-affiliated organization - in Gaza. By gaining a foothold in Gaza, Iran was able to open an additional front against Israel. Iran also intervened in the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad in the hope of turning Syria into a satellite state, like Lebanon before. Iran wants to complete the land corridor from Iran via Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea (Lebanon and Syria). Tehran has therefore asked Assad to provide a port near Latakia.

Iran has invested an estimated $ 15 to 30 billion in Syria, installing surface-to-surface missiles, anti-aircraft batteries, drones, reconnaissance equipment and bases for tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen. Iran wants to open a third front in the northeast on the Golan Heights along the border with Israel. Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, which are controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, also threaten the Hashemite kingdom. Indeed, King Abdullah fully supports Saudi Arabia's anti-Iranian foreign policy.[3] The fall of Jordan would complete Iran's efforts to encircle Israel with Iranian proxies and also endanger Saudi Arabia, Iran's arch-rival in the Gulf. It is an important goal of Iran in its pursuit of supremacy in the Middle East to neutralize Israel's military might by encircling Israeli agents who have aimed countless missiles at strategic facilities and population centers in Israel.[4]

Iran owes its rise in the Middle East not only to the ability of the leadership in Tehran to capitalize on political changes in the region, but also to the indifference with which international politics reacted to its advances. In addition, Iran shows a great skill in building proxy armed forces and using them for its goals.[5] It is not surprising that many in the region compare Iran to an octopus.

Under Trump, the United States has an anti-Iranian policy, particularly on the nuclear issue. Regardless, the Trump administration is apparently unwilling to oppose the Iranian machinations in the region. Rather, it “swallowed” the Iranian provocations in the Gulf. The elimination of Qassem Soleimani was an impressive demonstration of limited use of military force, but the cautious response to the counterattacks, in which Iran fired missiles at American bases in Iraq, gave the impression that USA did not want to stop Iranian advances.

Since the US is not really determined to oppose the advance of Iran, only Israel has the power to stop it. Indeed, Israel has chosen to wage a limited, low-intensity war - "military operations below the threshold of war" - to thwart Iranian attempts to turn Syria and Iraq into missile launchers. Despite this, Iran has used missiles and armed drones against Israel on multiple occasions. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran has also managed to arm the Houthis in Yemen with long-range missiles aimed at targets in Israel.[6] The results of Israel's military actions have so far been mixed. Even if Iranian proxies encounter difficulties implementing deployment plans in Syria and Iraq, Tehran appears determined to continue its strategy, even at great expense. Even the serious effects of Covid-19 in Iran have not slowed down its imperial and revolutionary project.

3 Iran's nuclear program

Some Ayatollahs see a nuclear-armed Iran as a tool from Allah's hand to impose Shiite Islam on the whole world, and they consider themselves chosen by Allah to carry out his mission. Islam is pursuing an imperialist moment, as it encourages Muslims to carry true faith - even if it is with the sword - to all corners of the earth.[7] Apart from the theological motivation, there are also strategic reasons for a nuclear arsenal. It is useful for developing power and intimidating neighbors. It also breaks Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region and increases the chances of success for Iran's hegemonic agenda.

While atomic bombs are seen as a useful tool in the pursuit of far-reaching imperial and revolutionary goals, they are primarily used for defensive purposes. Indeed, Iran’s revolutionary elite fears that the West is seeking regime change or even a military invasion. Eventually the US invaded Iran's neighboring countries - Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Nuclear weapons could deter the West from aggression and therefore ensure the regime's survival. Destabilizing the regime of a nuclear state, which can lead to chronic domestic instability, civil war, or disintegration, is riskier than trying to undermine a non-nuclear regime. North Korea has crossed all nuclear thresholds and its regime is still in power. Similarly, the George W. Bush administration's democratization campaign left nuclear Pakistan out of the picture, realizing that real democracy in such a country could bring the atomic button within reach of ultra-radicals. Libya was attacked only after giving up its nuclear option.

The interests of the ruling elite in the continuation of the Iranian nuclear program are inextricably linked to their own political and even physical survival. It is for this reason that the mullahs want to confront the world with an accomplished nuclear fact. Achieving this goal is made easier by the fact that the West does not want to use military force and instead relies primarily on economic sanctions. The view that severe economic sanctions could induce Tehran to reconsider its nuclear ambitions or even bring about regime change is widespread. However, even years later, the imposition of sanctions against Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein had no effect. Dictatorial regimes can hardly be changed by economic thumbscrews.

Progress made by Iran on its nuclear program gradually became public knowledge at the beginning of the 21st century - especially after 2003, when the West expressed growing concern about Iran's potential to produce weapons-grade fissile material.[8] Although Iran is officially a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has repeatedly violated the obligations arising therefrom to report the inventory of nuclear material and to report on the subsequent processing, storage and use of this material.[9] In March 2015, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano reported that Iran was not providing sufficient access to the information needed to answer a dozen questions about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.[10] The nuclear archive secured and partially published by the Israeli Mossad confirms that Iran is operating a long-term secret project for the development of nuclear weapons, the full extent of which has remained undiscovered for a long time.[11] There is also evidence for research and experimentation on weapon design and underground testing.

Iran's behavior prompted the UN Security Council to pass several resolutions to prevent enrichment, with economic sanctions being imposed for this purpose. President Obama tightened the screw of economic sanctions to force Iran to comply with the IAEA inspection regime and prevent it from shortening the time it would take to manufacture an atomic bomb. Credible Israeli threats of military force shook the international community and prompted them to put major obstacles in Iran's path. Finally, Iran decided to come to the negotiating table, where it then reached an agreement with the “P5 + 1” group of states. The Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), also commonly referred to as the “Nuclear Agreement with Iran”, was signed in July 2015 in Vienna. Despite the serious weaknesses of the JCPOA, the international community - but not the Israeli government - had the impression that the JCPOA could delay the security policy consequences of the Iranian nuclear program.[12] Nevertheless, President Donald Trump kept his election promise and announced on May 8, 2018 that the US would withdraw from the JCPOA in the hope of a new, “better” nuclear deal.

Since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed harsh economic sanctions, Iran has been less and less compliant with its obligations under the agreement. In November 2019, Iran resumed uranium enrichment at the Fordo nuclear facility and installed new, state-of-the-art centrifuges to increase its enrichment capacity. In late 2019, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to uranium enrichment restrictions. In January 2020, France, Great Britain and Germany triggered the dispute settlement mechanism in the JCPOA in response to the extensive Iranian violations.[13] On their initiative and following the reports in March 2020 and June 2020 on the inadequate cooperation between Iran and the Atomic Energy Agency, the Board of Governors of the IAEA passed a resolution on June 19, 2020 calling on Iran to meet its obligations under the Safeguard Agreement and the Additional Protocol to comply with the security agreement within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to comply with the requests of the IAEA without delay.[14]

The IAEA report confirms Israeli allegations regarding Iran's continued secret nuclear activities. In fact, as early as January 2020, the Israeli intelligence service published an assessment that Iran would have enough material for a nuclear bomb within a year and be able to build nuclear-armed missiles within two years.[15] However, given its nuclear game of hide and seek, Iran could get hold of an atomic bomb in a shorter time.

4 The Strategic Consequences of Iran's Ambitions

The politics of revolutionary Iran are characterized by several features: far-reaching foreign policy goals, a tendency towards high-risk strategies, intense commitment and determination to implement these strategies successfully, and an unconventional diplomatic style.[16] Once Iran has nuclear weapons, these features of its foreign policy are likely to become even more prominent. The Iranian nuclear program, coupled with long-range delivery systems, poses a threat to regional stability in the Middle East. Iran produces several types of long-range missiles, including the Shehab-3 (with a range of 1,300 kilometers) and the Sejjil (with a range of 2,000 Kilometers). It is also developing a cruise missile with a range of over 2,000 kilometers. States such as Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as well as important US bases are within their reach. Further improvements to Iranian missiles could bring most European capitals and, in the long term, the North American continent within range of potential attack. Iran has an ambitious satellite program based on the use of multi-stage solid-propellant launch vehicles, which have ICBM characteristics, to launch 300-kilogram satellites into near-earth space. As soon as this goal is achieved, even more states will be exposed to the threat of nuclear attack in the future.

A nuclear-armed Iran would also strengthen Iran's hegemony in the strategic energy sector, simply because of its location on the oil-rich Persian Gulf and the Caspian Depression. The two neighboring regions form the "energy ellipse," which houses around 70 percent of the proven oil and around 40 percent of the natural gas reserves in the world.[17] Iran's position would be further strengthened if the country could more effectively intimidate the governments that control parts of this vast energy reservoir. Even a state like Saudi Arabia could, under certain circumstances, decide to seek rapprochement with Iran in terms of foreign policy.[18]

A nuclear armed Iran will also result in the West losing the Central Asian states. These former Soviet republics have been pursuing a pro-Western foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once Iran has nuclear weapons, they will either turn to Iran or seek a nuclear security guarantee from Russia or China; Countries that are much closer to the region than the US.

Tehran also supports radical Shiite elements in Iraq to force the withdrawal of American troops. It is also used by Shiite communities in the Gulf States to stir up unrest there. Iran is also a close ally of Syria, a radical state with an anti-American attitude. After all, Tehran massively supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. According to the US State Department, Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian successes would encourage Islamic radicals everywhere.

A nuclear-armed Iran could try to destabilize Turkey - a country of strategic importance. Secular Turkey is a red rag for revolutionary Iran. Tehran tried as early as the 1990s to interfere in Turkish affairs and to strengthen the extreme Islamist forces. Today, revolutionary Iran could take advantage of Turkey's ongoing identity crisis to bolster the power of radical Islamists. It would be a strategic blow if the West lost Turkey.

As Pakistan faces a nuclear state on its western border, it is likely to adjust its nuclear doctrine, which will affect the nuclear equation on the subcontinent. The nuclear chain effect could also reach China. A nuclear power Iran could further undermine the international regime of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and hinder US efforts to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A nuclear-armed Iran would set in motion a chain reaction and encourage nuclear proliferation in its immediate vicinity. States in the Middle East that see Iran as a major threat to their security will not stand idly by a nuclear power Iran. The USA’s extended deterrence does not seem credible these days, especially in the Middle East. Therefore, these states would not resist the temptation to counter Iranian influence through their own similar nuclear strategies.[19] With a multipolar nuclear Middle East, catastrophe would be inevitable. This strategic forecast is the result of two main factors: a) the inadequacy of defense systems against nuclear weapons and b) the difficulties in establishing a stable nuclear deterrent in the region. The belief that nuclear proliferation has a stabilizing effect is wishful thinking on the part of irresponsible desk strategists.

Unfortunately, diplomacy and economic sanctions have so far only had a limited effect on the Iranian nuclear program. All efforts aimed at “regime change” have failed and Iran remains undeterred, so the military option is on the table. While it would be the responsibility of the US as a global power to address the problem, Washington seems to shy away from military confrontation. Left on its own, Jerusalem will have to seriously consider taking preventive action.

5 Is Major Confrontation Inevitable?

There have already been military confrontations between Iran's representatives - Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas - and Israel. Jerusalem is determined not to allow the same situation to arise in Syria as in Lebanon, where missiles threaten the Jewish state. As a result, Israel began attacking Iran-related targets in Syria as early as 2013 so that Iran and its proxy militias would not establish themselves permanently in Syria. These attacks also serve to destroy Iranian-made missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as components designed to improve their accuracy.

Fig 2:

The Israel Defense Forces mostly keep a low profile when it comes to their operations. According to the then Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, thousands of targets had been attacked by January 2019.[20] Israel managed to push some of the militias backed by Iran directly from its border, even if Iran continues to move troops and weapons to Syria and the Iraqi-Syrian border crossings. Iran also strikes back occasionally, albeit more reluctantly, simply to show that it is there. Despite incessant Israeli attacks, Iran remains determined to move forward with its plans despite struggling domestic problems as a result of US sanctions, falling oil revenues, street protests, a severely ailing economy and, more recently, the Covid-19 crisis.

Indeed, Iran is determined to realize its Shiite corridor, weaken Saudi Arabia and, in the long term, drive the US out of the Middle East. While Iran initially hoped to sit out President Trump's administration when the economic sanctions began to hurt the country, Tehran later changed its mind and began adopting a pinprick strategy. Attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman took place without Iran acknowledging it. Similarly, Iran attacked the Khurais oil field and the oil refineries in Abqaiq with drones and cruise missiles, causing them to temporarily cease operations (Saudi Arabia's oil production subsequently collapsed by over 50 percent). In June 2019, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards shot down a United States surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, and in January 2020 Tehran shot at two US bases in Iraq. Its militias continue to attack American troops stationed in Iraq. Although Washington has tightened its course on Iran, Trump is still cautious. The US is still using maximum economic pressure to get a “better deal”, but so far Iran has remained steadfast and continues to play with fire. The US is also distracted by its efforts to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. These developments are causing growing concern in Jerusalem. As Iran gains influence in the Middle East and challenges Israel's nuclear monopoly in the region, the likelihood of a major conflict between Tehran and Jerusalem increases.

The threat perception in Israel is very high. Israel takes the Iranian threats to wipe out the Jewish state very seriously. A people that has been through persecution and pogroms as well as a Holocaust over and over again in its long history cannot and will not ignore threats to exterminate them. Iran's nuclear aspirations are seen as an existential threat in Israel, so that military action against Iran is considered legitimate by the population.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly and emphatically insisted that Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. An indication of the mood in Israel is provided by the speech given by Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, on December 25, 2019, in which he left no doubt about Israel's determination. He identified Iran and its deputies as the greatest threats to Israel and made it clear that a clash between Israel and Iran was almost inevitable. He added that the military had been preparing for such a scenario. Kochavi also pointed to the inaction of the Gulf States and the United States in the face of Iranian attacks on oil facilities and ships. "It would be better if we weren't alone [sic!]," He remarked.[21] Kochavi also set up a new directorate, headed by a major general, to develop concepts for dealing with the Iranian threat. It was recently renamed the Directorate for Strategy and the Third Threat Group.

The IDF experts expect the threat from Iran to become a top priority in the coming years.[22] Israel's new defense minister, Benny Gantz, also believes that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the world and the region that must be averted. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also confirmed that Israel is pursuing a long-term strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.[23] Both are former chiefs of the general staff. During the past decade, Israel has been preparing to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure.[24] Despite the many obstacles to a successful mission, the IDF appears to be able to carry it out. Although the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action undermined the international legitimacy of Israeli military action, the JCPOA is now a de facto dead document.

Israel has so far pursued a consistent nuclear anti-proliferation strategy in the Middle East. Obstruction and delay strategies have been deployed against emerging nuclear threats. The June 2020 explosion in Natanz appears to be a recent example of such an obstruction. If such instruments remain ineffective, nuclear facilities in neighboring countries will be destroyed by surgical air strikes. In 1981 the Iraqi Osirak reactor was destroyed because of its possible use for the production of plutonium. A similar fate befell the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. Preventive strikes against an emerging threat are part of Israel's menu of strategic options.

The reason for the destruction of potentially militarily useful nuclear capabilities is simple. Israel does not believe that it can reliably deter a hostile, nuclear-armed state in the Middle East in the long term. As a state with a small territory and a short distance from its regional rivals, Israel feels highly vulnerable to a nuclear attack. The likelihood of accidents, unauthorized shooting, miscalculations or a regime collapse is much higher in Middle Eastern countries than in other regions of the world. The period before the establishment of credible second strike capabilities and security mechanisms, similar to those implemented in the relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union, is particularly dangerous. What is particularly important is the fact that building a second strike ability is an ongoing process full of uncertainties.[25] In addition, the effectiveness of the deterrent depends on the cost sensitivity. Religious fanaticism, which is widespread in the Middle East, reduces cost sensitivity. In fact, the Iranian leadership has repeatedly expressed its willingness to sacrifice millions of lives for the annihilation of the Jewish state.[26] They boast of their culture of jihad and martyrdom.

With Iran's steady progress in its nuclear and missile projects, there is mounting pressure to destroy Iran's growing nuclear capabilities. Israel could attack to prevent Iran from returning to the negotiating table. Under increased pressure, Iran could revert to a strategy of “secret development while pretending to be willing to talk” in order to buy time. Such a strategy would capitalize on the reluctance of Europeans and Americans to escalate. If you come to the conclusion that negotiations are going nowhere, you need other courses of action that are not exactly attractive to many governments. Unsuccessful negotiations basically maintain the status quo, a tense, ongoing conflict in which Iran can continue its nuclear program unhindered. Negotiation poker, which Iranians are so good at, and temporary concessions delay diplomatic and economic pressure and, above all, prevent military attacks.

Israel may attack sooner rather than later to forestall further improvements in Iran's measures to protect its nuclear facilities. For example, Russia supplied Iran with an S-300 air defense system in 2016 (after the JCPOA was signed), while the more advanced S-400 system is still on Iran's shopping list.

After Soleimani was eliminated, the IDF saw an opportunity to intensify attacks on Iran and its allies in order to further limit the Iranian presence in Syria.[27] Such an escalation in Syria could be used to attack the Iranian nuclear project. Preventive strikes in Iraq and Syria ended the nuclear projects in these states. In addition, these precedents show that wide-ranging regional impacts are not inevitable.

Israel may also escalate its military reactions in order to prevent a belt wagoning effect - a foreign policy "follower" - in the Gulf States and in Saudi Arabia. As Iran gains power in the region and the reliability of the US security umbrella decreases, it may be tempting for them to align their foreign policy with Tehran. Such a rapprochement between Sunni states and Iran could affect Jordan and Egypt (both of which have peace treaties with Israel) and further isolate Israel in the region. An Israeli show of strength will therefore ensure that the Sunni states continue to cooperate with Israel.

If an emerging power shakes the existing balance of power, then, as history teaches us, in most cases war will ensue. This phenomenon is also called "hegemonic war".[28] Hegemonic wars are caused by different increases in power between dominant and emerging states. A war of hegemony does not occur during a period of relative stability; rather, the unequal gain and loss of power is a necessary factor that ultimately leads to the bipolarization of the international system, which inevitably leads to a crisis in the form of a war of hegemony. Such a rivalry between the ancient Greek city-states culminated in the Peloponnesian Wars. Prussia's striving to unite the German principalities under his leadership caused several European wars.

Even if the Middle East is not a bipolar subsystem, we see an increasingly powerful Iran that is no longer balanced by declining Arab states. We also see that their security guarantor, the USA, is apparently withdrawing from the region. Even if the path is not mapped out, it seems quite possible that Israel will start a war to prevent a Middle East ruled by a nuclear, Islamist Iran. In fact, it is already taking military action to avoid being encircled by an Iranian-inspired ring of fire.

6 Conclusion

A nuclear arsenal is Iran's best insurance for the survival of the regime and for the realization of its regional hegemonic aspirations. It is therefore unthinkable that the mullahs will give up the pursuit of the bomb. At present, Iran can freely pursue its imperial and nuclear ambitions. "Regime change" has never been seriously pursued and it is uncertain whether such efforts would have any chance of success. Diplomacy and / or economic sanctions will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The international community, including the US, has no interest in a military confrontation with Iran.

In contrast, Iranian-Israeli relations are essentially a zero-sum game in which Israel has little choice but to follow its survival instincts. For this reason, it is very likely that the use of military force to curb growing Iranian influence in Middle Eastern politics, to prevent its nuclearization, and to encircle Israel by Iranian proxies will escalate. This will add another dimension to the Iran-Israeli war that is already underway. Only military action can prevent the Middle East from becoming an even more violent and dangerous region.

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Published Online: 2020-11-27
Published in Print: 2020-11-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin / Boston