• A continuing nuclear programme, support for militant groups in the region such as Hezbollah and direct military assistance for Russia in the Ukraine war — as Iran continues to flex its muscles, both in West Asia and beyond, Israel sees a “survival challenge”, say diplomatic and military officials.
  • “Besides the nuclear programme, their negative influence on the Middle East is prevalent,” Alon Lavi, a deputy spokesperson at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
  • “The Islamic Jihad of Gaza, Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Shia militias in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen — they all are funded by Iran. They are promoting instability across the Middle East,” Mr. Lavi said.
  • Of these groups, Israeli officials say, Hezbollah, which possesses more than 1,00,000 rockets, poses the strongest threat. “Hezbollah is a tough enemy.
  • I give them a lot of respect. They have very good military equipment. They are very well-trained,” said a Brigadier General in the Israeli Defence Forces, requesting anonymity. “The next war with Hezbollah would be disastrous for both sides,” Mr. Lavi said.
  • If Hezbollah has already established a strong military presence along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the Syrian civil war has brought pro-Iran forces closer to its Syria border.
  • Hezbollah and other Iran-trained Shia militias fought alongside the regime forces of President Bashar al-Assad under the air cover of Russia in the civil war.
  • In recent years, Israel has carried out multiple airstrikes inside Syria, targeting Iran-backed groups and Iranian supplies. I
  • srael’s goal is to roll back Iran’s influence from its border region with Syria. But it also meant that Israel has to maintain a sound relationship with Russia, which practically controls Syria’s airspace.

‘Border with Russia’

  • “Israel has a joint border with Russia,” Mr. Lavi said, explaining why Israel has taken a cautious position on the Ukraine war.
  • “Russia can make it painful for us in Syria. Until now, Russia turned a blind eye to Israel’s actions in Syria. If they don’t turn a blind eye, our freedom of activity in Syria would be more complicated.
  • So we need the Russians,” said a senior Israeli diplomat, who did not wish to be named. “When Putin was really down, Iran came forward to help him.
  • They are going to be rewarded by the Russians. That’s a concern for us.” The diplomat, however, said not everything is bleak for Israel in the region.
  • “You look at the strategic map — there are chances and challenges. The Abraham Accords is a great opportunity. The maritime agreement with Lebanon and the restoration of ties with Turkey are also positives.”
  • There are three superpowers in the region — Iran, Turkey and Israel, said the diplomat. “None of them are Arabs. Of these, Iran is a great challenge, while we managed to shift Turkey from a challenge to a chance.”
  • “We can manage the Palestinian challenge, but if Iran manages to reach the nuclear threshold status, it becomes a survival challenge for us,” he added.
  • “Israel is determined to oppose Iran’s agendas for the region. And it’s not just Israel. Sunni Arab states are with us in dealing with Iran.
  • If the nuclear talks fail and no other agreement replaces the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal), we should look for non-diplomatic options.”


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