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Syria's civil war has destroyed many historical sites in the region

Israel and Iran: Syria’s new war?

There is a real possibility that we are on the verge of a big conflict between Israel and Iran. The international community must recognise this now and do more to ease tensions. If they do not, we could be sleepwalking into another regional crisis, writes Jack Clayton

The time for a conversation about the increasing violence between Israel and Iran is upon us.

As Russia’s campaign in Syria comes to a close, Iranian and Israeli forces remain firmly in the region: engaged in proxy warfare against one another with their own strategic geopolitical objectives. Iran’s presence is partially to offer support to Assad, their fellow Shia ally, but more importantly, Syria is an important passageway to Lebanon for the Iranian regime to provide weapons to Hezbollah. The idea of Hezbollah becoming militarily stronger worries Israel. Like Iran, Hezbollah refuses to recognise Israel’s existence as legitimate and is intent on destroying it. This has drawn Israel into the conflict to fight any perceived threat at their border, particularly the Golan Heights territory they occupy.

Thanks to pressures faced by both Iran’s and Israel’s leaders domestically, there is a very real chance the conflict could escalate.

Iran’s stagnant economy has brought president Rouhani widespread criticism. His initial promises as a moderate were to improve the economy by thawing western relations. This was initially successful: Rouhani’s efforts were rewarded through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration. He agreed to reduce Iran’s uranium stockpile by 98 per cent in return to access frozen overseas assets over $100 billion and to resume selling oil on international markets. But these financial successes haven’t trickled down to the majority of voters. Instead the regime has spent billions on their Syria campaign which has further weakened their economy, with both inflation and unemployment rising. Moreover, Trump withdrawing America from the JCPOA has weakened Iranian currency.

With a fellow conservative in the White House, who withdrew from the nuclear deal essentially by his own demand, and moved the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, Netanyahu has been given carte blanche

Rouhani has since sounded increasingly aggressive, promising a ‘mother of all wars’. He appears to be willing to be more anti-west and blame America’s actions for Iran’s weak economy as the Iranian public still view them negatively: allowing Rouhani to ease the pressure from his conservative critics. It also should not go unnoticed that he might have his eye on being appointed the supreme leader, as the conservative Khamenie – the sitting leader – is approaching 80. With the Iranian leadership losing confidence that other western powers will meaningfully uphold the deal and stand up to Trump, it is possible they will take their own path and target an old enemy.

Simultaneously, a corruption investigation is giving the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu difficulties of his own. This too, has sparked protests amongst Israelis, and has even put him under pressure to resign. However, Netanyahu, amongst other things, is a very experienced politician. As an election approaches next year, he is doing all he can to focus the national discussion in Israel on the increasing threat of Iran. He did of course come into prominence by stressing the importance of putting Israel’s security first at almost any cost. With a fellow conservative in the White House, who withdrew from the nuclear deal essentially by his own demand, and moved the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, Netanyahu has been given carte blanche. His new sense of empowerment has led to accelerated building of settlements in the Palestinian territories. Crucially though, his increased aggression towards Iran in Syria comes straight after Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Soon, they could become the main warring factions in Syria, with every intention of intensifying and prolonging their conflict for domestic support respectively.

Netanyahu will almost certainly only care about having Trump’s backing, but one significant step could be for the United Kingdom to stop selling arms to Israel

Nevertheless, there is still a window of opportunity for the west to persuade Iran and Israel to avert potential catastrophe, and it must be taken. The European countries in the nuclear deal must reassure Iran that it can still work: as long as their government spends money from sanctions relief on the Iranian people, not war. Should they continue pursuing their militaristic foreign policy that risks further destabilising the region, then ending the deal could be seriously considered.

Israel is more complicated. Netanyahu will almost certainly only care about having Trump’s backing, but one significant step could be for the United Kingdom to stop selling arms to Israel. It would signal that they will not allow their name to be tarnished by Israel’s dangerous actions.

There must also be action to internationally unite progressives with those in Israel who equally condemn Netanyahu’s right-wing government. That requires Jeremy Corbyn to reconnect with the Israeli Labor party – which will not be easy after the summer’s antisemitism row.

Whether Corbyn likes it or not, if the middle east is to become a more peaceful region, Israel will have to be part of the answer.

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Jack Clayton is a student at Brunel University. He tweets @claytonj944

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