The majority of Israel’s recent rhetoric on Iran has consisted of declarations of heightened concern over Iran’s nuclear program and threats to take unilateral action if its primary ally, the United States, refuses to launch a military strike against Tehran.
Recent diplomatic activity by Tehran has increased Israel’s concerns, especially in light of the China-brokered reconciliation agreement with Saudi Arabia and the military partnership with Russia.
In addition, since the beginning of this year, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has conducted state visits and signed multilateral cooperation agreements with China, Syria, Indonesia, and three US-sanctioned South American nations: Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian of Raisi received his Saudi colleague Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a historic visit to Tehran. He then made a three-leg tour of the Gulf, meeting with counterparts in Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman as a mediator in indirect discussions between Iran and the United States. Moreover, the United States and Iran are rumored to have resumed discussions to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, release American prisoners, and unfreeze some Iranian assets. Netanyahu has repeatedly warned Washington that Israel will not be subject to any agreements made with Tehran. He recently stated, “Our position is crystal clear: Israel will not be subject to any deal with Iran and will continue to defend itself.” Geopolitical winds
Iran appears to be emerging from isolation and implementing a selective strategy of openness by pursuing prospective relationships with nations that share comparable “anti-West” perspectives. It also expects that the détente with Saudi Arabia will pave the way for future normalization agreements with regional players like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. These developments, coupled with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) discovery earlier this year of uranium enriched to 84 percent in Iran—very close to the required 90 percent weapon-grade level—make Israel feel increasingly threatened by Iran.
Wagner’s Mutiny in Russia and Changing Dynamics
The potentially world-shaking coup attempt against Russian President Vladimir Putin by the Russian Wagner Group has ceased for the time being. Putting aside the question of whether Wagner and Putin will fight again in the future, this episode may represent a paradigm shift in how the Russia-Ukraine conflict affects Israeli security in terms of Iranian threats. Dmitry Utkin, an intelligence officer, founded Wagner in 2014 to support Ukrainian separatists.
It has represented Russia’s and its allies’ interests across Africa and the Middle East, participating in Syria’s civil war on President Bashar al-Assad’s side, and its fighters have been accused of committing multiple atrocities.
Iran, a longtime ally of Russia, was eager to support Putin. Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, characterized the events as a domestic issue and added that Tehran “supports the rule of law in the Russian Federation.” According to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian telephoned Sergei Lavrov and informed him that any interference in Iranian affairs was intolerable. “Without a doubt, Westerners have infiltrated these forces. “The West utilizes them to weaken Russia’s front in the Ukraine war, but this will inevitably harm the West’s position,” he said. He continued by stating that he did not believe the small uprising would damage Putin.
Potential Impacts on Israeli Security in Terms of Iranian Threats:
Since Moscow attacked Kyiv in February 2022, the war has alternately delayed an Iranian nuclear deal because Putin was suddenly at odds with the Biden administration and the West; causing widespread fear in Israel that Russia would end Israeli air operations against Iranian proxies in Syria; delayed the Iran nuclear deal again in October 2022 when it was revealed that Tehran provided Putin with drones; and stoked fears that Russia will provide new, dangerous weapons to the Islamic Republic. In the first place, nothing can alter Israel. Putin may remain in power and recommence hostilities with Ukraine despite the Wagner coup attempt. This could continue the trend of the Russia-Ukraine conflict exerting pressure on the West and Iran to reach a broader nuclear agreement, which would be advantageous for Israel. However, it may prolong the security hazard in Syria and increase Russia’s military assistance to Iran.
This assistance may involve the development of new cyberweapons, the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, new contemporary Russian aircraft, or even advancements in nuclear weapons. Or, a weakened Putin could cause the Ukraine conflict to end or possibly fizzle out without an official conclusion. On the Iran issue, Russia and the United States may resume cooperation. That would not be acceptable to Israel.
As Jerusalem’s support for Ukraine becomes less significant, Putin, or whoever succeeds him, may ameliorate relations with Israel over Syria.
Similarly, if Ukraine loses significance, Russia may feel less compelled to fully compensate Iran with new weapons and may be content to only provide Iran with money. This may be the most significant impact Moscow could have on Israeli security, given the complexity of the nuclear issue and the fact that only Russia can disrupt the arms balance by supplying Iran with new Russian weapons or preserve the arms balance by exercising restraint. There are also some bizarre circumstances. Some fear that if Putin were to be removed from power, some of Russia’s nuclear weapons could fall into the clutches of terrorists, rogue states, or terrorist organizations. This is Israel’s and the West’s worst-case scenario. In conclusion, it is too early to predict how Moscow’s dynamics will affect Israeli security in Iran and Syria, but the Jewish state must keep a close watch on the situation as we near a potential tipping point.
The author is an MPhil Scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid I Azam University Islamabad. Her areas of interest are Middle East and South Asia, International Law, and Gender Issues. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She Tweets: @maria_mansab