Iran’s New Response to U.S. Pressure, and Its Consequences for Israel

Last year, when Washington withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Tehran—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Islamic Republic’s initial response was one of patience. While continuing its military adventurism in Iraq, Iran, and Yemen, it did not overtly violate the deal or announce its own withdrawal. But recent Iranian threats to resume uranium enrichment, its apparent attacks on Saudi oil production, and the escalation in the Persian Gulf suggest a change in approach. Amos Yadlin explains:

Over the last month, Iran has experienced intensification of the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure.” . . . The regime in Iran has thus concluded that it must devise a new strategy . . . that is more proactive, albeit measured and cautious. Iran now seeks to exact a price for U.S. measures against it, and has thus embarked on a response made up of action in three realms.

In the nuclear realm, Iran is trying to compel European nations to formulate and implement a promised mechanism that will provide compensation for the sanctions. In the military realm, Iran seeks to exact a price from the United States (and Israel) with the goal of creating deterrence and preserving national pride. Finally, when it comes to energy supply, Iran has threatened Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that if it is unable to export oil, they too will be unable to do so. . . .

[I]n the military realm, Iran has a range of possible actions at its disposal: attacking American soldiers in Syria or Iraq, launching low-signature attacks via proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip against American interests or allies, including Israel. . . .

Any military clash between Iran and the United States—be it in the Gulf, Iraq, or Syria, or a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz—would not have a direct impact on Israel, but there would be indirect repercussions. The odds of Iran leaving Israel out of such a fight, should it emerge, are slim. [Moreover,] Israel must prepare for the possibility that Iran will choose [to renew nuclear activity. . . . Israel should also consider the possibility that the United States will not take effective action to stop the Iranian nuclear program (after all, the Trump administration is not keen on further military engagements in the Middle East). Therefore, Israel must update its force-buildup plans to enable it to cope with a potential Iranian nuclear breakout alone.

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More about: Iran, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy