Israel budgeted around $3 billion in its 2014 military budget to fight Iran, and Iranian leaders, in turn, declared this month that the country is arming the West Bank in the fight against Israel.
“The open animosity and covert hostilities between the two countries are relatively new,”according to Natan Sachs of the Brookings Institute, who testified before a congressional committee about the two countries. “Unlike Israel’s longstanding disputes with several of its Arab neighbours, Iran and Israel had a close relationship before the Iranian Revolution. Indeed, before the revolution, Iran was viewed by Israeli national security thinkers as part of a ‘periphery doctrine’ in which Israel allied itself with non-Arab actors in the Middle East, to counterbalance its dramatic inferiority in numbers and, then, in wealth, compared to the Arab countries that surrounded it.”
So what has brought the two countries to the verge of all-out war? Here are four significant events and issues impacting the conflict:
1. The Islamic Republic, which governs Iran, began to speak out against Israel.
“Virulently anti-Israeli, the Islamic Republic’s leaders have frequently referred to Israel as the ‘Little Satan’ accompanying the ‘Great Satan,’ the United States. Iranian leaders have made Israel a feature of their public statements,” Sachs said.
In December 2000, Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Iran’s stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon (Israel). We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region.”
In 2005, Khamenei stated his opinion that Israel should return its country to Palestine, saying, “Palestine belongs to Palestinians, and the fate of Palestine should also be determined by the Palestinian people.”
When the United Nations split the territory into Israel and Palestine in 1948, Iran’s representative was one of the few to vote against it.
2. In 2006, Israeli leaders pointed to Iran as the supplier of arms and military equipment to Hezbollah. Although the accusations weren’t new, they focused in on a specific incident.
Israel said Iran supplied the long-range rocket fired by Hezbollah that almost destroyed one of Israel’s warships.
“Most of Hezbollah’s arms — including modern antitank weapons and the thousands of rockets that rained down on Israel — came from Iran (as well as Syria),” Foreign Affairs said. “Iranian advisers had spent years helping Hezbollah train and build fortified positions throughout southern Lebanon.”
3. Iran’s increasing focus on obtaining nuclear weapons has united Israel with the United States and many in the international community.
“Almost all in the Israeli national security community view the possibility of a nuclear-threshold Iran as a very negative development,” Sachs said. “A nuclear-threshold Iran could act as a catalyst for nuclear proliferation in the highly volatile Middle East.”
In 2012, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari warned that “nothing would remain” of Israel if the country used military action in Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program.
4. The increasing adversarial relationships between Iran and other countries in the Mideast, such as Saudi Arabia, have pulled Israel into further conflict with Iran, Sachs said.
“The result is that Israel and some of the traditional Arab powers now have aligned interests, with shared conflicts with both the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, and with Muslim Brotherhood organizations such as Hamas,” he explained. “Indeed, on Iran’s nuclear program in particular, Israel and Saudi Arabia share many views.”
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