In the absence of a clear American or Turkish determination to confront Iranian encroachment, only Israel has the power to stop it.
Relations between Israel (orange) and Iran (green) have been hostile since the latter's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Iran is a formidable enemy. A large country of more than 80 million people, endowed with energy riches, it has always been a regional power. Having an imperial past and revolutionary zeal (since the 1979 Iranian Revolution), Iran nourishes ambitions to rule over the Middle East and beyond. Furthermore, theologically there is no place in Iranian thinking for a Jewish state. Iran believes that Israel will either wither away following military pressure on its population or be annihilated when it is militarily weak and vulnerable.
As Iran challenges the status quo in the Middle East, a clash between Tehran and Jerusalem is inevitable. International history teaches us that when a rising power challenged the balance of power, in most cases war ensued. Sparta challenged an Athenian-led Greek city system, ending in the Peloponnesian wars. Prussia’s quest for the unification of the German principalities under its helm ended in several European Wars. Similarly, Israel cannot tolerate a Middle East dominated by Iran and its radical ideology.
Unfortunately, much of the Arab world is in the throes of a deep socio-political crisis, particularly since the mistermed “Arab Spring,” creating dissension and a political vacuum, which the sophisticated revolutionary elite in Iran has capitalized upon. These dynamics explain the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the power grab of the Houthi Shi’ite sect in Yemen.
Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei with IRGC troops
The revolutionary enterprise was also facilitated by the Middle East policies of the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. American military intervention destroyed Iraq, a strong rival of Iran, further undermining the regional balance of power.
Subsequently, the display of weakness by Obama was replaced by a questionable Trump commitment to the security of the region.
The Sunni Arab states have been terrified by the advances in the Iranian nuclear program and by the successes of its proxies. They are weak. Saudi Arabia failed to contain Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, it was not successful to change the pro-Iranian orientation of small Qatar.
Egypt, an important Sunni power, survived the domestic turmoil, but it focuses on literally supplying food to its population, fighting an Islamic insurgency at home, leaving little energy to parry the Iranian challenge.
Turkey, a strong Sunni state, albeit non-Arab, has preferred to act upon its Islamic impulses and its common interest with Iran on the Kurdish issue, forfeiting its potential to balance Iran. The result was an entente between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf states with Israel. In the absence of a credible American security umbrella, the Sunnis understand that only Israel can oppose the hegemonic drive of Iran.
Iran reached a similar conclusion – Israel is the main barrier for achieving hegemony. Israel is a religious and strategic anathema.