How Iran Brought Israel and the Arab States Together: QuickTake

For more than half a century, the conflict between Israel and the Arab nations surrounding it has been a defining feature of the Middle East. periodic wars, lost trade opportunities and countless hours of fruitless diplomacy. The gap is far from resolved. Yet there has been a shift. Israel has made peace agreements four Arab countries by the end of this year, underscoring that it is now Iran – rather than Israel – that is the common enemy uniting many Arab rulers.

1. Why were the new accords so important?

Egypt and Jordan normalized relations with Israel in 1979 and 1994, but other Arab countries said for years they would withheld recognition of the Jewish state pending the formation of one independent land for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two areas Israel conquered in a 1967 war. Some Arab states developed collusion with Israel, but it was still extraordinary when one of them, the United Arab Emirates, August agreed to formalize the ties. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco followed, and Israeli officials predicted Oman and Saudi Arabia would be next. The agreements telegraphed that Arab relations are with Israel no longer tied to the Palestinian cause. And they clarified the growing focus of Arab leaders leading to the Sunni branch of Islam against the rise of Persian Iran, whose population is mainly Shia Muslims.

2. Why is Iran so distrusted?

Iran’s influence in the Middle East has increased significantly since 2003, when the US-led invasion of Iraq took away its main enemy, the Sunni-dominated regime of President Saddam Hussein. Iranian leaders have since had their control of militias drawn from the majority of the Shia population in Iraq to form governments in Baghdad. In Syria, Iran also appealed to the same Iraqi militias Hezbollah, the militant Shia Lebanese group, to protect its only ally, President Bashar al-Assad, from defeat in a civil war that started as a popular uprising in 2011. In Yemen, Iran supported Shia rebels in their fight against forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a war that broke out in 2015. The International Institute for Strategic Studies today cites Iran’s influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen “a new normal, ”a concept that was once unimaginable, even for leaders in Tehran.

3. What is the role of the US?

As of 2016, the US under President Donald Trump has a more aggressive approach to Iran, withdraw from the nuclear deal the world powers had made with it in 2015. That agreement had exempted Iran from punishing economic sanctions in exchange for rolling back its nuclear program. Under Trump, the US also abandoned its neutrality position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, displacing the US embassy to Jerusalem – claimed as the capital by both sides but controlled by Israel – and downplay the purpose of one Two-state solution, in which Israel and the Palestinians had to end their conflict by establishing a new Palestinian state.

4. Are Iran and its enemies fighting directly?