Numerous recent writings on the Iran issue, especially those by Americans and Israelis, focused on a rallying intended to reorganize the regional alliances in order to create a fresh strategy for confronting Iran. US coordination and Israeli promotion and pressure are helping toward a more concrete definition of the potential roles of the parties that are poised to join this echelon.
Along with this “seasonal” momentum, some contend that this made-up scene is not reflective of the true state of affairs, which has not yet fully developed. It’s noteworthy that there have been previous escalation-related outbursts in this file that quickly died down. This is why there is constant skepticism, and there are still ambiguous areas where no one seems willing to speak up and offer some level of certainty regarding an impending military conflict, about which many questions are raised.
The first of these questions will inevitably concern the parties involved in that confrontation, if it ever occurred. Now that we know about the Iranian side, what about the other side? Aside from the United States and Israel, who have their own calculations, which we will discuss later, what is of most interest to the region’s countries and who in the region actually participated in this arrangement.
There is evidence that some countries have been contacted regarding this matter. Here, questions arise regarding whether the United States put pressure on or offered incentives to Arab capitals in order for them to get ready to play certain roles, as well as what those roles are and how big of an impact they are anticipated to have. Possibly, in the same context, it will be more important to determine the extent to which Arabs support the US-Israeli vision, assuming they have a unified opinion that they will act accordingly. Evidence and leaks of bilateral contacts have revealed an intriguing fact: Israel still plays the role of catalyst with some parties, while the US remains in its gray zone, waiting for the ranks to be regularized.
The gray area for the United States is not, however, a state of inaction, but rather a path that leads to the realization and enforcement of the country’s most pressing and vital interests at that time, such as some armament agreements with regional countries that typically take place outside of this kind of hypothetical momentum. The most significant step was taken with Israel a month ago, when both countries participated in the Juniper Oak joint military exercise, the largest ever between them, as it included land, air, and sea components, as well as a first-of-its-kind space capabilities and cyber protection exercise. More than 140 aircraft, including a B-52 strategic bomber, and 12 naval assets, including the USS George W. Bush aircraft carrier and six Israeli ships and submarines, took part in the exercise. The US military exercise Juniper Oak took place in Israel, and its primary goal was to strengthen interoperability between the two armies. This would allow the US Central Command, which is focused on solidifying a developing regional security structure, to send reassuring or discouraging signals to allies and potential adversaries alike.
A few days after the drill concluded, discrepancies between US and Israeli statements regarding the Juniper Oak began to emerge. Israeli reports claimed that the exercise included a “simulation” of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, but US officials went on to present technical denials on the subject. However, these seemed to be vague denials that were made in conjunction with the admission that Washington intends to broaden the scope of the Juniper Oak drills by encouraging other countries in the region to take part in analogous significant and difficult maneuvers. This raises new questions about the intended audience and the outcomes expected from this encouragement, especially given that the US Central Command at that stage focuses primarily on the breadth of air defense systems and exercises, in terms of deployment capable of protecting the skies over the region from the threat of cruise missiles and marches with modern technologies, and on balancing Iranian capabilities that, in light of the advancements made to its Bavar-373 missile system, are now perceived by the US military to be so dangerous that serious effort is thought to be necessary to achieve a point of balance.
In Washington, there are those who rule out the idea of going to war with Iran, but no one has refuted the idea of intervening with cutting-edge tactics and plans that enable neutralizing Iran’s capacity to possess nuclear weapons. The nature of these plans, which were announced twice as presidential commitments, first in July 2022 under the “US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration” and then two days later at the Jeddah Security and Development Summit, where the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq participated, remains shrouded in mystery, though.
On the other hand, a scene that some have compared to these peculiar preparations was recently made public by a document published by Iranian media. It contained a letter from the Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs to the First Vice President in which he expressed his surprise that Chinese and Russian companies have both slowed down their participation in Iranian oil and gas projects. The letter contained what appeared to be a report on 10 oil and gas fields, some of whose rehabilitation projects were given to Russia and China and others of which were given to them.
Some claim that concerns about Iran’s future led Russian and Chinese businesses to abandon this crucial investment. This raises the new question of how much we share the same concern, not about Iran, but about the regional security balance equation, in which the hidden appears to be significantly greater than the declared.
This op-ed was originally published in Al-Ahram on 18