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Iran military

Countering Iran with Iraq and Israel playing ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’

Rami Rayess

Published: Updated:

As Israel seeks to develop relationships with Arab neighbors around the region, one country that is often overlooked by commentators is Iraq. It’s likely that the unstable war-torn country is high on Israel’s radar to cement closer ties.

If a proper relationship built on goodwill were to happen it would benefit both in their respective battles with Iran. It would become an enormous step in efforts to counter Iran’s presence in the country.

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Presenting Tehran as a common threat to both nations is a selling point that Baghdad will consider. Given Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, finding support in the Middle East’s melting point is no easy task.

The incumbent Iraqi government is keen to foster closer relations with Washington to combat Iran’s growing influence in parts of the country.

While a visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi planned for next week must include discussions about the Iranian dilemma, it’s clear that the US has no appetite to get dragged fully into the quagmire that has become Iraq.

The meeting will resonate more if the Israeli question is put forward.

Washington will happily play an effective role, by bringing together two of its allies to follow a favorable path in an ever-widening conflict with Iran. It has become a complicated sore in the US’s Middle East foreign policy.

Israel and Iraq have had their own turbulent history. Following the American invasion in 2003, the antagonism and finger pointing was based around a contested pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction.

By coming together with US support, Washington can allay Israeli fears as the Vienna talks conclude favorably for Iran. Helping to counter Iran’s threat in Iraq offers Washington positive PR.

Clearly, with the lifting of sanctions, Tehran will have access to frozen funds amounting to billions of dollars for disposal to its regional militias in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna. (File photo: Reuters)
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna. (File photo: Reuters)

The expectations that Iran will use the fresh funds to tackle poverty or develop infrastructure are low.

One needs to remember that Iraq’s popular perception of Israel is as an enemy, not a friend. Public sentiment entrenched in Iraq pushes towards Arab Nationalism. This view hasn’t changed over several decades, and remains a stumbling block to relationship building, for now.

There is little doubt that developing relations between Iraq and Israel is highly difficult, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a mutually successful bridge is impossible. Ways and means is essential.

Putting aside local politics, issues and policies, successive Iraqi regimes have always shared one common denominator: a deep and unnegotiable hostility to Israel.

Israel too, of course, reciprocated the hostility and was always eager to reduce Iraq’s growing military capacities.

In 1981, it destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor fearing that the country would join the nuclear club creating a de facto balance of power, something it couldn’t stand for.

An open public embrace between Israel and Iraq telling the world that they are now friends, of course is the perfect play, but we do not live in a perfect world.

Will Israeli military venture into Iraq as comrades in arms to fight the threat of Iran? No, of course not.

But, with the exception of those affiliated with Iran, most Iraqis are frustrated with Tehran’s growing influence in their domestic affairs. What’s the best way to mitigate it?

If not a full scale military confrontation, then a war of mutual subterfuge is the obvious route.

Israeli Special Forces lurk in the shadows across much of the Middle East, and strike quickly and effectively. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq have all experienced firsthand Israel’s military capabilities.

Is it that far-fetched to think Israel and Iraq will build their relationship quietly at first, and out of the gaze of the public, to collaborate in neutering Iran effectively? Will Baghdad turn a blind eye, and allow Israel to target Iranian assets while publically condemning their actions?

Since the state was established, Washington has always been on hand to offer a helping hand to Israel to preserve its military supremacy in the Middle East. The United States has been Israel’s staunchest ally for decades.

With the drastic changes that developed after America’s invasion of Iraq, events have transformed it into a different country. A powerful and a weak state all in one. An almost failed state with widespread corruption at all levels of government, while at the same time, an indispensable state with significant regional power.

It still needs help.

Following a strategy where “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” can greatly benefit Israel and Iraq if they join forces to counter the growing threat of Iran in the region.

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