Last week there was a drone attack on an Iranian military defense site known as Isfahan. According to the Iranian Defense Ministry, three drones were launched at the facility, and two were shot down. The third hit the building, causing minor damage, and no one was harmed. Isfahan is a hub for the Iranian regime’s missile and weaponry industry and is where medium-range missiles are assembled. 

Though there is no official confirmation as to who conducted the attack, The New York Times released a report saying that the strike was carried out by the Mossad intelligence agency in Israel. Mossad has not confirmed or denied these reports, but the report cited a U.S. senior intelligence official. Israel is suspected to have conducted the attack because the type of missile used to conduct the attack has been previously associated with Israel’s arsenal. Moreover, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel has increased Israel’s intelligence activity within Iran in response to Tehran’s attempted attacks on Israelis in Turkey in 2022. 

This is not necessarily unexpected because, over the last few years, Israel and Iran have had a complicated relationship. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Israel and Iran have been in a shadow war that has changed the power dynamics within the Middle East. Iran has been attempting to destroy the Jewish state, not only due to the differing ideologies but also because Israel is the U.S.’s most important ally in the region. Iran sees destroying Israel as a way to destroy the United States and severely limit the American presence in the region while increasing their own influence. 

One of the ways Iran has been undermining Israel has been by developing its nuclear program to counter the Israeli Defense Forces, one of the strongest military forces in the world. As Iran’s potential nuclear power can decimate the state of Israel, the Israeli government has been actively trying to work with global allies like the United States in cutting off Iran’s nuclear capabilities before they become too strong to stop. 

This came to a head in 2015, when the Obama administration in the United States proposed a deal known as the JCPOA with members of the UN Security Council. The JCPOA forbade Iran from investing in their nuclear programs with the exception of nuclear energy for civilian use. In 2018, Mossad found evidence proving that Iran was not cooperating with the deal, and the Trump administration pulled out of the deal, instituting a maximum pressure campaign against the regime. The Biden administration has attempted to reinstitute the JCPOA with little success. The fallout from the deal has led to mistrust between Israel, the United States, and European nations, which is why the Israeli government has begun taking independent steps to quell Iran’s nuclear program without the knowledge of Washington.   

Why is this important for the U.S.? 

The United States has been withdrawing from the Middle East since the Iraq war through a range of strategies. The result of the Iraq war, internationally and domestically, was a mistrust of the United States government and a desire for the government to be focused on internal issues first, unless it is in America’s interest to look outward. The Obama administration began this process by unsuccessfully trying to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, changing the basic perception in the region that the United States is not willing to intervene in the region. 

Also, the Obama administration’s attempt to formulate the JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal, attempted to resolve the problem of Iran as the U.S. withdrew from the region. This continued as the Trump administration’s overall foreign policy strategy for the Middle East involved creating a national strategic partnership between Israel, the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, and (eventually) Saudi Arabia to be an on-the-ground team of American-backed countries to counter threats in the region while the United States, though supporting them economically and through weapon trade, would withdraw most troops from the region. This plan resulted in the Abraham Accords peace agreements. This was also the goal of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and attempt to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal though it produced different results than expected. 

As a result of this withdrawal process, Israel has become the eyes and ears of the United States militarily, economically, geopolitically, technologically, and culturally. Israel is one of America’s largest trade and security partners and is the only country in the region that shares similar democratic values. 

If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons and use them on Israel, there would be a new balance of power in the Middle East that is not in favor of the West and far less stable. This has been shown in an easing of tensions between Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iran alongside an increase of attacks against Israel from the terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, both of which are funded by Iran. 

This story in particular raises major questions about the current tenor of the relationship between Israel and the U.S. If Israel feels the need to act independently of the United States, it potentially means the U.S. has lost a sense of legitimacy in the eyes of a significant ally. And if The New York Times report is true and a U.S. senior intelligence official leaked this information to the press, that constitutes a significant breach of trust, which could further harm relations.

An unstable Middle East is of no benefit to America. Maintaining positive relations with our allies in the region and aggressively pursuing America’s interests alongside those partners is critical.