Containment in the Middle East
Potomac, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2019, 216 pages
Book Review published on: January 17, 2020
Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, it considers the United States and Israel its sworn enemies. Iran’s foreign policy reflects its hatred of the United States and Israel, and the foreign policy also reflects Iran’s desire to spread its revolutionary and religious ideology throughout the Middle East in an attempt to become the dominant power there. Ehud Eilam, a national security affairs analyst and formerly of the Israel Ministry of Defense, chronicles and analyzes the various forms of containment strategies of the United States and partner nations to contain Iran in the Middle East.
Eilam informs us that Iran’s threat in the region goes well beyond Israel. The strategic rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is intensifying because both are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance. Saudi Arabia is spending $5 billion to $6 billion a month combating the Iranian-sponsored Houthis front in Yemen. Iran also poses a potential threat to Jordan. Jordan’s frustrated populace regarding economic issues and perceived corruption could destabilize Jordan, which could encourage Iran to increase its influence in the Hashemite Kingdom. The United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have all provided assistance to Jordan and have cooperated in containing Iran so it will not subvert Jordan.
One of the larger challenges for Israel and the Gulf States includes Iran’s use of proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran runs proxy wars in Arab countries and territories where there are borders with Iran’s enemies to spread its influence in the region. Iran reportedly provides $800 million a year to Hezbollah in terms of training, money, and weapons. Iran seeks to control the extent to which Hezbollah confronts Israel to avoid provoking a major response. This would change if Israel decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Eilam informs readers that Hezbollah has its own agenda to increase its own power and influence and secure Shia and Iranian influence in the Arab world. Israel realizes its goal to drastically reduce Hezbollah has built an extensive arsenal in Lebanon to deter Israel from military action. This arsenal of rockets and missiles would require a war in Lebanon that could be costly to Israel. Israel continues to contain Hezbollah’s military buildup by conducting strikes in Syria designed to destroy weapon deliveries to Hezbollah. Eilam uses a January 2016 confrontation between Russia and Jordan-Israeli aircraft for potential of escalation in the region. Israel is working with Russia to de-conflict Syrian airspace to prevent possible collisions.
Eilam’s research indicates there are growing signs of cooperation between Arab Gulf states and Israel in an effort to contain Iran and its proxies. Most Arab states do not recognize Israel but they do support the 2002 Arab peace initiative to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Saudi Arabia ended its military assistance to the Lebanese military in early 2016 following the cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese military. Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with Egypt in 2015 to boost economic and military ties between the two countries as part of a larger Arab alliance to contain Iran. This has led to joint Saudi–Egyptian military exercises and talks of a united Arab force in the future.
The strength of Containment in the Middle East lies with Eilam’s ability to present multiple diverse issues and conflicting agendas facing the Middle East. He presents the complexity of each while offering potential solutions. Containment in the Middle East serves as a warning that the Middle East is fraught with conflict that could quickly spin out of control. Containment in the Middle East may be the most comprehensive study of the Middle East and attempts by the United States, Israel, and Arab Gulf nations to contain Iran. It is a must read for policy makers and those with an interest in the Middle East. It would make a great addition to Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas