An Iranian seaman holding up Iranian and Chinese national flags during a ceremony at Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman during Iran-Russia-China joint naval drills in 2019. Photo: Iranian Army Office / AFP

With Iran’s regime on the ropes, China sees an opportunity, which for Israel translates into a threat.

In recent weeks a series of explosions and fires have spread throughout much of Iran, damaging multiple facilities, including the Natanz nuclear facility and the missile construction center.

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Iran especially hard, coupled with a lackadaisical reaction to it by the government.

Finally, the US and international sanctions against the Islamic republic have resulted in an economic/financial crisis of unprecedented proportions. If it were not for the billions the Obama administration sent Iran (in cash, in airplanes) as a result of the so-called “deal,” Iran would have been totally bankrupt by this time.

Conclusion: Iran is both imploding and exploding. Might this lead to regime change? Quite possibly. Public dissatisfaction with the Islamic authorities is at a high level, and we must not forget that about a year and a half ago the Iranian army attempted a coup d’etat that was put down by the Revolutionary Guard.

Enter China. The Middle Kingdom is in the midst of a multi-pronged, multi-year campaign to spread its influence and power throughout the world, and the desperation of a regime that controls a principal source of oil and gas and is besides strategically located is a Heaven-sent opportunity. The Chinese are not noted for missing opportunities.

It has been reported that China and Iran are on the verge of concluding a 25-year strategic alliance in which, if it happens, China will receive unlimited supplies of energy at discounted prices and Iran will receive massive Chinese infrastructure and industrial investment, effectively rescuing it from its current dilemma.

The result of such an alliance on the US, the Middle East, and Israel is obvious. The heretofore effective economic sanctions of the Trump administration would be to a large measure nullified, and coupled with the significant likelihood of an Obama administration II after January 2021, effectively canceled.

The Middle East and the Gulf States, in particular, would continue to be threatened by Iranian imperialism. The currently waning Iranian effort to establish its hegemony over a northern “Shiite arc,” running through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the Mediterranean, would receive a new lease on life.

And last but not least, Israel’s mortal enemy, the Iranian Islamist regime, would loom large again, just when its influence appeared to be waning. The threat of a revitalized Iran, and thus of a revitalized Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel’s northern and southern borders, cannot be exaggerated. At a time of political uncertainty and coronavirus pandemic, and after Israel has been assiduously cultivating China’s regime, the danger of a new geopolitical configuration of the Middle East as a result of a Chinese-Iranian alliance is clear.

All the more reason for the Israeli political class to finally get its act together. Any bets on the likelihood of that?

Dr Norman Bailey is professor of economic statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute,  and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W Bush administration.

This article was originally published by GLOBES.

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