As the Ukraine crisis escalates, events in Europe could have a dangerous effect on the Middle East. Regional players are closely watching the drama and adjusting their own plans and risk assessments.
With all eyes on Ukraine, the Iranian regime could exploit the crisis to make aggressive regional moves. Israeli officials fear that Tehran may feel freer to launch attacks or advance its nuclear program, Maariv daily reported.
With the world’s attention fixed elsewhere, the Iran Axis may conclude that it can take action with minimal Western reaction. The Houthis are already targeting the UAE with missiles and drones and could intensify their strikes. Notably, Tehran’s proxies in Yemen also threatened to attack Israel in recent days.
Israeli defense officials estimate that the Houthis may target the Dimona nuclear reactor and Eilat port, The Jerusalem Center reported. The Yemen-based militias could also target Israeli tourists and diplomats in the Emirates, national security expert Omer Dostri warned.
Overall, a war in Ukraine could unsettle the delicate Middle Eastern balance by changing the calculations of key players. Israel, too, could take more aggressive military action with Washington and Moscow preoccupied.
With tensions in Ukraine growing, Russia is likely to dial up the pressure on the West in other theaters. The Middle East is an ideal arena for Moscow given its regional presence and intimate involvement in sensitive issues.
Russia already signaled its intentions with a widely publicized air patrol with Syrian fighter jets near the Israel border on the Golan Heights. Israeli officials suspect that this was a message to America about Moscow’s ability to trigger crises on other fronts.
Israel also fears that the Russians will turn hostile on the nuclear front, making it impossible to pressure Tehran into a deal. Moscow’s position was largely aligned with the West so far, but this will likely change in case of a conflict in Ukraine.
Moreover, the Ukraine crisis serves as the latest test of American strength and resolve. A growing sense of US weakness will further erode its deterrent power, encouraging radical forces in the Middle East to challenge America and its allies.
Washington must sober up and massively boost its military presence in Eastern Europe, veteran strategic expert Dan Schueftan wrote. Otherwise, America will be paying a price in the Middle East, he predicted, stressing that US efforts to appease enemies have been foolish and ineffective.
The perception of US softness and reluctance to use force is a major concern for regional allies such Israel, the Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, a weak response in Ukraine will reinforce America’s declining status and spell more trouble in an already volatile region.