Intelligence Brief: Volatile Politics in Iran and Israel and Regional Instability

Iran and Israel are in the throes of domestic political changes brought on by elections, but these changes are potentially more significant than just different results at the ballot box. Each of the changes has the potential to be more volatile domestically, potentially challenging the domestic order. This, in turn, could affect the regional security order, despite current attempts by both the United States and Iran to provide some greater degree of stability and predictability to aspects of the security order through negotiations to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Those negotiations continue in Vienna, and the outcome of the June 18 Iranian elections are not expected to have a direct impact on those talks, although broader upheavals in Iran could affect Tehran’s negotiating positions.

Israeli Elections

In Israel, the fourth set of elections in two years failed to deliver a clear majority to any group of parties. The March election results mirrored previous ones, and parties have been jockeying to come up with governing coalitions, with the issue largely being one of whether long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will remain in power. This past week, it appears that an unprecedented coalition, formally including Arab parties for the first time, was formed that could see Netanyahu turned out from power. The coming week will see if they can hold the coalition together long enough for a positive vote. While change of leadership should not challenge the foundations of a democracy, there are indications that supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu may act to disrupt a handover of power. The head of Israel’s domestic security service publicly warned of actions similar to those that took place in the United States on January 6. Even if the new coalition succeeds in formally taking power, the stability of Israel’s domestic politics, weakened recently by clashes between Arab-Israeli citizens and Jewish-Israeli citizens, is more uncertain than it ever has been.

Iranian Elections

In Iran, the mechanisms in place to keep election outcomes within bounds acceptable to the senior-most clerics have begun to show cracks. The Guardian Council, a twelve-cleric panel who vet all candidates for elections, recently reduced Presidential candidates to seven. Their selection eliminated the more moderate (in Iranian political terms) candidates, almost assuring victory for Ibrahim Ra’isi, the head of the judiciary. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the reduced list last month. Then on Friday, he said that some of those struck off the list had been wronged and that the Council had to restore their honor. The Guardian Council, in a highly unusual move in facing down the Supreme Leader, refused to change their decision. This may be an indication of the ongoing weakening of the current Supreme Leader, who is both old and not in the best of health and is likely to step down at some point soon. It may be that members of the Guardian Council are registering objection to the Supreme Leader’s attempt to smooth the way for his son to succeed him.

Regardless of whether the United States and Iran re-enter into compliance with the nuclear accord, Tehran and Tel Aviv are going to remain at loggerheads on a range of security issues. In addition, Washington is going to continue to press Iran on security areas outside of the narrow nuclear arena, and Tehran is going to push back. Both Israel and Iran have governments consisting of volatile coalitions (formal or informal). Governments under siege domestically – in Iran and Israel – increase chances for overreaction and risk-taking to shore up domestic support, boding ill for regional stability.

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