For many younger Americans, it may be hard to believe that Israel and Iran haven’t always been at each other’s throats. Parallel strategic interests in the Middle East helped the two countries put their ideological differences aside for more than 30 years.
Ties were closest in the 1970s when Israel sold Iran about $500 million a year in weapons, even teaming up to build a $1 billion program to develop a surface-to-surface missile, according to the U.S. Institute for Peace’s Iran Primer
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Relations got a big chill in 1979 when revolutionary forces overthrew Iran’s government and severed all ties with Israel, and the hostility was cemented in 1982 with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Iran nurtured the Shiite Hezbollah movement in that bordering country and eventually funded the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, which has attacked Israel from inside its borders since the 1980s.
The relationship was complicated during the Iran-Iraq War by Israel secretly selling arms to Iran.
There have been signs of thawing relations over the past 20 years, although no public olive branch has been extended.
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Since 2010, the primary flashpoint between Iran and Israel is Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, which threatens Israel’s very existence and the balance of power in the entire region.
In a February 2014 blog post for The Guardian,
George Washington University visiting scholar Navid Hassibi argued that in spite of bitter rhetoric out of Tehran and Tel Aviv, it increasingly makes strategic and geopolitical sense for the two countries to set aside their differences.
Still, the fact remains that the countries have had no publicly acknowledged deals in more than 30 years. Israel is deeply distrustful of Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran prophesizes that the state of Israel will disappear. Given those realities, the best hope for diplomatic healing is a change in regime, something that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.
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