Middle East Update - What Next?

News Image By Jonathan Tobin/ April 16, 2024
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In the view of the Biden administration, restraint, like virtue, is its own reward. Having helped Israel fend off an unprecedented Iranian missile and drone attack on Saturday night, President Joe Biden reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he should consider the successful interdiction of almost every one of the projectiles hurled at the Jewish state to be enough of a victory to satisfy his country and made it clear that Israel should refrain from ordering a retaliatory strike on the Islamist regime. Those calls were echoed by America's European allies and others in the region.

Much like the world's reaction to the atrocities perpetrated by Iran's terrorist proxy Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7, the international community firmly believes that the best thing for Israel to do is exercise restraint.

There are reasonable arguments to be made for Israel to think carefully about the kind of response to Iran's decision to escalate the ongoing conflict between the two countries. But the notion that Israeli security is best served by doing nothing or as little as possible--always Washington's advice whenever Israel is attacked--is not as reasonable as both Biden's apologists and Netanyahu's critics seem to think.

More importantly, the assumption that needs to be rethought is that the most serious issue facing Israel and the United States in the Middle East right now is the danger of escalating the conflict with Iran. The relief felt by Israelis and those who care about the Jewish state the day after the Iranian attacks should not obscure the real problem behind this incident, as well as the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza. 

It's not that Israel has been too aggressive in seeking to force Iran to scale back its support for its terrorist allies and auxiliaries. It's that years of Biden administration appeasement of Iran have led that rogue regime to believe that it can act with relative impunity. Requiring Israel to stand down merely grants an unearned and dangerous victory to Tehran.

Perceiving American weakness

Biden's weakness and the clear evidence of the growing distance between Israel and the United States encouraged Iran and its allies to believe that attacks on the Jewish state--whether Hamas's cross-border attacks on Oct. 7 or the weekend missile launches--would not merely be tolerated but also further expose Washington's fecklessness.

Biden's attempt to revive former President Barack Obama's misguided diplomatic efforts to effect a rapprochement with Iran has, like the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal, enriched and empowered Iran. They also convinced many in the region that Tehran is the "strong horse," rather than the alliance of Israel, the United States and Arab states like Saudi Arabia. 

Having gone a long way towards achieving its long-term goal of regional hegemony by exercising decisive influence, if not control, over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon along with its Hamas client in Gaza, Iran has engaged in a pattern of consistently aggressive behavior. That has not only strengthened its hold on these countries but also helped it deal with a restive population at home that longs to overthrow the abusive and corrupt theocratic regime.

There is a kernel of truth in the spin that some who want to downplay the Iranian attacks on Israel have been putting out since they failed to do any real damage or cause massive Israeli casualties. It's not true that Iran hoped that they would fail. Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and as such, aims to intimidate and kill its opponents--be they Israelis, Jews, Americans, Europeans or Arabs.

But it is true that the regime's Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon--with a massive arsenal of missiles and rockets pointed at Israel--pose a far greater threat to the Jewish state than anything that could be launched from Iranian soil. The sheer volume of Hezbollah's weaponry would overwhelm Israel's air defense, causing grievous casualties and damage.

Iran's decision not to give the orders to their Lebanese henchmen to open fire on Israel--both after Oct. 7 and now--is not a sign of goodwill or an attempt to de-escalate the conflict. Rather, it is more evidence that Tehran's leaders regard Hezbollah as their last recourse of defense against an Israeli or American attack on their country or nuclear facilities. Their reasoning is if such an arsenal is used against Israel now, then they won't be able to employ it if and when the survival of their tyrannical regime is at stake.

It's also not true that Jerusalem escalated the conflict with its recent successful attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus that supposedly precipitated Tehran's firing of all those missiles. Iran has been attacking Israel continuously by one means or another for years, especially since its intervention in the Syrian civil war to save the Bashar Assad regime that was enabled by Obama backing down on his "red line" threat to the barbarous leader.

And since Oct. 7, Iran's Hezbollah terrorists have been firing at northern Israel, rendering communities on the border uninhabitable and adding to the number of Jews who have been made refugees in their own country since the war with Hamas began. That is a problem that was created by Biden's insistence on appeasing Iran--and by forcing the Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid to cede some of its natural-gas fields in the Mediterranean to Lebanon. Washington has also been seeking to prevent Israel from doing much to alleviate the threat from the north so as to avoid annoying Tehran.

Don't expect sympathy

But even if there are strong reasons for Israel to avoid another exchange with the Islamic Republic while still fighting Hamas in Gaza, there are two widely prevalent misconceptions about this subject that need to be unwrapped.

The first is the belief that Israel gains diplomatically when it doesn't strike back at its foes after it has been attacked.

Many on the Israeli left and elsewhere are now claiming that the current priority is to take advantage of the sympathy Israel is getting from being the intended victim of the Iranian attack. They believe that striking back will cost the Jewish state vital political support it would otherwise receive in the coming months from Americans and Europeans, who have been reminded about the dangerous neighborhood that surrounds it. By placidly standing down and closing this chapter, it will, we are told, earn Biden's gratitude and regain some of the international goodwill it has lost because of the war against Hamas and the ensuing hardships caused to Palestinians in Gaza.

It is a mistake to think that Israel gains anything by allowing itself to play the victim or the role of the pliant American client state. To the contrary, any perception of Israeli weakness or a belief on the part of its foes that it can be held in check by American advice or threats is merely an invitation to up the ante and increase attacks, whether by terrorist forces or other means. The sight of dead Israelis and Jews inflames antisemitism rather than marginalizes it.

Israelis are grateful for the help that they received from the United States and other nations in defeating the Iranian attacks. However, the foreign assistance it got was not an act of philanthropy. Successful Iranian strikes on Israel endanger the entire region and make it even harder to achieve Biden's goal of engaging with Tehran.

Nor should anyone believe that Iranian attacks will increase sympathy for Israel in its war in Gaza. If the Hamas Oct. 7 massacre--the worst mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust--did nothing to make Israel more loved around the world, then Iranian missile strikes weren't going to change anyone's opinion. In the aftermath of those unspeakable acts, the media and anti-Israel activists were already condemning the Jewish state even before it began its counteroffensive against the terrorists. 

International opinion may mourn dead Jews, whether in the Holocaust or today, but it doesn't have much sympathy for live ones, especially when they are armed and can defend themselves. While other wars, such as Iran's in Syria, were ignored or tolerated, Israeli efforts at self-defense are always called disproportionate or wrong no matter how justified.

Israel won't gain a single friend for not sending a strong message to Iran that the price of harming Jews will be more than it wants to pay. On the flip side, the spectacle of Israel meekly obeying American orders and holding its fire will only encourage Tehran to continue provoking the Israelis and undermining the strategic interests of the West in the region.

Biden's political interests

Equally obvious is that American calls for restraint have far more to do with Biden's political interests than U.S. security.

The president is convinced that the main obstacle to his re-election this year stems from anger in the left wing of the Democratic Party about his initial support for Israel after Oct. 7. He believes that intersectional activists, as well as Arab-American or Muslim voters, will abandon him if he doesn't prevent Israel from completing the job of destroying Hamas. 

That's a mistake since his problems stem from the widespread perception of his weakness and failed economic policies that led to inflation and the opening of the southern border that encouraged a massive wave of illegal immigration.

As a result, the administration is determined to end the war against Hamas, even if it means a genocidal terrorist group allied with Iran is allowed to get away with mass murder. And those who agree with the false premise that Israel is at fault in the war or the big lie that it is committing genocide won't like its leadership more if it doesn't punish Iran. Biden's eagerness to appease Iran is only matched by his desperate efforts to bend the knee to the extremists in his own party. That's why he wants no further military action.

An American president who was serious about deterring an enemy and halting global terrorism wouldn't be counseling restraint. He would be actively seeking to aid Israeli efforts to combat Iran and its allies, including supporting the eradication of Hamas. Biden should be ramping up sanctions on Tehran to force its economy to its knees, rather than continuing to try to seduce it with bribes, like the $10 billion in frozen funds it recently freed up for them.

Instead, Biden is--as he has done since taking office--continuing to send mixed messages that have only encouraged Iranian adventurism in the region. Israel should do what it needs to do in its own way and at a time of its choosing to make Iran back down. But the more we hear talk of American pressure for Jerusalem to exercise restraint, the more certain it is that the long-term result will only be more bloodshed and Iranian-backed terror.

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