One of the great and enduring mysteries of American foreign policy is the ongoing, bipartisan tolerance for Iranian efforts to kill Americans by the hundreds. Iran has been waging an undeclared war against the United States since the Hostage Crisis of 1979–1981. Its hostile acts against the United States are almost too numerous to list, but the lowlights include the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, the Khobar Towers bombing, a successful Quds Force plot to kidnap and kill American soldiers in Iraq, and the hundreds of American deaths and injuries due to Iranian-designed and -supplied explosively formed penetrators, the most deadly form of IED in Iraq.
Yet time and again the American response has been muted at best and downright meek at worst, as in the case of the Obama administration’s dreadful Iran deal, when the world’s most powerful nation went hat-in-hand to the jihadist enemy that was killing its soldiers and actually empowered that enemy’s violent expansionism.
Iran has surged its forces throughout the Middle East. Iranian-backed militias threaten American allies in Iraq. Hezbollah, the Iranian Quds Force, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have helped preserve the Assad regime and tip the balance in the Syrian civil war. Yemen is a killing field. And now, capitalizing on battlefield gains in Syria, Iran has worked to threaten Israel directly, building a military infrastructure that allows its forces to strike immediately across the border.
America should not fear Iran. For too long, we’ve allowed a paper tiger to kill our citizens. Israel has no such patience. We can learn from its example.
But Israel is not the United States. It has far less patience with threats to the lives of its citizens, and the Trump administration’s support allows it greater freedom of action to meet such threats vigorously.
Witness what happened last night: Iran attacked Israel, and Israel responded with devastating force. Utilizing its military assets close to the Israeli border, Iranian forces launched 20 rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. The Israelis claimed that the attacks were ineffective; the rockets either were intercepted or fell short of the border. Rather than respond tit-for-tat, the Israelis escalated, launching comprehensive attacks against Iranian positions in Syria. In the words of Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “If there is rain on our side, there will be a flood on their side.”
This latest exchange of fire comes on the heels of an escalating “shadow war” in Syria, where Israelis have launched a series of strikes designed to slow down the Iranian military build-up. Israel is keenly aware of the Iranian threat and keenly aware of its own vulnerability. Under no circumstances should the world’s only Jewish state find itself in South Korea’s predicament, vulnerable to a ruinous conventional assault from entities that don’t grant or acknowledge its right to exist.
In its article on the strikes, the New York Times included this incredible paragraph:
The response — which Israeli officials claimed struck a severe blow to Iran’s military capacity in the area — came amid drastically ramped up tensions in the Middle East after President Trump’s move this week to pull the United States from a multinational nuclear deal with Tehran. Israel had railed against the agreement, and Mr. Trump had campaigned on the promise of withdrawing from it, but European countries and many analysts had seen it as a crucial element holding Iran and Israel, implacable foes, from all-out conflict.
While there is no doubt tensions are escalating, the Iran deal wasn’t preventing conflict with Israel; it was helping bring war right to Israel’s doorstep. In essence, the deal protected Iran from direct strikes on its homeland even as it poured resources into its Syrian military infrastructure. For Iran, the deal was a shield and a sword, granting a degree of immunity at home while empowering the Iranian military abroad.
America should learn lessons from Israel. It needs to shed its inexplicable fear of direct confrontation and signal that ongoing Iranian efforts to kill American troops and support American enemies are intolerable. It needs to signal clearly that it won’t cede one inch of ground to Iranian-allied forces in Syria. And, as I wrote yesterday, it needs to make clear that any new effort to “race” toward a nuclear bomb will be met with a decisive American response.
Thanks to the Trump administration and the Israeli government, the Iranian regime is more vulnerable now than it’s been in years. Many of its military assets in Syria are a smoking ruin. It has lost the diplomatic shield that allowed it to press its battlefield advantage in Syria and even Iraq. For the first time in more than a decade, Iran is clearly on the defensive, and, as Eli Lake observed in a piece earlier today, “If history is any guide, the Iranian regime won’t push too far if its leaders believe Trump’s threats are credible.”
Conversely, Lake pointed out, “When the Iranian regime feels secure, it gets more aggressive.” The Iranians have felt secure for far too long. Thanks to the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts and Israel’s military strikes, this dynamic is changing. Now is the time to press the advantage. America should not fear Iran. For too long, we’ve allowed a paper tiger to kill our citizens. Israel has no such patience. We can learn from its example.