Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 14 April 2024


Iran’s Ominous Attack on Israel



Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been the puppet masters of Middle East mayhem, the better to avoid direct culpability. Israel’s strike on April 1 against IRGC generals in Syria, in response to Iran’s proxy attacks against Israel, was apparently more than the mullahs could tolerate. The weekend attack is truth in advertising at last, and it is an ominous sign that Iran is willing to take new escalatory risks.

It should also be clarifying to Western leaders about Iran’s malevolent intentions. Thousands of American citizens live in Israel and could have been casualties. Iran’s bombardment wasn’t discriminate or limited to military targets, unlike Israel’s precision strike that killed the IRGC generals.

The fact that most of the drones and missiles were intercepted is a relief, but it isn’t reassuring against future swarm attacks. Israeli air defenses were a spectacular success, aided by assets from the U.S., U.K., Jordan, and perhaps others. But what happens if the next attack comes all at once from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria as well as Iran?

This is another case of failed U.S. deterrence. President Biden had warned Iran not to attack after U.S. intelligence detected signs of preparation in Tehran. “Don’t,” Mr. Biden said. But like Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, Iran went ahead anyway, no doubt confident that Mr. Biden wouldn’t respond militarily. And sure enough, the word Sunday is that his main message in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday was not to strike back.

White House theories of escalation management don’t work against a regime that thinks a U.S. President fears escalation more than Iran does. U.S. restraint since the Oct. 7 massacre has encouraged Tehran to see how much more it can get away with.

The attack on Israel also underscores the failure of Mr. Biden’s Iran policy. He tried to mollify the mullahs by easing sanctions, freeing tens of billions in frozen funds, and trying to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran spied weakness and has mobilized its proxy forces against Israel, U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq, and commercial ships in the Red Sea. The U.S. has responded with pinprick bombing raids, and now Iran is escalating again.

Imagine how Iran would behave if it acquires nuclear weapons. At a minimum a nuclear-armed Tehran would be less restrained in its proxy wars and terrorism. It is also a messianic regime bent on spreading Shiite revolution. Such a regime might be all too willing to risk Armageddon to destroy the Jewish state.

“Take the win,” Mr. Biden reportedly told Mr. Netanyahu. But is it a win if Iran can directly attack Israel without consequences? Israel shouldn’t have to wait in a defensive crouch until Iran decides to attack again. Israel is justified in attacking Iran’s assets, including military targets in Iran.

Israel is no doubt considering whether to destroy as much of Iran’s nuclear capability as possible and delay a nuclear breakout. But the risks for Israel are considerable without U.S. support, especially without bunker-buster bombs to hit underground sites where enriched uranium is stored. This means Iran again controls when and how to escalate.


The attack should at least cause Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats to end their cold war with Israel over Gaza and recognize that this is really a war against Iran. The vocal Democratic threats against Israel likely gave Iran more confidence it could strike without consequences. Appeasing the left by threatening to cut off arms to Israel is a betrayal and will invite more Iranian escalation.

This is an opportunity for Donald Trump too. His response on Saturday night was to say our country is weak and this wouldn’t have happened if he were President. But it did happen, and Mr. Trump would inherit the mess if he wins in November. He should drop his own ambivalence toward Israel and declare his undivided support.

Leaders in both parties should also start telling the truth to Americans about the new world of global threats. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are all on the march and working together. That won’t magically change if Mr. Trump wins. The U.S. needs an urgent program of rearmament to restore deterrence. Saturday’s attack won’t be the last against our allies or the U.S. homeland.


In his final appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on March 20, 2024, Navy Admiral John Aquilino repeatedly referenced the need to 'speed up' the U.S. defense effort in the Indo-Pacific, with China's military expanding on a 'scale not seen since WWII,' and growing cooperation between China, Russia and Iran setting up a new 'axis of evil.' Images: AP/Zuma Press

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Appeared in the April 15, 2024, print edition as 'Iran’s Ominous Attack on Israel'.

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