OpinionIsrael at War

Did Hamas succeed too well?

The extent of the terror group’s slaughter threatens Iran’s nuclear weapons program and Iran itself.

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 17, 2023. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 17, 2023. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Lawrence Solomon
Lawrence Solomon
Lawrence Solomon is a financial writer, a former contributor to The Wall Street Journal, a former oped editor of Toronto’s Financial Post and the author of seven books.

If Iran’s goal in unleashing Hamas on Israel was scuttling the looming Saudi-Israeli peace deal, as is widely believed, it may have succeeded too well, raising the specter of an immediate backlash so severe as to threaten its grander, long-term plans for regional dominance and Israel’s total annihilation.

If Iran expected Hamas to score an Israeli 9/11, to slaughter more Jews in a single day than at any time since the Holocaust, it would have war-gamed the fallout. It should have known that after a 9/11, it would no longer be business as usual. Iran would have anticipated the all-out Israeli invasion of Gaza now likely to take place. Iran would also have reasoned that, if it kept Hezbollah on the sidelines while Hamas was dismantled, Israel would later be able to destroy Hezbollah at far lower cost than otherwise. And Israel might then take Iran on next.

Iran can’t yet risk losing Hamas and Hezbollah because they remain vitally important as deterrents. Over the last 15 years, as Iran pursued its all-consuming dream of acquiring the nuclear weapons that would give it hegemony over the Middle East, establish it as the supreme Islamic power and provide the wherewithal to incinerate the State of Israel in a mushroom cloud, it knew it needed deterrence against an Israeli attack.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein didn’t acquire a deterrent that would neutralize Israel. As a result, in 1981 Israel destroyed its nuclear reactor at Osirak. Syria under Bashar al-Assad also failed to acquire a deterrent. In 2007, Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor at Deir ez-Zor.

To avoid the fate that befell Hussein’s and Assad’s nuclear reactors, Iran’s mullahs obtained deterrence by creating terror states on Israel’s borders: Gaza under Hamas in the south and Lebanon under Hezbollah in the north. The cost of those deterrents—billions of dollars in the form of arms and cash—paid for some 200,000 missiles now aimed at Israel’s population centers.

Iran’s investment, by all indications, paid off.

Deterred by the prospect of being overwhelmed by a torrent of missiles that its air defenses couldn’t repel, Israel did not take out Iran’s nuclear reactor as it had Iraq’s and Syria’s. Although Israel was able to slow down Tehran’s development of nuclear technologies through the assassinations of its nuclear scientists and sabotage of various kinds, Iran is now two weeks away, according to a U.S. Defense Department report, from having the capacity to make a nuclear bomb. It would then need only a delivery method to become a bona fide nuclear power.

Iran’s long-sought prize of becoming that nuclear power is now at risk. Because Hamas’s pogrom shocked Israel into taking decisive action instead of its business-as-usual approach of restoring calm by “mowing the grass,” and because a similarly shocked United States is now threatening Hezbollah and Iran with two aircraft carrier strike groups, Iran’s ability to control events is compromised.

If Iran unleashes Hezbollah against Israel, the U.S. might make good on its threat, particularly since a successful dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program could catapult President Joe Biden to reelection next year. Or Israel might opportunistically capitalize on the forces arrayed against Iran’s proxies to attack Iran itself.

Alternatively, if Iran restrains Hezbollah, it could lose its deterrents should Hamas and then Hezbollah fall to Israel like dominoes.

Iran knows that the ultimate deterrent is nuclear weaponry. After Libya dismantled its nuclear program, the West waged war on it with impunity. North Korea, in contrast, became immunized against attack once it obtained nuclear weapons.

Iran likely never expected, and didn’t want, to damage Israel so severely that it would upend the rules of the game. If Iran did indeed miscalculate, it’s in uncharted territory, and so is everyone else.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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