OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Iran didn’t hear, ‘Don’t’

The attack was a blow to both Israeli and American deterrence, despite the fact that the weakness of Iran’s military was revealed.

A large wall mural near Kibbutz Galuyot in Tel Aviv, depicting  U.S. President Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel. April 15, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
A large wall mural near Kibbutz Galuyot in Tel Aviv, depicting U.S. President Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel. April 15, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

The words you are looking for are, “Thank you, Mr. President.”

I have not hesitated to criticize many of U.S. President Joe Biden’s policies before and after Oct. 7, but I have also consistently maintained that he has been the most pro-Israel president ever during any of Israel’s wars. That should have been obvious this past weekend when the United States coordinated a regional air defense that helped Israel avoid suffering any serious harm from a barrage of more than 300 Iranian drones and missiles. It was the first time U.S. forces took an active role in fighting to defend the Jewish state. Rather than gratitude, Biden-haters aren’t convinced. Some have concocted a QAnon-like conspiracy theory that the United States and Iran cooked up a plan to ensure that no Israelis would be hurt, thereby giving Jerusalem no justification for retaliation that would ensnare Washington in a war that would interfere with the president’s appeasement of Iran or re-election.

Admittedly, there were some peculiarities about the attack. Reuters said that Iran warned Turkey, Jordan and Iraq 72 hours in advance of its plan. Turkey said it informed the United States, which the Biden administration denied. Nevertheless, the president announced that an attack was imminent before it occurred. The countries in the region even closed their airspace to make sure there were no accidents. This gives the impression of a plan orchestrated by everyone except Israel.

Defending against the attack also seemed too easy. The videos looked like an arcade game where slow-moving targets were shot down. The only thing missing was the kapow sound effects.

Still, how could the United States count on all the targets being shot down? Iron Dome isn’t foolproof. Could the Saudis, Jordanians and NATO allies be trusted to defend Israel? If only one rocket had hit a significant target or caused more than a handful of injuries (one Arab girl was seriously wounded by shrapnel; The New York Times essentially blamed Israel for not building shelters for Bedouins), Israel would have had no choice but to retaliate. As it is, it’s hard to imagine how Israel can feel it can deter its enemies if it does not respond.

Also, if America was going to conspire with Iran, wouldn’t it have made more sense to persuade the Iranians to respond proportionally by, say, attacking an Israeli diplomatic mission, ideally in the middle of the night when no one was there? Iran would have still looked tough, and Israel wouldn’t have felt the need to retaliate on Iranian soil.

Another oddity is that no one attacked the launchers. When Hamas or Hezbollah launch a rocket, Israel immediately strikes the source. During the Iraq War, the United States took out Scud launchers. Wouldn’t that have been accepted as a reasonable response, or was everyone sure that the first volley would be the only one? That’s what the Iranians said, but could they be trusted?

Afterwards, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “take the win.” That also sounds nutty at first blush. After all, what would Biden do if China, Russia or North Korea launched ballistic missiles at the United States? If we successfully intercepted them, would he be satisfied with the “win.” Would the American public consider it a victory if millions had spent hours terrified in non-existent bomb shelters? Would they be content or demand retaliation? Of course, Washington would have to consider the risk of its response escalating to a nuclear war, whereas Jerusalem does not have that concern.

Which brings up Iran’s nuclear program. What if one of those Iranian missiles—built to deliver a nuclear weapon—had been carrying one? Thanks to the failures of the last three presidents, Iran is on the cusp of having the capability. After this weekend, does anyone believe that Biden would use military force to stop Iran from getting the bomb? If Iran’s nuclear capability is not taken out, Israel and the rest of the region will have their own North Korea to deal with, which will make them all vulnerable and stimulate a nuclear arms race among the Arab states.

Iran’s attack was a severe blow to both Israeli and American deterrence. Israel failed to deter Hamas, Hezbollah and now Iran. How harsh will retaliation have to be to restore it? Wouldn’t this be the ideal time, as John Bolton has been telling everyone, for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? And while they’re at it, why not also take out their oil terminal?

As grateful as we should be for Biden’s defense of Israel and the success of the defensive operations, Americans should be concerned about how emboldened our other enemies must feel after seeing the Iranians ignore Biden’s pitiful warning of “don’t.” The weakness of Iran’s military was revealed in the attack, making our timidity even more unconscionable.

If Israel does react with more than a U.S.-style pinprick, it would likely erase the benefits of its “win”: a return of world sympathy (which will only last until the next report on famine in Gaza); a rapprochement in relations between Biden and Netanyahu; a U.N. Security Council discussion focused away from Israel; a fast-tracking of aid to Israel; and a momentary diversion from Gaza. The “win” also came at a high cost, creating widespread fear among the Israeli population, reinforcing the image that Israel is a dangerous place to visit just as airlines had begun to resume flights and requiring a significant expenditure of military assets that will need to be replenished.

The State Department’s Palestinian focus was once again proven wrong as Israel’s peace partners came together to mount a joint defense. Granted, they acted out of self-interest and their fears of Iran; nevertheless, they could have left the responsibility to the United States. When America’s security concerns were on the line, we also saw who stood with us (Jordan and Saudi Arabia) and who did not (Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait). The administration refused to recognize that Qatar is an enabler of Iran and a malevolent actor on its own.

The Iranian attack laid bare the hypocrisy of Israel’s critics, as if they needed further exposure. There are no calls for boycotting Iran or protests against its aggression on college campuses. The Islamophobia lobby is silent about an attack that threatened the third holiest site in Islam and millions of Muslim civilians (one of whom was hit and is fighting for her life). The protests that have occurred, as in Michigan, where Biden hopes he can appease the antisemites to win the state, featured Iranian-like chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

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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