columnIsrael at War

Israel’s strategic imperative

We need to think about what the Oct. 7 attack represents within the Iranian blueprint for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

A veiled woman holds a photo of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Nov. 4, 2022. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.
A veiled woman holds a photo of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Nov. 4, 2022. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

As of now, it appears that owing either to U.S. insistence or the Israel Defense Forces’ operational preferences, Israel is leaning towards keeping the issue of Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon on the back burner in the hopes of not having to engage Iran’s most powerful proxy force directly. The argument presented on behalf of this approach is that by defeating Hamas completely and reducing Gaza to rubble, Israel will deter Hezbollah from attacking it for the foreseeable future.

While reasonable in theory, this view appears to ignore two key aspects of the strategic equation. First, we need to understand what it means that Hamas and its partners/trainers/suppliers/bosses in Iran and Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon planned this war for two years.

With two years to prepare, we should assume they gamed all possible scenarios and planned for them, including Israel’s current operation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli commentators like to insist that Hamas was doubtlessly taken by surprise by the ferocity of Israel’s response to their one-day Holocaust. But given their meticulous planning, this assertion is highly unlikely.

The second thing we need to consider is the nature of our enemy. Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime do not care about the societies they control. They are jihadists. In their religious war, all Muslims are obligated to participate. Some are destined to be fighters and martyrs. Some are tasked with serving as human shields. Hamas doesn’t care if Gaza is reduced to rubble if its cause of reducing Israel to rubble is advanced.

This brings us to Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s war machine is embedded into Lebanon’s civilian life. Nearly every apartment in Southern Lebanon has a room where missiles are stored and launched against Israel. The same is true of schools, mosques and other civilian structures.

Hezbollah showed its wanton indifference for Lebanon’s well-being on Aug. 4, 2020. That day, a nuclear-level explosion occurred at the Port of Beirut, when 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a Hezbollah-controlled port hangar detonated. The port was destroyed, 218 people were killed, 300,000 Lebanese were rendered homeless, and most of Lebanon’s grain reserves were vaporized along with what little was left of the Lebanese economy. Hezbollah didn’t rebuild anything or pay damages. As usual, it threatened investigators who predictably found nothing.

One of the central questions related to Oct. 7 is: Why didn’t Hezbollah participate? Why did Hamas invade Israel by itself?

One explanation, presented by Islamic expert Professor Mordechai Kedar and military affairs expert Yair Ansbacher, argues that Hamas jumped the gun. The Nova music festival just over the border where thousands of young, beautiful, unarmed Jewish women and unarmed Jewish men were set to party together was too tempting a target for Hamas’s jihadists to pass over.

According to media reports, several of the terrorists killed and captured in Israel on Oct. 7 had military-grade maps detailing a strategic military base far from the border that they were supposed to seize. Had the base fallen, the reporters said, Israel would have faced a strategic calamity of untold proportions.

Both Kedar and Ansbacher argue that it was the terrorists’ bloodlust that held them up. Hamas jihadists were so excited by the killing, raping, burning, abducting and torturing that they gave Israel’s defenders time to organize and fight them back, blocking them from advancing forward. By blocking Hamas’s advance, Israel’s heroic first responders convinced Hezbollah not to invade from the north.

‘Catastrophic damage’

There is a lot to recommend this interpretation of events. All the same, the fact that the invasion was planned for two years speaks against it or, at least, offers another explanation.

In an analysis of Israel’s strategic threat environment and imperatives published at the Claremont Review of Books, author and military analyst Mark Helprin distinguished the threat Hamas poses to Israel from the threat Israel faces from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon and Iran.

Hamas, Helprin explained, is not and has never been an existential threat to Israel. Hezbollah and Iran are existential threats to Israel. Hezbollah’s arsenal of 150,000 rockets and missiles of all ranges and payloads can decimate Israel’s strategic and military infrastructure, as well as its economy. Its short-range missiles are sufficient to enable its battle-hardened, genocidal, well-armed and trained Radwan Brigade to invade the Western Galilee.

As Helprin noted, “Iran has built the threat of Hezbollah not merely in view of its hoped-for final solution [i.e., the annihilation of the Jewish state], but to dissuade Israel from dealing with an incipient Iranian nuclear breakout.”

As to that breakout, on Wednesday, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency issued a scathing report on Iran’s nuclear program. Over the past two-and-a-half months, Iran added 6.7 kilograms to its illicit stockpile of 60% enriched uranium. Iran now has at least 128.3 kilograms of 60% enriched uranium that can be quickly enriched to bomb-grade levels sufficient to build three nuclear bombs.

Moreover, the IAEA is convinced Iran has undeclared nuclear material at four sites. Iran, the IAEA report said, isn’t cooperating with inspectors or investigations of its nuclear operations and does not intend to cooperate in the future. The Iranian regime is barring European nuclear inspectors from its nuclear installations for political reasons.

With or without nuclear weapons, Helprin summarized Iran’s missile capabilities thusly: “Iran’s minimum of 3,000 ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles of at least 26 types include 15 varieties capable of reaching Israel, with warheads from 1,650 to 2,200 pounds. Hardly bashful about utilizing parts of this arsenal to strike, as it has Saudi Arabia and American military bases in the Middle East, Iran will be presumably even less reluctant in regard to Israel, which it views with the same dehumanizing bile as Hitler did the Jews of Europe. Though Israel’s missile defenses can degrade a missile barrage, they cannot prevent catastrophic damage.”

Since Hezbollah is Iran’s shield against Israeli action against Iran’s missile and nuclear installations, Helprin argues reasonably that Israel must attack Hezbollah first.

This brings us back to the rationale for limiting the war to Gaza: If Israel decimates Gaza and annihilates Hamas, then it will deter Hezbollah and other potential foes, including Iran, from attacking.

The weakest front

In recent days, both Hezbollah and Iranian leaders have made statements indicating that they are prepared to hang Hamas out to dry and will not come to its defense. Israeli analysts are interpreting these statements as proof that Israel’s operation in Gaza is indeed deterring them from getting involved.

But we need to think about what the Oct. 7 attack represents within the Iranian blueprint for Israel’s annihilation now two years in the making.

On Oct. 7, Israel was brought to its knees by savages. It took the IDF up to 12 hours to respond in a coherent fashion after being caught unawares by thousands of invaders despite weeks of escalating assaults by Hamas on the border fence. One of the operational goals of the Gaza operation is to wipe out the humiliation of that day and rebuild Israel’s standing as a powerful and competent power in the region. The Abraham Accords, Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and prospects of Saudi-Israeli peace all hang in the balance.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has shown its operational competence and national determination. But it has also shown its utter subservience to the United States, a power widely perceived by the nations of the region as both waning and treacherous to its allies.

For its part, the Biden administration is openly subverting Israel’s campaign by demanding it resupply Hamas through so-called “humanitarian aid,” including fuel that Hamas openly diverts to its forces. The administration is also demanding that Israel end the war in a manner that will exact no price on the Palestinians for their bloodlust.

The administration’s demand that Israel abandon Gaza after the war; permit Hamas’s junior partner the Palestinian Authority to take over on the backs of IDF soldiers; and commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem is a demand that Israel hand Hamas’s supporters and partners a strategic victory for their mass slaughter.

Last Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected this U.S. demand. In response, U.S. officials and former officials began briefing reporters that they seek the replacement of the government with “more moderate” actors. In other words, to secure a Palestinian strategic victory, the United States seeks to overthrow the Israeli government in the midst of war. Opposition leader Yair Lapid’s sudden announcement on Wednesday that he seeks to oust Netanyahu from power immediately indicated that the U.S. statements are part of a bid coordinated with Israel’s political left and disgruntled Likud MKs.

As to Lebanon, Netanyahu and the War Cabinet are reportedly abstaining from ordering a preemptive attack on Hezbollah’s strategic assets due to operational constraints, with the bulk of Israel’s forces concentrated in Gaza, and due to U.S. pressure. President Joe Biden and his top advisers have openly expressed their opposition to any significant IDF effort to degrade the existential threat Hezbollah poses.

The current state of affairs was easily anticipated by anyone watching the Biden administration’s open collusion with opposition forces that have sought to oust Netanyahu from power since the results of the November 2022 elections became known. And they were doubtlessly considered by Israel’s enemies as they gamed the current war in the months before Oct. 7.

Many, including Netanyahu, have argued that the strategic goal of Hamas’s invasion was to undermine the burgeoning peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the full economic and strategic integration of Israel into the region. He and others have argued that the success of that integration is contingent on Israel’s victory in the war. This is true.

But it is also true that Gaza is but one front—and the weakest front—in Iran’s war against Israel. If Israel lays waste to Hamas and Gaza but leaves the principal fronts intact, it will not gain deterrence because it will not have won. To win the war, Israel cannot end the war until it decimates Hezbollah’s strategic capacity to lay waste to the Jewish state through a combined missile assault and a ground invasion. And that, too, must be seen as a stepping stone to defeating Iran, either by enabling the Iranian people to overthrow the regime or by massively degrading Iran’s missile and nuclear capabilities or both.

Helprin’s claim that Gaza is not an existential threat is wrong in one sense: The assault Israel suffered on Oct. 7 was so massive that it placed Israel’s ability to defend itself and survive in question. As a consequence, it is of existential importance for Israel to utterly wipe out Hamas. But to prove beyond any doubt that Israel will survive, it needs to deny Hezbollah and Iran the continued means to annihilate it. Any military outcome short of this will not be considered a victory where it matters—in the minds of Israel’s partners and enemies.

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