OpinionIsrael at War

Khamenei’s war aims

Iran’s ruler intends to establish an empire and exterminate Israelis.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers an address on Oct. 19, 2022. Source: Channel 1 (Iran) via MEMRI.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers an address on Oct. 19, 2022. Source: Channel 1 (Iran) via MEMRI.
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Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

I’m sure you’ve heard commentators describe the Islamic Republic of Iran and Israel as “rivals” engaged in a “tit-for-tat” conflict. That misinterprets reality.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s “supreme leader” since 1989, seeks to establish a new Middle Eastern empire.

Israelis, by contrast, only want to survive as an independent nation within a slice of their ancient Jewish homeland.

They would like nothing better than to enjoy amicable relations with Iranians, as they did prior to Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979.

I should add: Substantial evidence suggests that most Iranians do not hate Israelis. Nor would most Iranians suffer under the jackboot of an antisemitic, misogynist, coercively religious ruling class if they had a choice.

As for the fate Khamenei envisions for Israelis, we saw a preview on Oct. 7.

Genocide is what he indisputably intends.

Apologists for Tehran insist that its proxy, Hamas, gleefully burned babies and raped young women to “resist Israeli occupation.” That would be a despicable claim even if the Israeli government had not withdrawn every last Jew from Gaza in 2005.

Two years after that, Hamas established a dictatorship and began not infrequently launching rockets at Israelis. Israel’s missile defense systems prevented most of those weapons from reaching their intended victims.

Israelis also constructed a high-tech border fence that, they were confident, would keep them secure on the ground.

Most Israelis have now come to realize that “deterrence by denial”—a purely defensive posture—allowed Hamas’ threat to metastasize. They now see the necessity for the imposition of significant costs on aggressors—“deterrence by punishment.”

On April 1, an Israeli air strike killed Mohammad Reza Zahedi, an Iranian general deployed to Damascus to assist Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shi’ite militias in Syria, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. He reportedly was involved in the Oct. 7 attacks.

In retaliation, Iran’s rulers on April 14 launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel—the first time they had ever attacked Israel not using proxies but from Iranian soil.

The attack failed thanks to the air-defense capabilities of Israel, the United States and other countries.

After that, President Biden urged Israelis to “take the win”—to be satisfied with deterrence by denial. But that would have been an invitation to Tehran to try, try again.

So, on April 19, Khamenei’s 85th birthday, Israel hit targets close to a nuclear facility and an airbase in Isfahan, in central Iran. Russian-built S-300 missile defense systems proved ineffective.

The damage was not extensive—it wasn’t intended to be—but the message was loud and clear: You attacked us, and our shield stopped you. Now you have felt the tip of our sword, which you cannot block.

This long war is far from over.

In that regard, recall that soon after entering the White House in 2009, Barack Obama stated plainly, as had previous presidents, Democrats and Republicans, that the United States has “core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.”

He set out to achieve that goal with many carrots and few sticks. “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms,” he said. “It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path.”

What followed, as former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted in an essay last week in The Free Press, was “a relentless spate of Iranian aggressions,” including attacks on U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf, support for Al-Qaeda, and attempts to “assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors (including me)” in Washington, D.C.

Oren added: “Most egregiously, Iran constructed secret underground nuclear facilities and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system.”

President Obama’s response was the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which failed to “make sure” that the jihadist regime would never “possess a nuclear weapon” it could use to threaten “Death to Israel” and “Death to America!”

Instead, the JCPOA provided economic benefits to Iran’s leaders in exchange for their vague promise to make progress more slowly on their nuclear weapons program.

They were not asked to curb their development of missiles and support for terrorists.

Three years later, President Trump withdrew from that deal and imposed sanctions that debilitated Iran’s economy. But when Joe Biden moved into the White House in 2021, he attempted to revive Obama’s deal in an even weaker form.

He has since provided Khamenei with billions in funds that had been frozen, allowed some sanctions to expire and failed to enforce others. He has made no serious effort to block Iranian oil sales.

Nor has he held Khamenei responsible for deploying Shi’ite militias to attack American bases in the Middle East, or for providing weapons and other assistance to Tehran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen, who have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea.

Almost all of Khamenei’s nuclear advances—and there have been many—have occurred during the Biden administration.

Last Friday, the foreign ministers of the G-7 (the United States and six other Western nations) released a statement asserting their “determination that Iran must never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

It’s doubtful that those words on paper prompted Khamenei to reassess his grand ambition to establish a nuclear-armed, anti-American empire in league with the nuclear-armed, anti-American regimes in Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang.

He continues to regard the Jewish state as a cancer to be extirpated.

That’s why what we’re witnessing is no rivalry or game of tit for tat. It’s a battle in a long war, one that will shape the world our children inherit.

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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