Monday, April 15, 2024

Iran and Israel and what comes next

 It was like a scene from a dystopian movie when I turned on the television. Bright lights lit the night as missiles streaked toward Israel. Other lights, interceptors, streaked to meet them. The attack lasted for hours. In fact, I have seen this scene played out in numerous technothrillers and prophetic books and movies, but the end result of the real life missile attack last weekend could not have been any more surprising or unbelievable than the fictional versions.

On Saturday, Iran launched a massive missile and drone attack on Israel. The attack reportedly contained at least 170 drones, 30, cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles. Most of these attackers were shot down or crashed in uninhabited areas. There were no deaths, few injuries, and little property damage.

Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting rockets in 2012 (By Emanuel Yellin , עמנואל ילין - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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It was a disaster averted with the help of the US and several other nations, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Arab states. That’s extremely remarkable. Arab countries are defending Israel.

In fact, there has been a thaw among Israel and its Arab neighbors over the past few years. That development goes a long way toward explaining the whole Gaza war.

Shortly before he left office, the Trump Administration announced the Abraham Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morrocco. The Biden Administration was following up these deals with negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia last fall when Hamas attacked on October 7.

A great many of my Trumpist friends say that the war in Gaza was started simply because Iran and Hamas were not afraid of Joe Biden. I’d say the reality is more complicated. Although we as Americans often think the world revolves around us, the truth is that there are a great many other factors directing world events than who is in the Oval Office.

The fact that peace was breaking out all over the Middle East was a much greater motive for Iran to prod Hamas to stir up trouble. Iran’s radical Muslim government is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and the Iranians could not sit idly by while moderate Muslims made peace. In a prophetic moment, Foreign Policy magazine published an article about the Saudi diplomacy on August 30 of last year titled, “Peace With Israel Means War With Iran.” With that context, it seems clear that the war is about Iran’s desire to sabotage the peace deals with Israel.

The irony is that Iran’s actions may end up having the opposite effect. There are reports that the US had advance warning about the attack. I agree with Steve Berman that if the US had advance warning, it almost certainly means that Israel did too. If (and I stress the “if”) the reports are true, it may have given the US time to assemble the defensive coalition. Israel itself may have had a hand in crafting the red lines for Iranian retaliation.

Israel had to know this was coming. On April 1, Israel bombed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing several high-ranking Iranian military officials. Iran vowed revenge for the attack. The timing of the Iranian attack on Israel is clearly related to the Damascus bombing rather than Biden’s inauguration.

There have been questions about the legality of Israel’s strike since the target was a diplomatic building, but international law experts quoted in the New York Times no less, say that the diplomatic protections did not apply because Israel was a third country. In other words, Syria was bound to protect the Iranian consulate in Damascus and Israel would have been required to protect an Iranian consulate in Israel, but Israel did not have to honor the diplomatic status of the Iranian consulate in Syria… beyond other international laws that involve bombing other countries, but that’s a fact of life in the Middle East. Still, Iran likely views the strike as an attack on Iranian soil.

So, it’s fair to say that Israel provoked Iran, but it’s also fair to say that Iran provoked Israel by ordering its proxies to attack Israel. This is called “escalation.”

Regardless of whether Iran was provoked, the massive attempted bombardment of Israel was out of proportion to the Israeli attack. In terms of scale, it was similar to an automated version of a World War II mass raid on Germany or Japan… or a Russian missile bombardment of Ukraine.

And that’s not a specious comparison. Iran and Russia are allies and Iran has become a major provider of drones and missiles to Putin’s forces. Iran’s attack copied Russia’s strategy of attempting to overwhelm defenses with large swarms of flying bombs.

As a sidebar, it’s interesting to note that many prophecy scholars believe that the Bible predicted a latter-day Russo-Iranian alliance against Israel. That’s where the descriptions of attacks in prophetic novels came in. I’m not saying this attack is a fulfillment of that prophecy, but the current pairing is interesting.

The big question is what the next step will be. The attack reminds me of nothing so much as Iran’s missile attack on Al Asad airbase in Iraq on January 8, 2020. I thought we were going to war that night.

The 2020 attack, like the one last weekend, was retaliatory. In 2020, the Trump Administration had just killed Qasem Soleimani and Iran had again vowed revenge. Again like last weekend, no one was killed although there were numerous injuries and heavy damage to the base.

I’ve seen a lot of Trump supporters say over the weekend that if only Trump were president, the attack on Israel would have never happened and/or would be swiftly avenged. Well, Donald Trump was president when Iran attacked this American base and his response was to threaten a massive attack on Iran, but he ultimately did nothing.

There was a second attack on Al Asad by Iran-backed militants in January 2024 and numerous attacks by drones on American forces across the Middle East, including one in Syria that left three Americans dead. President Biden responded to these attacks by ordering American strikes on Iran-linked forces in Yemen and Syria.

There is some encouragement in that. If history is an accurate guide, Iran may now view the matter as settled with a tit-for-tat strike. On the other hand, if Israel launches a massive strike on Iran, the Islamic Republic may feel compelled to respond once again.

Or maybe Iran isn’t done yet at all. The meaning of Iran’s elite Quds Force is “Jerusalem Force.” Iran’s goal is to destroy Israel and its population. There is little reason to believe that Iran won’t molest Israel in the future, only that they may not launch another overt strike.

Honestly, I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision on how to respond. The powers that be have better information than I do, but their information is still incomplete. Any decision is going to be based partly on guesses and instinct, but if, as people like Michael Bolton recommend, Israel uses overwhelming force to respond, I’m pretty sure Iran will once again respond in kind. Escalation.

The only way to prevent Iran from attacking Israel again is to totally destroy Iran (or at least topple the government, and who knows where that would lead). It’s the problem of Hamas in Gaza on a much larger scale.

My best recommendation is that Israel respond strongly but quietly. Maybe sudden fires will break out at drone and missile factories as they have in Russia. Maybe explosive plants will have an unfortunate accident. Maybe Iranian military leaders will perish in auto accidents or fall out of windows.

Saving face is a powerful motive in the Arab world. If Israel can allow Iran to save some face publicly while privately reaping the whirlwind, that may be the best outcome. If (and I stress the “if” again) such a strategy is even possible.

And speaking of face, Iran may also have lost face when it is considered that the massive attack was a massive fail. I have seen suggestions that Iran didn’t mean to inflict casualties and used obsolete weapons in the attack. I haven’t been able to confirm or disprove this, but I’m skeptical. For one thing, the Shahed drones used in the attack are cheap but have only been around since 2021. Israel says that the primary target of the attack was an F-35 fighter base that received minor damage. I think Iran was out for blood.

It isn’t impossible that sending 300 missiles against Israel was purely performative or meant to test Israel’s response, but it still involves a significant risk. Israel could have responded immediately, possibly with nuclear weapons. Such a strategy by Iran would be akin to robbing a liquor store with an unloaded gun. The robber would run the risk of being shot by the owner whose gun is not unloaded.

It seems more likely to me that Iran intended to inflict a lot of pain and failed. Even if the weapons used were old, Iran probably hoped to overwhelm air defenses and slip a few past the goalies. If that assumption is correct, the attack was a complete failure that still invites a reprisal. After a string of missile and drone attacks with very little to show in the way of dead Israelis and Americans or destroyed targets, Iran is left with at least some egg on its face. To some degree, the country has shown itself to be both aggressive and incompetent, at least in terms of besting Western technology.

The situation in the Middle East is tense and fraught with peril. It’s easy for the backbenchers in Congress and pundits to call for retaliation, but the diplomatic and military leaders of both the US and Israel have to consider the possible consequences of their actions. Neither country wants to escalate into a full-scale war with Iran.

I’m not going to come down firmly on the Biden Administration’s actions until I get more information, but I think it would be wrong, even dishonest, to say that Biden sold out Israel when American forces just helped the country defend itself against a massive Iranian missile attack.

Iran is a tough nut to crack, but the best option may be the long-term strategy of isolating Iran’s radical leaders. If Israel can wind down the war in Gaza and get the peace process with its Arab neighbors back on track, that may be better than any wave of airstrikes.

Arab nations fear a powerful and militant Iran dominating the Persian Gulf. The current conflict may allow the US to further drive a wedge between Iran and the Arab states, but it requires both the US and Israel to keep cool and not act rashly.

As with many things in life, we won’t know whether the decisions made in the coming days are the right ones until long after they are made. One certain thing, however, is that Republicans in Congress need to get the foreign aid bill to Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine moving again. Delaying defense money for these allies only benefits Iran, Russia, and China.

From the Racket News

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