Only a Comprehensive Strategy of Pushback and Deterrence Can Curb Iran’s Ambitions

Jan. 18 2018

Over the past decade, the Islamic Republic has gained steadily in strength and influence, to the point where it now controls Lebanon and exerts considerable influence over Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. To reverse this trend, argues Michael Eisenstadt, the U.S., while avoiding war, must confront Iran economically, militarily, and politically. He lays out a plan for doing so, some elements of which are as follows:

Washington should abandon its default commitment to regional stability. Rather, it should seek stability when that serves U.S. interests, and exploit instability when playing the role of spoiler may harm its adversaries. In doing so, the United States will be turning the tables on adversaries like Iran and Russia that have often used this same tactic against it. Washington should likewise counter Tehran’s proxy strategy with a U.S. proxy strategy. . . . Wherever possible, Washington should tie down Iranian and proxy forces in low-level, open-ended conflicts that could limit their ability to engage in troublemaking elsewhere. This includes quietly encouraging domestic unrest in Iran to divert resources that might otherwise be spent on capabilities to engage in troublemaking abroad. . . .

Iraq is the geopolitical fulcrum of efforts to disrupt Iran’s so-called land bridge to the Levant; as long as Iraq remains contested terrain, Iran’s ability to project power into the Levant will be subject to a degree of uncertainty. The key for Washington is to remain engaged. Here, the United States will find willing partners. Most mainstream Iraqi politicians—such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi—want the United States to remain in Iraq so that Iran does not become the uncontested foreign power there. . . .

The overwhelming imperative for the United States in the Levant is to prevent another Hizballah-Israel war. Yet U.S. policy in recent years may have made such a war more likely. . . . [To make the best of the situation], the United States should make clear that it will do the following: provide Israel the diplomatic and military cover needed to wage war successfully [against Hizballah and the Iranian presence in Syria]—even in the face of Russian opposition; augment Israel’s rocket and missile defenses with U.S. sea- and land-based systems; provide Israel with penetrator and other munitions required to deal with hardened underground bunkers and weapons factories; and provide Israel with the intelligence needed to interdict Shiite militias heading to the front from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Finally, the United States should make clear that it will agree to end [a war between Israel and Hizballah] only when conditions for an enduring ceasefire have been met, and it should quietly warn Hizballah and the Assad regime that the damage inflicted by a war with Israel could reignite civil wars in Lebanon and Syria.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iraq, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Hamas’s Deadly Escalation at the Gaza Border

Oct. 16 2018

Hamas’s weekly demonstration at the fence separating Gaza from Israel turned bloody last Friday, as operatives used explosives to blow a hole in the barrier and attempted to pass through. The IDF opened fire, killing three and scaring away the rest. Yoni Ben Menachem notes that the demonstrators’ tactics have been growing more aggressive and violent in recent weeks, and the violence is no longer limited to Fridays but is occurring around the clock:

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been an increase in the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires with smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel. . . .

[S]ix months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing [Israel’s blockade of the Strip]. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. [Its] ultimate goal has not changed: the complete removal of the embargo; until this is achieved, the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip. . . . The precedent of the 2011 deal in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners has strengthened the feeling within Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive. . . . Hamas also believes that the campaign is strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive. . . .

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “Return March” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security