Start Deterring Iran Now

Feb. 14 2018

The Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace over the weekend was reportedly designed in imitation of an American unmanned aircraft captured by Iran in 2011; at the time, the U.S neglected to destroy it, which could have prevented its reverse engineering. To Richard Goldberg, such failures to deter Tehran—this was only one of many during Barack Obama’s presidency—have helped create the current situation where Iran’s forces are stationed across the Middle East and in a position, for instance, to menace Israel. He urges Washington to reverse course:

Now is the time for President Trump to re-establish robust military deterrence toward Iranian expansionism in close collaboration with regional allies. His administration declared [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity in October, and he should target key Guard bases and weapons in Syria accordingly. Such an approach could help prevent a larger-scale conflict.

Iran’s leaders tend to avoid direct military confrontation against a superior military power. . . . Furthermore, the mullahs know that if they direct more money into extraterritorial operations, their economic and political situation at home will deteriorate. The Iranian people are already chanting, “Let go of Syria, think about us.” Raising the cost for Iran in Syria would exacerbate internal tensions.

Trump will certainly need to prepare for a range of potential responses from Iran, particularly via proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. But these proxy threats aren’t new—and the benefits far outweigh potential costs. First, Tehran’s strategic calculus would start to change, curtailing risk-taking in the region, enhancing security for U.S. allies over the long run and potentially changing regime behavior in other illicit activities. Second, a U.S. military deterrent would close the so-called “land bridge” that gives Iran an uninterrupted line of influence to the Mediterranean. And that deterrent would undergird Trump’s threats to exit the nuclear deal, which could dramatically increase the likelihood that attempts to fix the deal succeed while significantly reducing the risks of an Iranian escalation should he decide to nix it.

Finally, the United States would reclaim diplomatic leverage over Russia in Syria. If Vladimir Putin wants to maintain a long-term presence and to profit off the country’s reconstruction, he’ll have to clear Iranian forces out of Syria or America and its allies will do it for him.

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More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East