Only a Clear Message to Iran Can Restore Israel’s Deterrence

August 19, 2019 | Benny Morris
About the author: Benny Morris is a visiting professor in Israel studies at Georgetown University and the author of, among other books, 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War (Yale, 2008).

Currently the greatest threat facing the Jewish state is an attack on three fronts, in which Hizballah and other Iranian forces launch tens of thousands of missiles simultaneously from both Lebanon and Syria, while Hamas—now also taking orders from Tehran—does the same from Gaza. Such a barrage would likely overwhelm Israel’s storied missile-defense systems, severely disrupt civilian life and possible result in high casualties, and gravely interfere with the IDF’s ability to counterattack. Noting that the Islamic Republic could unleash this mayhem at the time of its choosing, Benny Morris suggests a straightforward preventative measure. (Free registration required.)

The Israeli government should declare tomorrow, . . . publicly and unequivocally, that if Iran’s proxies forced Israel into an all-out war, for any reason, with a massive rocket barrage, Israel would respond immediately and forcefully against Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Bushehr, Natanz, Qom, and other Iranian population centers and strategic targets.

Iran would know that such a clear and powerful public statement would compel every [subsequent] Israeli government—regardless of who’s prime minister—to act on it, lest Israel be seen as a paper tiger and lose all its deterrent capability. . . . The fear of such a massive Israeli reprisal—hundreds of missiles and bombs on Iran’s cities and strategic assets for weeks—would make Iran’s leaders think very carefully about whether they should dispatch Hizballah and Hamas and their proxies in Syria on any adventures.

So far, Iran has enjoyed immunity from attacks on its soil, with Israeli governments opting to respond to rockets from Lebanon and Gaza with (limited) strikes against targets in Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria. This was a mistake that left Israel under a constant threat in the north and south, and led to a balance of deterrence—a balance that Tehran could nullify whenever it chose. . . . Israel’s ability to strike Iran is much greater than Iran’s ability to strike Israel.

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