Iran is behind the latest escalation of violence against Israel. The increased accuracy and the sheer number of rockets fired into Israel reveal Iran’s hand. All actions the Islamic Republic and its proxies are taking are in direct violation of existing United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) put in place to curb Iran’s lethal capabilities. Once again, Iran is cheating out in the open with impunity, and once again Iran is attacking a U.S. ally while the international community condemns Israel’s response.
Iran gave the nod and Iran’s proxies seized on a dispute as the ignitor for violence to attack a U.S. ally—an ally the Biden White House is distancing itself from in its actions and in its courtship of the Islamic Republic.
The Biden administration allowed Tehran to use proxy attacks against the U.S. mission in Iraq and against Saudi Arabia as leverage in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks, and Iran saw weakness from Washington. Iran viewed Washington’s carve out of its missile capabilities and regional behavior from nuclear talks in Vienna as a green light to use Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to attack Israel under the pretense of a Palestinian issue.
Iran Deal supporters will argue that the JCPOA was not meant to address regional behavior or ballistic missiles, and yet Iran is using malignant regional behavior and missiles as leverage to get the U.S. to completely cave in Vienna.
Iran sees weakness in Vienna, and it will continue to fracture the region until it sees its actions have consequences. To date, there are no consequences for the regime in Tehran. Iran is not being pressured to make any concessions on sunsets, ballistic missiles, and regional behavior ahead of a U.S. reentry to the JCPOA.
Iran increased the lethality and accuracy of its rocket arsenal under the protections of the JCPOA. The technology acquired to make Iran’s missiles and rockets more precise took place within the JCPOA and under the supposed constraints of existing UNSCRs put in place to stop the regime from advancing its lethal offensive capabilities and aid to proxies.
What didn’t exist in 2007 exists now. Iran’s land-bridge is operational, advanced, and in use in the attacks against Israel. Its missile and rocket components and the weapons themselves are making their way to Iran’s proxies across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and into the hands of Hamas and the PIJ. Iran’s Iraqi militias stand ready to move across this land bridge and join the fight against Israel. Iran now has the sustained capability to move weapons and fighters to further destabilize the Levant and threaten Israel.
The players and their goals
Hamas and PIJ military positions are purposely placed in civilian locations to ensure increased collateral damage. They need civilian casualties and are sacrificing Palestinians for their own cause. The goal of Hamas is to control the media narrative and limit its own casualties while maximizing Palestinian casualties. Collateral damage is the bait for moral outrage from those who believe they can condemn Israel’s actions without mentioning the designated terror groups responsible for the attacks and the civilian deaths on both sides.
The goal of Iran is to rachet up pressure everywhere to get the Biden White House to cave on everything in Vienna. Let’s remember, Iran will fight to the last Arab.
The goal of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is to perpetuate the illusion that they matter.
The goal of Israel is to defend its people and win by denying Hamas and the PIJ the victory these terrorist organizations covet: international condemnation of Israel and anti-Israel sentiment. The only way Israel can win is to resist Washington’s insistence that it lose. Israel is “trying to degrade Hamas’s terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it’ll take some time. I hope it won’t take long, but it’s not immediate.” This from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The goal of the U.S. is to act like it has one, though this administration does not. The moral equivalency argument is the favorite tool of the pro-JCPOA diplomat in the U.S. The Biden administration cannot answer simple questions like this from Israeli PM Netanyahu: “they’re sending thousands of rockets on our cities with the specific purpose of murdering our civilians from these places. What would you do? If it happened to Washington or to New York? You know damn well what you would do.”
Keep the Wild Card on the sidelines
Lebanese Hezbollah is watching what Israel is doing to Hamas with bated breath. Hezbollah is not ready for this fight because it believes Iran is not ready for this fight. Hassan Nasrallah knows Iran is using the crisis to enhance its negotiating position in Vienna. That could all change if the Biden administration lifts sanctions and gives Iran access to the U.S. dollar. Iran would then be able to increase the flow of much needed currency to Iran’s premiere proxy in the region.
Hezbollah has the most advanced precision guided missiles of all of Iran’s proxies. Iran’s strategy is to overwhelm and exhaust Israel’s Iron Dome capabilities through Hamas and PIJ rocket attacks and then have Hezbollah use precision-guided rockets to hit key military and infrastructure sites in Israel. So far, Hezbollah is sitting this one out. The U.S. can keep Hezbollah on the bench by not empowering Iran.
The only way for the U.S. to win here is to support Israel by holding Iran responsible for the escalation, walking away from Iran talks in Vienna, and imposing more sanctions on Iran, Russia, China, and on any other country doing business with Iran. The U.S. has crippling economic leverage with this regime. The regime is on life support and now is not the time to give it an economic lifeline. Lifting that pressure at this point in time will fuel and empower Iran and its proxies to get all they can, starting now. On the other hand, walking away will demonstrate to Tehran that there are consequences for its actions.
Michael Pregent is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is a senior Middle East analyst, a former adjunct lecturer for the College of International Security Affairs, and a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.