An anti-Israel rally in Tehran, Nov. 24.

America Needs a Middle East Strategy

Nearly two months into Israel’s ground campaign, all eyes are on the Gaza Strip. Yet divisions over Gaza point to a disconnect between U.S. policy and strategic reality. The Middle East is headed toward a major war, for which the U.S. needs a strategy well beyond Gaza.

Since late November, the Biden administration’s approach to the Gaza war has been to issue generic statements of discontent for domestic audiences absent policy action. Washington and Jerusalem disagree on their visions of postwar Gaza. The administration sees the Palestinian Authority as the most viable partner for governance there. Israel can’t accept this, given the authority’s corruption, incompetence and unpopularity in Gaza and the West Bank. A Palestinian Authority-governed Gaza would relapse into Hamas-style radicalism, if not direct Hamas rule.

Oct. 7 was the first step in a new phase of Iran’s campaign against Israel and America. Iran is a revolutionary regime akin to Napoleonic France or the Soviet Union. Tehran’s goal since 1979 has been to export the Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East. Israel’s military power and the U.S.-Israel relationship are the main impediments, as they are the only two actors that can seriously damage Iran.

Tehran’s strategy, shaped by now-dead Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, is a broad campaign of state capture. In Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Iran has sponsored proxies with the goal of co-opting the security services and building an alliance called the Axis of Resistance. Axis members have diverse goals but are united in their hatred of Israel and the U.S.

The axis can’t defeat Israel conventionally. It has to grind Israel down in a war of attrition, imposing overwhelming political, economic and societal costs. Winning requires disrupting the U.S.-Israel alliance, since as long as Washington backs Jerusalem’s survival, Israel will be too strong to undermine.

Iran’s actions since Oct. 7 have accelerated its attrition war. Israel’s mobilization and deployment of armored assets to the north deterred immediate Iranian intervention. Yet Iran has deployed and now maintains some 100,000 Iraqi fighters in Syria. It has mobilized Hezbollah and placed the Syrian Arab Army’s most cooperative elements on a war footing. Whatever happens in Gaza, this threat remains.

Hamas’s role in the plan is clear. Its control of Gaza was a useful pressure point against Israel, raising the potential for encirclement. But the real prize is the West Bank, home to three million Palestinians and bordering Jordan’s two million Palestinians. The desiccated Palestinian Authority has lost control of many urban areas in the West Bank. During November’s hostage-prisoner swap, Hamas organized parades throughout the West Bank, including in the authority’s Ramallah stronghold.

Read the rest at WSJ.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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