Step Up Pressure on Iran’s Proxies

Iran’s April 13 attack on Israel marked the death of a longstanding regional paradigm: deterrence. The Biden administration—and Israel—must shift from a policy framework that deters Iranian escalation to one that imposes costs on Iran’s actions and puts pressure on its proxy network.

Although Iran’s bombardment did little damage, with Israeli, American, British and various Arab air defenses intercepting all but a handful of weapons, it was strategically consequential. Iran has fought a shadow war against Israel, the U.S. and the Gulf states for decades, sponsoring proxy groups, directly organizing operations to kill Americans and Israelis, and attacking Arab states directly, if deniably, with missiles and drones.

Iran had never before directly attacked Israeli territory with weapons launched from its own soil. The April 13 bombardment therefore breached an escalatory firebreak in Tehran’s shadow war. Israel responded within days, launching a narrow strike the night of April 18 against the area around the central Iranian city of Isfahan, host to nuclear facilities and an air base. The Israelis, despite several close calls in the 2010s, had never before struck Iranian territory, instead pursuing cyberattacks and intelligence operations on Iranian soil.

Iran’s actions demonstrate the failure of American deterrence. On April 12, President Biden warned Tehran against a direct attack. His administration has displayed aversion to behavior it deems escalatory, imposing red lines in Europe over Ukraine, pursuing a cosmetic détente with China in Asia, and refusing to name Iran as behind any of the violence in the Middle East, while threatening to condition aid to Israel. This gave Tehran good reason to flout Mr. Biden’s admonition and to portray its bombardment as a response to Israel’s April 1 attack on an annex of Tehran’s Damascus embassy, which killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers.

Read the rest at WSJ.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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