The United States is pursuing a backward Middle East strategy, one in which it seeks to avoid conflict by restraining its allies, rather than deterring its adversaries. (Note, for example, Mr. Biden lecturing Mr. Netanyahu about avoiding civilian casualties while Hamas seeks to increase innocent Palestinians’ suffering as a spur to international protests). The issue is, the White House’s baseline strategic assumption, that Israeli aggression has prompted a crisis, is radically out of touch with reality. All policy stems from choice, but the U.S. must recognize that its options have narrowed. The war that is now underway must be fought and won.
Since Hamas’ 7 October attacks, Israel, the U.S., and Iran have been engaged in a bizarre diplomatic dance. There is no question that Iran’s hand supported Hamas’ massacres. Tehran has been Hamas’s major benefactor since 2018 and integrated Hamas into its Axis of Resistance in 2021. Hamas receives military and technical support from Iran – Iranian weapons and intelligence were undoubtedly used in the 7 October attacks.
All of Iran’s proxies in its Axis of Resistance share two interests: the destruction of Israel and the displacement of American power in the Middle East. Hamas is no different. The 1998 Hamas charter, still in effect despite former Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal’s obfuscations, states the only solution to the Palestinian issue is “Jihad.” That means Israel’s destruction.
The Iran and Hamas pieces fit together cleanly. Hamas staged the 7 October massacres at Iran’s behest to drag Israel into a brutal conflict in Gaza. As the IDF smashed into Hamas’ well-prepared defenses, Iran would then trigger an uprising in the West Bank – which it has seeded for months with its agents running arms – and execute an assault from Lebanon and Syria. This assault might well involve a ground invasion of the Golan, an eminently possible step considering that Iran controls Syria’s 4th Division and 5th Corps and can leverage at least 50,000 proxy fighters in Iraq who are willing to sacrifice themselves for al-Aqsa’s liberation. All the while, Hezbollah’s missiles can pummel Israeli infrastructure, destroying the economy, inflicting thousands of casualties, and, per Iran’s vision, shattering the morale of the Jewish state before its 80th birthday. A mass exodus of Jews to Europe and the U.S. will leave only a handful remaining, who can be dispensed with through the means on display 7 October.
The Biden administration may well know this, just as it must grasp that Iran is responsible for some two dozen-plus recent attacks across the Middle East against U.S. bases. Why, then, does the administration insist that Iran has “nothing to do” with any of these designs?
The answer lies in the Biden administration’s fear of escalation. In no circumstances has the Biden team, and the Obama team the preceded it, been willing to use force decisively to accomplish American policy objectives, or to allow U.S. allies to do the same. From a half-hearted, belated engagement in the Syrian War under Obama to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the priority of escalation management in Ukraine, the Biden team has conditioned itself to believe that conflict-avoidance is the end state of strategy.
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Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.