Drivers pass a billboard in Palestine Square that depicts Iranian missiles and a threatening message to Israel in Tehran, Feb. 19

The U.S. and Israel Play into Iran’s Hands

As Israel pushes deeper into Gaza and prepares for war with Hezbollah in the north, Iran’s campaign against the Jewish state and the U.S. is approaching an inflection point. Jerusalem and Washington need a new strategy that recognizes Tehran as their true enemy, whose proxies function like an empire. Instead of telegraphed American airstrikes or the Israeli Octopus Doctrine of punishing Iranian proxies, both nations must work to collapse Iranian power in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel’s greatest failure since Oct. 7 is political. Much of the world considers the massacre another round of Israeli-Palestinian violence, not an Iran-orchestrated attack. Since 2021 Hamas has been a full-fledged member of what Tehran calls its “axis of resistance,” a proxy network that spans the Levant, Lebanon and Yemen. Each proxy has a distinct character, but all are united in their hatred of Israel and the U.S. From 2021 on, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah have reportedly planned and coordinated operations jointly from a nerve center in Beirut with direct Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps supervision.

America has insisted on a fictitious distinction between Tehran and its proxies. But the threat this pseudo-empire poses to the U.S.—as well as countries across Europe and Asia—is real.

Iran’s goal is regional dominance, by which it plans to export the Islamic revolution throughout the Mideast. An Iran with proxies across the Levant, and in time the Arabian Peninsula, would be a bona fide great power capable of competing with Europe, Russia, China and India for Eurasian influence. It would be able to challenge America directly in military, diplomatic and economic terms. Eurasia has never been able to secure itself absent a stable Middle Eastern order. Even ignoring its oil flows, the Mideast is the nexus point between Europe and Asia and therefore the linchpin of the Eurasian economic power on which the U.S. depends and a key transit route for U.S. military forces.

Yet rather than consider the Israeli struggle as a key to greater geopolitical stability, Washington treats it as merely another Gaza war. Attacks by Iran-backed militants in the Red Sea and on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria are considered aftershocks of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This plays into Tehran’s hands.

Iran’s difficulty is that it can neither win a conventional war against the U.S. nor physically conquer Israel so long as America remains in the region. Tehran therefore seeks other means to force the U.S. out of the Mideast, leaving Israel and Jordan exposed in a manner consistent with the Soviet concept of “reflective control.” Rather than straightforwardly coercing an opponent with military force, the idea is to trick an adversary into doing something against its interest.

Tehran wants to convince the U.S. that simply to abandon the Middle East on the grounds that it’s too much trouble to maintain its position and defend its allies. In particular, Tehran needs the U.S. to abandon the al-Tanf complex, a series of Levantine bases that provide a buffer between Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The complex dominates the most natural Iranian logistics route from Baghdad to Damascus, while shielding Jordan from direct Iranian pressure through Iraq. U.S. access to other Iraqi bases cuts secondary Baghdad-Damascus logistics routes. Under the pretext of rage over the war in Gaza, Iranian proxies are executing missile and drone attacks against these bases.

Read the rest at WSJ.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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