To Thwart Iran, Fight a War of Attrition

The tensions between Jerusalem and Washington demonstrate that neither understands the situation. Israel needs to learn to fight an attrition war against a much larger adversary, Iran. The U.S. must accept the strategic requirements of its regional partner, despite the politically driven drivel offered by President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and a Congress that refuses to act. Failure to grasp the conflict’s fundamentals will lead to bad policy and, ultimately, calamity.

Iran’s objectives are expansive: the elimination of American regional power and the destruction of Israel to clear the path for the Islamic Revolution’s ascendance throughout the Muslim world. Its means, however, are relatively limited. Iran lacks the high-tech weapons to take on the U.S. and Israel directly. The Axis of Resistance—its proxy alliance, spanning the Levant and Yemen—lacks the cohesion or capability to conquer Israel.

Iran’s strategy is long-term attrition. It hopes to keep the U.S. and Israel under continuous military stress through Hamas pressure in Gaza and Houthi attacks on international shipping. Iran patiently accumulates operational advantages by building up forces in Syria and Lebanon, squeezing Jordan, and driving the U.S. from its handful of Levantine bases. A key is the al-Tanf complex in Syria, which constrains Iranian logistics and helps shield Jordan from Iranian pressure and smuggling. By creating interlocking strategic dilemmas, Tehran can make it impossible for Jerusalem or Washington to resolve the confrontation with a brief high-intensity operation akin to the 1967 war or the 2003 Iraq war. Iran hopes to compel Israel and the U.S. to turn on each other, leaving both isolated and vulnerable.

Countering Iran will require tolerating more risk. Yet even American willingness to hit back against Iranian harassment of U.S. bases wouldn’t yield a swift and straightforward result. Iran would counter, leading to an extended conflict. An extended conflict is all but guaranteed at this point. Large-scale airstrikes on Iranian territory would impose some cost on Tehran but wouldn’t destroy its operational capacity. A ground invasion is out of the question for strategic and political reasons. The only remaining option, beyond capitulation, is a long-term campaign that undermines Iranian power projection and destabilizes the Iranian state.

This reality explains the trouble Israeli and American strategists have had in responding to Iranian actions. For the campaign outlined above is unmistakably one of attrition.


Read the rest at WSJ.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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