War Between Israel and Iran Is Inevitable

Israel faces a strategic choice with regard to Iran—war now or war later. The political conditions for war now are poor. The strategic conditions later will only grow worse.

Iran’s goal is to destroy Israel as a uniquely Jewish state through a strategy of attrition. The mullahs hope to bind Israel in a series of conflicts and pressure it from multiple angles while using diplomacy and media manipulation to prolong the conflict. Tehran understands the potency of Israel’s military, which has adapted well to difficult urban and subterranean combat conditions in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces field formidable air, artillery and armored units that, if unleashed in the north, would threaten the existence of Hezbollah, Iran’s most capable proxy. The Iranian deterrence strategy couples pressure on the U.S. with the threat of large-scale rocket and missile attacks against critical Israeli infrastructure.

Hamas is the most apparent element of Iran’s strategy. Iran wants the terrorist organization not only to maintain control of Gaza but to catapult itself into control of the Palestinian movement. The best way to do that is to compel the Israelis to accept a cosmetically appealing “peace agreement” involving the Arab states that allows Hamas to integrate into the Palestinian Authority and co-opt its necrotic rival, Fatah. The West Bank could then become another axis of pressure on Israel.

The only way for Israel to prevent this is through a de facto occupation of Gaza. Israel must demonstrate to Gazans that whatever the formal governing authority in the territory, the IDF won’t allow Hamas or a similar terrorist organization to return. As in all totalitarian regimes, Hamas has created overwhelming incentives for cooperation, and killed all possible opposition. Only by demonstrating staying power can the IDF break this cycle and encourage an alternative political structure.

Iran understands this and has activated a network of global Islamist sympathizers to ramp up public pressure on Israel. The goal is to get Western politicians to back a cease-fire that will achieve Iranian objectives. By slowing the conflict down and splitting Israel from the U.S. and its allies, Iran aims to make Israel an international pariah. In the mullahs’ wildest dreams, migration would hollow out Israel, setting the stage for its conversion from a Jewish State into an Arab Islamic one.

Since the mid-2000s, Israel’s Iran policy has been one of deferred confrontation. Israel built the Iron Dome air-defense system to destroy low-tech rocket and mortar salvos from the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon, mitigating the need for ground operations in all but the worst circumstances. Throughout the 2010s, Israel executed a persistent air campaign in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to interdict Iranian supply lines. Israel also conducted cyberattacks, sabotage efforts and assassinations in Iran to hamper Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Nothing worked to eliminate the threat, but the strategy bought time and established a balance of forces that discouraged aggressive action. This balance was upended on Oct. 7. The only way to reset it is by eliminating one of Iran’s threats. The obvious candidate is Hezbollah.

Read the rest at WSJ.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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