Confrontation with Iran: Who Won?

April 15, 2024

By Victor Rosenthal

From the start I wondered why nobody except the clear sighted Victor Rosenthal saw the Iranian attack as the huge victory it was. In one single and cheap blow it destroyed much of Israel's defensive capacity. The Iranians launched their slow and cumbersome drones first, giving Israel a three hour advance warnig to prepare. Only much later did they follow with their much faster missiles and rockets to arrive simultaneously with the drones. Had they intended to do damage on the ground, they would have sent their fast surprise weapons first. [FAB]

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The West likes its Jews passive, dependent, and weak. When American officials say “Israel has a right to defend [herself]” they mean that they will allow her, and even assist her, to ward off the blows of her enemies. But their “rock solid support” does not extend to Israel taking offensive actions. Israel is allowed passive defense, but not to take the war to our enemies. And don’t even think about preemption.

Insofar as Israel obeys her Western “allies,” she is placed at a great disadvantage for several reasons. The most obvious one is that an entirely passive defense does not deter enemies from attacking over and over again. Why shouldn’t they? They have nothing to lose. The opposite: they will learn valuable lessons from their failures, which they can apply to the next round. And everyone is encouraged to keep trying for the honor of being the one who finally broke the Jewish state.

Then there is the relative high cost of defensive weapons. Each Arrow 3 missile like the ones used to intercept missiles fired at Israel on Saturday night, costs $3.5 million. Each Tamir interceptor used by the Iron Dome system to destroy the cheap Qassams of Hamas, the Katyushas of Hezbollah, and the drones of Iran, costs $50,000 (and two are usually fired at every enemy weapon). Each Iron Dome battery < costs $50 million. The cost of using F-35s to shoot down drones is also high relative to the cost of the drones. Passive defense is expensive.

A purely passive defense strategy is so expensive, in fact, that no small country can afford to sustain it for a long period of time (and passivity guarantees that it will be needed forever). As a result, there is no alternative but to turn to one of the great powers as a sponsor. The price is loss of control and ultimately of sovereignty. It is already clear from the way American officials talk about Israel (e.g., President Biden is often described as “furious” with Israel), that Israel is seen as a satellite at best and a satrapy at worst.

Finally there is the message that is inherent in passivity. Shooting at Jews, because there are no consequences for it, becomes normalized_._ The Jews, people think, must deserve being shot at because, after all, everyone is doing it with impunity. This is particularly important in the Middle East, where honor is a paramount element in most cultures. Individuals, tribes, or nations that are hurt by an enemy must strike back or suffer a loss of honor, a mark that invites others to victimize them as well. Even in Western cultures – well, at least in the recent past – children were taught that failure to strike back at a bully invites more bullying.

An active defense, on the other hand, creates deterrence and restores lost honor. Nobody will attack Israel if they know that retaliation will be swift and disproportionate. If they are hurt badly enough, they will think twice about attacking again – if they have even retained the ability to do so. There is also an economic advantage: offensive weapons, like drones, rockets, missiles, and artillery, are far cheaper and simpler than technological marvels like Arrow and Iron Dome.

Israel has come a long way down the road to losing her sovereignty to the US as a result of her increasing dependence on military aid, in part to finance astronomically expensive systems of passive defense, and in part because she chooses to adopt other super-sophisticated weapons systems that are “free” even when they may not be optimal for her needs (e.g., the F-35). She has developed a culture at the top of her military hierarchy which is as loyal to the American military-industrial complex as it is to the State of Israel. The American government has, for its part, extended its influence deeper into all the affairs of our state, and in particular her management of her wars.

After the horrific atrocities of 7 October 2023, Israeli leaders had no choice but to adopt the strategic objective of removing Hamas from power and destroying its military capabilities. The US opposed this from the start, forced Israel to delay her ground invasion, and now – for several months – has prevented her from entering the last Hamas stronghold, Rafiah. The US has pushed for an extended (in effect, permanent) ceasefire, and has tried to turn Gaza over to the corrupt, terrorist, Palestinian Authority, a step which would nullify the gains made by the IDF at great cost.

After Iran attacked Israel with hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday night, President Biden called for Israel to treat its success at intercepting most of them as “a win,” and not retaliate. The media in Israel are trumpeting the success of our air defense array, which – with some significant help from the US, the UK, and Jordan – managed to down 99 % of the weapons before they could land in Israel. This is a remarkable technological achievement, but it was an expensive operation, estimated to cost 5 billion shekels, or more than $1.3 billion.

Israel has not yet retaliated, and it is clear that the price demanded for accurate American intelligence about the impending attack and assistance in defending against it was that any retaliation will be at best symbolic – and certainly not include an attack on the Iranian nuclear project.

But the 99 % figure is not as “phenomenal” (Israeli media love this word) as it looks nor is it likely to be repeated. Respected Israeli analyst Yigal Carmon wrote that the whole operation was choreographed by Iran with the cooperation of the US in order to allow the Islamic Republic to come down from the tree of needing to retaliate for Israel’s recent assassination of an Iranian general:

Iran wanted to retrieve its deterrence after the killing in Damascus of Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who, by Iran’s own testimony, was the mastermind of the October 7 attack. … [The US] coordinated with the Iranians so that civilians would not be struck. Arab media are already reporting this coordination. Iran made it easy for the U.S., Israel, Britain, and Jordan to know what it would and would not do, and where it would do it. Israel was not part of this coordination. …

The Americans played Israel and they are continuing to do so by preventing an Israeli reaction. In fact, they began the pressure on Israel not to react even before the attack took place. CENTCOM’s commander General Michael Kurilla went to Israel on April 13 and pressed for prior coordination with the U.S. of any action by Israel. Now President Biden said it himself: You were not hurt, they failed. Do not do anything. Do not escalate because you will be dragging us into a war. We protected you and no one was hurt. The answer will be diplomatic.

What did the various parties gain and lose from this exercise? Iran’s top priority today is to avoid triggering a serious confrontation that might result in damage to her nuclear weapons program, which is on the verge of completion. However (unlike Israeli leaders), the Iranians understand the psychological importance of at least appearing to get revenge when they have been injured, and this massive attack achieved that end. At the same time, the coordination with the Americans insured that Israel will not strike back, and therefore will lose points in the calculus of honor that is so important in the region. Israel also lost an opportunity, perhaps her last, to take action against the Iranian nuclear project before it becomes operational.

The Americans gain exposure for their defensive weapons systems, establish themselves as the protector of their allies, and increase their influence over Israel and her dependence upon them. Israel will have to replenish her supply of American weapons and ammunition, and the military aid is an important subsidy for the US defense industry. The Biden administration also maintains its (still inexplicable to me) policy of protecting and even encouraging Iran’s drive to become the nuclear hegemon of the region.

Carmon also notes – and this is a critical point for Israeli planners – that the 99 % success rate in interceptions is not likely to be repeated in the event of a real surprise attack by Iran.

Israel can’t continue on the path of subservience to the US, because American objectives in the region are inconsistent with the continued existence of a Jewish state. She must reduce her dependence, develop her own defense industries, approach other great powers (e.g., China), and become a “nonaligned” nation rather than a satellite of one side or the other. In the short term, she must enter Rafiah, crush Hamas, repel Hezbollah, and keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

May Hashem give our leadership the sense to see this and the strength to act.

Source: Abu Yehuda

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