April 20, 2024

Israel Is Right to Reject Biden’s Bad Advice

What it really takes to win against Iran.

News broke Thursday evening of an Israeli strike inside Iran. In doing so, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the advice President Biden had given him after Iran’s April 13 drone and missile attack on the Jewish State. At the time, Biden told Netanyahu not to escalate. “You got a win,” Biden said to Bibi. “Take the win.”

Israel demurred. And was absolutely right to. Whatever happens next, it is worth reflecting on the idiocy of Biden’s comments.

Not only do Biden’s words capture the mindset responsible for the chaos that has engulfed the world during his presidency. His comments also raise the question of what a “win” against Iran would really look like — and why America has not pursued that goal.

Yes, the technical and operational mastery of the U.S.-led coalition was stunning. America, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, and most significantly Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates intercepted 99 percent of the weapons that Iran launched to kill Jews. Arab pilots shooting down drones aimed at Israel is not something we have seen before. The damage inside Israel was minimal. A severely injured Arab Israeli girl, age seven, was the sole casualty. Ayatollah Khamenei and his goons look monstrous, craven, inept, and isolated. Some of us knew that already.

Preventing loss is not a gain, however. A successful defense is not a win. If you prevent the opposing team from scoring any points but have no offense, the match does not end in a triumph. It ends in a tie. Or consider a more violent analogy: Say you are shot while wearing a Kevlar vest. The body armor may shield you from the bullet. What it can’t do is disarm and disable your assailant.

President Biden holds a different view. He subscribes to the idea that if you parry enough blows, eventually the man who is pummeling you will recognize the error of his ways and move on. He believes that a combination of economic penalties and shaming or embarrassing or chastising rogue regimes in the fictional court of international public opinion will lead to peace.

He is wrong. Biden’s reluctance to unleash our allies — what the press calls his fear of escalation — has produced the disaster in Afghanistan, the slow-motion advance of Russia in Ukraine, the standstill in Gaza, and a Greater Middle East where Hezbollah, Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq, and the Houthis do as they please. And there are eight months left in his term.

In statecraft, defense without retaliation is exceedingly dangerous. It leads to a false sense of security. It emboldens the aggressor. This isn’t academic international relations theory. This is Hamas 2024.

For over a decade, Israel believed it could disengage from the Gaza Strip by relying on its layered missile defenses and periodic “mowing the grass” air campaigns to degrade terrorist capabilities. The two-pronged strategy would hold Hamas in check. The promise of economic integration, with Palestinian workers crossing from Gaza into Israel, might even promote reform within the Strip.

Such was the logic behind the “Conceptzia” that governed Israeli policy toward Hamas.

The Conceptzia died on October 7. Land-based missile defenses such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling are remarkably effective. They have saved lives. But they haven’t changed the nature, aims, and objectives of Hamas. They changed its tactics.

To protect its personnel and weapons from the Israeli air force, Hamas built a submerged state of tunnels and spider holes. Meanwhile, Hamas’s leadership planned the surprise land, air, and sea attack that killed 1,300 Israelis, wounded thousands, and took hundreds captive.

You can shield your population from harm, but threats will remain until the source of the attacks is neutralized. That was the lesson of October 7. It should be the takeaway from April 13.

If Iran’s attack had gone unanswered, a new precedent will be set in the region. Fire whatever you want toward Israel, and so long as we intercept the projectiles, you won’t pay a big price. Such an outcome would be a disaster. No sovereign state should be forced to accept such vulnerability. Yet that is precisely what will happen if Israel takes the “win” as President Biden suggests.

A real win would reestablish deterrence against Israel’s and America’s enemies. It would make Iran think twice before launching any more drones in Israel’s direction. And the way to reestablish deterrence is to ignore the arms of the octopus and go straight for its head.

Take away something Iran’s leaders hold dear — their nuclear program. By destroying Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, you not only exact a heavy cost for the regime’s malign behavior. You guarantee Israel’s security.

After all, why did America come to Israel’s defense but not to Ukraine’s? Both nations are under assault. The difference is Israel’s assailant has no nuclear weapons. Ukraine’s enemy has thousands.

Would America coordinate a similar operation to defend Israel if Iran had nukes? Maybe a future president would do that. This president would not.

I understand Netanyahu’s position. A superpower is not easily dismissed. Especially when that superpower — despite counterproductive rhetoric and diplomatic incoherence — continues to deliver unconditional military aid for operations against Hamas. Especially when that superpower helped Israel fend off the Iranian attack. Israel wants to keep America on its side, where America belongs.

Yet lines must be drawn. Leaving Iran to fight another day, and leaving Hamas intact in Rafah, weaken the state of Israel and diminish the future of the Jewish people. Talk all you want, Mr. President. But if you call this a win, God help us if we lose.

Matthew Continetti is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the founding editor of The Washington Free Beacon. For more from the Free Beacon, sign up free of charge for the Morning Beacon email.

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