Why Israel must hit Iran

Demands that Israel stays its hand in responding to Tehran ignores the importance of identifying a slowly building threat, then taking determined action against it


Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (HASSAN AMMAR/AFP via Getty Images)

April 16, 2024 16:34

Remember the story about the frog and the boiling water? Once popularly cited in articles and columns, it alleged that a frog placed in boiling water would immediately jump out. By contrast, the legend alleged, a frog placed in cold water which is then slowly heated to boiling point will remain happily splashing about, unperturbed, until the water begins to boil, at which point it will be cooked alive. This story was used to illustrate the need for vigilance regarding long, slow-burning strategies of hostile intent, designed to lull us into complacency, while concealing their murderous ambitions.

This frog analogy has hopped into obscurity in recent years. That may be because it turned out not to be true. As it happens, herpetologists inform us, a frog placed in boiling water will die instantly. A frog placed in cold water which is gradually heated up, by contrast, will take immediate evasive action to extricate itself from the water, as soon as it discerns that the heat is reaching a dangerous level. The original story, that is, represented a casual slander against the survival capacities of the frog.

Looking at the behaviour of Israel and its Western allies in the Middle East in recent years, it turns out that rather than looking down at the incorrectly identified lack of survival instincts of the frog, we should, in fact, have been learning from it. The humble amphibian, it seems, knows the importance of accurately identifying a slowly building threat, and then taking a determined course of action to end it. Us? Less so.

The Iranian drone and ballistic missile attack on Israel on the night of 13 April was not intended by the Islamist rulers in Tehran to usher in a new era of conventional confrontation between Israel and Iran. It had the opposite purpose: to deter Israel from any further steps down a road that Jerusalem has appeared in recent months to be setting out on. This was the approach according to which Israel would dispense with punishing only Iranian proxies for violent attacks on Israel, but rather would begin to go after their Iranian masters also. The killing of General Mohammad Reza Zahedi and six other Revolutionary Guard commanders in Damascus on 1 April was the most recent and most significant manifestation of this new direction.

It was not to the Iranians’ liking. Their strategy of proxy warfare against the Jewish state and against the broader security architecture in the Middle East has been in place for 40 years. For four decades, the mullahs have gathered, trained and armed proxy Islamist militias in the region, and used them as tools for the advance of Tehran’s interests.

The strategy has paid off handsomely. As a result of it, Iran now effectively controls the entire land space between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea. It has the capacity to paralyse shipping on one of the world’s key maritime trade routes (the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden). And it has taken ownership of the Palestinian cause and turned it into a strategic force multiplier for itself. As a result of the proxy strategy, Iran has gathered two Islamist armies on Israel’s borders – Hezbollah to the north, Hamas to the south – and intends to use them to subject Israel to death by a thousand cuts.

The continued successful pursuit of this strategy for regional domination, however, depends on its victims continuing to fail to discern what is happening. Should they do so, like the unfairly maligned frog, they might take action to ensure their survival. For the strategy to work, the victim must be looking elsewhere, befuddled.

The killing of Mohammad Reza Zahedi was an indication that Israel, since October 7, had begun to accurately discern the nature of Iranian strategy and was beginning to act to truly challenge it. The polite practice of response against proxies alone was being dispensed with. Action against the patron was beginning. This was unacceptable to Tehran. The April 13 attack was intended to raise the stakes of a direct response to such a point that Israel, or its Western allies, or a combination thereof would be intimidated from further action of this type.

As things stand, there are indications that the Iranians may have been successful. From the Biden administration down, a chorus of voices in the West is calling for Israel to avoid further response to the April 13 attack. Western governments, frightened by the Iranian reaction, expect Israel to abandon actions of the type that might cause it to be repeated. There is an acute awareness that Iran did not seek on this occasion to use its most potent assets. Best not to annoy it further.

Air defence, even of the most effective kind, cannot substitute for a forward strategy to counter a project of aggression. Passivity and reaction will not suffice against the Iranian project for regional domination, and for the destruction of Israel. But unlike our clever frog, Western governments are still in the water, complacent, as the heat continues to rise.

April 16, 2024 16:34

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