Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The U.S. Defended Israel. Now Israel Must Listen to the U.S.

That was astoundingly unprecedented. American, British, French, and an assortment of Arab countries’ warplanes and air defenses teamed up with Israel to block Iran’s massive wave of missiles and drones.

Now let’s recognize that Joe Biden deserves credit for his immediate follow-up. The President saved the world from coping with an awful war in the Middle East, by calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and twisting Israel’s arm so that it didn’t immediately retaliate against Iran.

While Israeli war cabinet consultations are secret, we can confirm that the group of five top decision-makers was moving toward ordering a powerful retaliation against sites in Iran—some connected with that country’s nuclear program—that have been on Israel’s standby target list for years. This seemed to be an ideal opportunity: Iran, for the first time from its own territory, brazenly attacked Israel without just relying on shadowy terrorists or other proxies. Surely the world would understand the legitimacy of Israel striking back.

Yet Biden, in that phone call late Saturday night, told Netanyahu to take the win; to be thrilled that the unique combination of allies, including even Saudi Arabia, protected Israel.

Biden wisely praised Israel’s own air force and anti-missile defenses, such as the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow systems that have enjoyed bipartisan financial support from Congress and are partially manufactured by American contractors.

And then came the sting: Biden said that if Israel attacks Iran’s territory, then Israel is doing that on its own. No American participation. And the instant alliance with Arabs and Europeans might fade away like a desert mirage. We should note that for years, U.S. officials have privately said they think Netanyahu is trying to maneuver America into joining a destructive attack on Iran’s nuclear program, while the U.S. consistently counsels restraint.

Biden’s verbal arm-twisting should not be taken lightly. Israel has again been reminded how it needs Washington’s support. The colossal failure of Iran’s missile and drone attack, and the instant alliance’s success at swatting it out of the skies, is the result of intimate cooperation between the Israel and the U.S. For years, Israeli and American warplanes have trained together and took part in unannounced joint operations against ISIS. Just last week, the head of U.S. Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, visited from Florida and spent long hours at Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv. American spy satellites furnished Israel with precise data about Iran’s missile sites and monitored all the launches on Saturday. Israel was able to tell its citizens to prepare to take shelter.

Read More: How the U.S. Rallied to Defend Israel

A lot of vital data came from a hush-hush U.S. installation in southern Israel: a huge radar facility, not far from Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona, tasked with monitoring the skies to the East of Israel. Inside the Hatzor air base, 25 miles south of Tel Aviv, there is a permanent joint control room where Israeli and American air force officers sit side-by-side. The U.S. does not help the Israel Defense Forces in most of IDF’s missions, and there is no U.S. role in hitting Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but for defense against long-range missiles—with Iran as the most potent threat—the intelligence cooperation is seamless.

While some skeptics about the seriousness of the weekend’s extremely brief missile war say it was simply a piece of geopolitical theater, as though Iran never intended to cause much damage in Israel, we urge them to consider what might have happened if the defensive shield had been punctured. If even one Iranian ballistic missile—with, typically, a thousand pounds of explosives in its warhead—had struck an Israeli air base or a residential neighborhood, the deaths of Israelis would have made a powerful retaliation by Israel inevitable.

True, the Iranians had telegraphed for days that they were going to fire missiles at Israel for the first time, as a response to the airstrike that killed top Iranian officers, including the deputy commander of the terrorist-backing Quds Force, in Damascus on April 1.

But still, it was no mean feat to intercept almost all of those missiles and drones. Israel claims 99 percent of about 320 were downed, almost all of them far from the Jewish state, over Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Jordan. Based on intentionally vague official announcements, we credit the U.S. with at least 40 percent of the kills.

Frankly, for the air forces and ground-based radars of over half a dozen nations, the Iranian attack was a brilliant opportunity for a real-world test of state-of-the-art high-tech capabilities: air to air missiles, electronic warfare jamming, and other systems that the Pentagon is reluctant to discuss publicly. American sensors, some on satellites orbiting far above, were a key to monitoring every step: the Iranian launches, and then controlling the allies’ response so that friendly planes wouldn’t knock each other out of the skies.

Israelis have strong reasons to be grateful, and it is the Biden Administration that organized this anti-Iran coalition. Netanyahu and his cabinet would be unwise to risk shattering that international backing. He is, however, under pressure from the extreme rightwing ministers who say it would be humiliating weakness for Israel not to retaliate directly against Iran.

Benny Gantz has carved out a middle ground that seems sensible. Gantz is leading in Israeli political opinion polls, and his views are respected, as he is a former military chief of staff and served as defense minister to Netanyahu before turning against the prime minister. Gantz says Israel clearly has the right to retaliate and should plan to do so—but at a wise time of its own choosing. First, he suggests, build up the international coalition against Iran. Don’t spoil it. Eventually, good opportunities to harm Iran will become apparent.

“We have a rare opportunity,” retired Major General Nimrod Sheffer, who was deputy head of the Israeli air force, told us. “We can take advantage of the sympathy and good will showered on Israel. We can tell the U.S. and the Europeans that we have all the justification in the world—at least to step up attacks on [Iran’s Shiite Muslim proxy] Hezbollah in Lebanon, but now we want you to exert pressure on Iran and its proxies to bring calm to the region.”

If a new anti-Iran coalition does not take effective action, such as far stronger sanctions aimed at strangling the Iranian economy—with clear demands that Hezbollah pull back in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen stop attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea—then Israel retains all its options. Vengeance against Iran for the attempt to rain missiles on Israel would not necessarily be done with obvious, kinetic force. Israel’s cyber capabilities are so advanced, that tech experts believe many parts of Iranian modern society could be paralyzed by an attack.

We endorse the direction that Israel’s leaders seem to be choosing: to heed the notion that striking back much later, at a strategically chosen time and not at a red-hot moment of anger, will be the smartest thing to do. Let’s remember the famous aphorism that revenge is sweeter, when served cold.

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