Iran’s Attack Requires a Broad Response

by April 2024
Israel’s Arrow 3 interceptors operate against long-range Iranian missiles over the city of Ashkelon, Israel in the early morning hours of April 14, 2024. Photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Iran’s attack on Israel, with more than 170 drones and 120 ballistic missiles, was the largest that Tehran has ever launched against the Hebrew state. 

Previously, Iran used proxy forces, including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, to rain down rockets on Israeli homes and ships. Now, Iran is attacking directly and striking at well guarded military sites.

Iran has crossed a red line – forcing responses from both Israel and America. The Islamic republic is openly courting war. We should not give them the war that they want.

“Certainly, this is an escalation,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Turner said on NBC’s Meet the Press, urging the Biden administration to respond to an “already escalating” crisis.

Israel promises a response. We will “exact a price from Iran in a way and time that suits us,” war cabinet member Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

Israel is expecting more attacks. It announced country-wide school closures to better scatter its most vulnerable civilians. 

The world is inches from open war between Israel and Iran, which could then draw in Arab states, and then the United States.

Let’s carefully consider the chasm opening beneath us. With a regional war, oil and gas prices would climb to new heights, sputtering the US economy and scrambling the presidential race. Elections are also slated for the UK and other NATO allies this year. War could bring to power anti-immigrant parties as either leaders or key coalition partners. 

Meanwhile, with America and NATO distracted, Russia would have a free hand in Ukraine and China could more safely invade Taiwan, the world’s largest maker of semiconductors. The leader of the free world would be forced to focus on the supply of oil and chips, a captive to the whims of dictators in Tehran and other places. 

For the first time since British rule ended in 1783, America’s future might be decided overseas. This bleak and unthinkable prospect would drive public opinion towards a long war with casualties comparable to World War II.

While this dystopia is possible, there is still time to prevent it.

President Biden meets with the National Security Council in the White House situation room on the evening of April 13, 2024. Photo credit: IMAGO/MediaPunch via Reuters Connect.

Many ordinary Iranians do not seek war. The Iranian regime is unpopular with its own people, the majority of whom are younger than 30. They want prosperity not conflagration. The scale of the protests in 2022 and 2023 shocked the ayatollahs. The demonstrators cited corruption, not Israel, as the source of their suffering. The unemployment rate reached 9.6 percent in 2023 according to the IMF. It is expected to top 12 percent this year.

Iran’s galloping inflation mobilizes more apolitical people against the regime. They see the prices in the souk and blame the mullahs. This is why war is a helpful distraction for Iran’s leaders.

At the same time, Israel largely regained its position within the world community, a position that had been severely eroded by civilian losses suffered in fighting Hamas in Gaza.

President Joseph R. Biden praised American forces who helped Israel shoot down “nearly all” of the drones and missiles fired by Iran and pledged to coordinate a global response.

That said, there is fear in Washington that Israel may set off a wider war by responding to Iran’s aggression – a war that America clearly does not want. President Biden confirmed his administration’s “unwavering” commitment to Israel but also told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a phone call Saturday that the US would not join offensive operations against Iran.

Biden is wary of becoming further entangled, as the US Navy is already fending off missiles by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Israel’s and America’s forbearance – sticking to defensive use of anti-missile technology and pinprick counterattacks on Iranian proxies that directly attack American forces – may not be enough to deter Tehran. The mullahs may simply escalate further. 

Clearly, policymakers must think more broadly to prevent war.

Sanction enemies. While Iran is already one of the most sanctioned nations on Earth, sanctions must be expanded to companies and countries that supply weapons to Iran or its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Sanctions should reflect the reality that Iran leads a consortium of terrorist groups. These sanctions need to be enforced by all G-7 nations.

America should also strengthen its support of opposition movements both inside and outside Iran, including trade unions and democratic dissidents.

Air-tight sanctions on oil and gas sales will cut off funds for Iran’s war-machine. A slowdown in Iran’s oil exports means more unrest in Iran’s electricity-starved cities and larger budget deficits, which may topple the regime.

Support Allies. The US must help its friends and not just cripple its enemies.

Jordan, once described as “island of stability” in a sea of chaos, now finds itself with a fragile economy, civil war in neighboring Syria, and a large population of Palestinian refugees (many of whom as now citizens). While a staunch US ally, and recipient of both US military and economic aid, it is teetering as Iran-backed groups spread dissent and militants cross its desert frontiers.

When Jordan’s king decided to shoot down Iranian drones which had crossed into its sovereign airspace, his decision was popular in Jerusalem and Washington, but not at home. Supporting the Jordanian monarchy is both a moral and a strategic obligation of America.

Other Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, are a few kilometers from Iran and risk reprisals from the Iran or its proxies. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have already suffered terror attacks by Iran-backed militants.

The Emirates and Bahrain took big risks by choosing to be on the side of modernity and peace by signing the Abraham Accords, recognizing and making peace with Israel.

Morocco, America’s oldest ally and also a signatory to the Abraham Accords, will also be vital for countering terrorism across North Africa and stopping Iran’s growing influence in the Arab world and Africa. Morocco’s king is also his nation’s top religious leader. He has worked tirelessly to promote a moderate form of Islam across Africa – countering Iran’s many efforts to foment extremism among Africa’s young Muslims.

Prosperity for the Region. Once Hamas is vanquished in Gaza, a Marshall Plan for the Palestinians will be needed to keep Iran at bay while Gaza is reborn as peaceful and growing. Gaza should reclaim its past as a key port and a food supplier to the Mediterranean. 

Gaza has sizeable offshore proven gas reserves and could use these resources to finance an economy on the low-tax, light-regulatory model of the UAE or the tech-led route of Ireland. This would give ordinary Palestinians hope and prosperity, the true foundations of a lasting peace.

The US should commit to supplying Arab allies with military equipment to defend themselves against Iran, just as it has done with Israel. Additionally, the Arabs need their own Iron Dome.

The US often criticizes Arab nations for working with China to secure their economic and military security. Yet, the Arabs are only asking of Beijing what Washington will not give them. It is time to reverse this dynamic and make it valuable to be America’s friend.

A strong set of sanctions and alliances is the best deterrent to Iran. To prevent a wider war, and the economic and political catastrophes that naturally come with war, America needs to strengthen its friends and discourage its enemies. 

Piecemeal politics won’t do.

Ahmed Charai
Ahmed Charai is the publisher of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune and the CEO of a Morocco-based media conglomerate. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Center for the National Interest, and the International Advisory Council of United States Institute of Peace.
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