Opinion

Yes, Netanyahu’s Iran Policy Has Failed and Tehran Will Strike Back

Rather than leave Syria, Iran, which is militarily and economically weak, did the expected and pushed Hezbollah and other militias into the Golan Heights

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Hall of Remembrance on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on October 10, 2019.
AFP

Two years ago I wrote an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth entitled “What every Jewish mother should know: The prime minister, the security cabinet and the cabinet are dragging us to war.” I believed that the optimal policy was limited objectives: pushing the Iranians beyond the Daraa-Damascus highway, necessary attacks only, quiet diplomacy and the preservation of ambiguity. I thought Iran was big and strong enough to absorb blows and continue patiently working toward its aims. (Click here for live Turkey-Syria updates)

I said that the policy of inflammatory language and loud statements that “we won’t let Iran entrench itself in Syria” was misguided and wouldn’t achieve the desired objective. Worse, this tactic would open a long-term front that would force Iran to seek vengeance and reprisals. I believed that Iran was militarily weak, posing much less of a direct threat to Israel than Netanyahu portrayed in his scare campaign; Iran wouldn’t be able to withstand Israel’s air force, so when the time came, it would activate Hezbollah and other proxies.

In the south, even with Hamas in trouble, Netanyahu chose to capitulate and permit a war of attrition at the expense of the residents of the Gaza border communities and the northern Negev, while weakening the Palestinian Authority. That is, he chose anything to avoid progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to promote Netanyahu’s view that Iran is the most serious and immediate threat to Israel.

I wrote two years ago that instead of opening an overt military front versus Iran, it would have been better to prepare a crushing preemptive strike on Hezbollah at the right moment. Such a move would have lifted the missile-and-rocket threat to the Israeli home front while dealing a major blow to Iran’s allies and deterring the Iranians to a far greater extent than all the belligerent bluster.

Today, every Jewish mother (at least those near the Gaza border and in the northern Negev) knows that we’re at war in the south, a war of attrition in which Hamas has the whole initiative while Israel is begging (and bribing) it for quiet. It’s no surprise that Netanyahu’s entire Iran policy is collapsing and dragging us toward another war of attrition in the north.

Rather than leave Syria, Iran, which is militarily and economically weak, did the expected and pushed Hezbollah and other militias into the Golan Heights. Despite the hardships caused by the economic sanctions, Iran is accelerating its nuclear program, not slowing it. It doesn’t fear Donald Trump. Instead, Trump, the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military, is the one afraid to use force and get into a military entanglement, and who has been pining for a meeting with Iran’s leaders.

Hezbollah suffered heavy losses in Syria and was weakened, yet it continues to benefit from the immunity that Israel grants it in Lebanon, while the group remains a real threat to Israelis.

And yes, Iran has suffered from the (largely justified) blows dealt it by the Israel Defense Forces, but the belligerent talk has humiliated it. And since it has no intention of meekly surrendering, all it can do is strike back, and we can expect this.

Iran attacked Saudi Arabia not just because it has a new policy or new weaponry, but because it could see that Trump would offer no real support for his ally. This is something Netanyahu and his government failed to grasp. And if they did grasp it, they acted even more irresponsibly by knowingly dragging us into an overt military confrontation with Iran. For this they deserve to lose their jobs.

Just where does Netanyahu get the gall to call for a unity government under his leadership so Israel can address the grave threat that he himself brought about? This is the height of brazenness. It’s too bad we aren’t hearing more from the other would-be prime ministers.

All we can do is hope that they understand that progress toward resolving the conflict with the Palestinians must top the diplomatic-security agenda and that the IDF must support this with a strategy of limited objectives and a focus on neutralizing the real threats, chiefly Hamas and Hezbollah. This is far better than warmongering PR statements against Iran.

Amiram Levin, a former head of the Northern Command, is a general in the IDF reserves.