The real target must be Iran.
(JNS) When word broke Tuesday that Khader Adnan—a senior terrorist and serial hunger striker from Iranian-controlled Islamic Jihad—had died in an Israeli prison after 83 days of refusing food, Hamas began shelling Israeli towns and villages in the western Negev. As Islamic Jihad’s premier propagandist, Adnan was reportedly the most prominent Islamic Jihad terrorist in Jenin, where the group reigns supreme.
Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, Islamic Jihad and Hamas rocket teams pummeled Israel with more than a hundred rockets and mortars. Israelis in communities around Gaza spent the night in their bomb shelters.
In a worrying sign, Iron Dome missile defense batteries were less effective than they have been in the past. Whereas during Hamas’s missile assault last year Iron Dome interceptors hit more than 90% of their targets, on Tuesday a third of the rockets got through.
The public expected a firm response to the latest round of aggression. But the IDF opted for a pro forma one. To justify their decision, IDF generals briefed friendly reporters that they want to concentrate on restoring deterrence in the north against Hezbollah and don’t want to be distracted by Hamas in Gaza.
The IDF’s response infuriated members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir was not invited to the security discussions between the IDF senior leadership, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant where decisions were made regarding Tuesday night’s operations. Ben-Gvir reacted angrily, insisting his faction would boycott Knesset votes. Netanyahu’s Likud Party responded by telling Ben-Gvir he was free to quit the coalition. Ben-Gvir challenged Netanyahu to fire him.
Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu will find a way to make peace and maintain the coalition. But the fact needs to be faced: Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacked Israel and rather than respond by knocking them off their pedestal, the IDF response was so weak that it destabilized Israel’s government.
Obviously, this is an unsustainable situation. Israel cannot allow terrorists to attack without paying a price. The coalition must adopt a strategy that brings security to Israel’s citizenry. While attacking empty buildings has the virtue of not provoking a larger war, it is not a strategic move. It doesn’t defeat, destabilize or even deter Hamas. If anything, it convinces the terror group that it is free to terrorize the Jews whenever the mood strikes it.
What would a better strategy look like?
The first thing we need to understand is that Iron Dome isn’t a strategy. The system’s decreased effectiveness Tuesday may or may not be a momentary glitch. But defensive systems are not guarantees of protection against a dynamic enemy whose capabilities are constantly improving and expanding. A strategy for defeating Hamas starts with a plan to both neutralize the effectiveness of and vastly diminish the extent of its existing capabilities, and block Hamas’ capacity to develop new capabilities.
It also begins with a firm understanding of what Hamas is. The most important thing that Israel needs to bear in mind about Hamas today is that it is a full member in Iran’s terror axis. That axis begins with Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran’s Hezbollah forces. It extends to Gaza, Judea and Samaria through Hamas and Islamic Jihad primarily. Iran also controls Syria through Bashar Assad, runs the tables in Iraq through its Shiite militia and controls Yemen through the Houthis.
This brings us back to the IDF sources who briefed reporters that they didn’t want to take significant action in Gaza because they are focused on Hezbollah. The statement bespeaks a shallow discernment of the strategic battlefield Israel faces.
We aren’t facing two separate theaters. We are facing one integrated effort directed by Iran and carried out by the Lebanese through Hezbollah and the Palestinians through Hamas and Islamic Jihad. An attack in Gaza reverberates in Lebanon.
At a fundamental level, if you defeat the Iranian regime, you strike a mortal blow at Hezbollah and Hamas/Islamic Jihad.
Notably, overthrowing the Iranian regime may be easier than going after either Hezbollah or Hamas/Islamic Jihad directly. With their massive, Iranian-provided missile arsenals, these groups pose a more immediate threat to Israel than their state sponsor in Tehran.
From the outside, the Iranian regime looks more powerful than ever. This week, its Revolutionary Guards seized a second oil tanker in a week in the Straits of Hormuz. And “the world” has no response to the ayatollah’s repeated acts of piracy.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Iran and Russia have massively upgraded their relations. China has used its good offices to broker détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Last November, senior officials from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) met with senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, where they were briefed on prospects for Saudi-Israeli peace. The Saudi officials made it clear that their condition for peace with Israel is credible U.S. action to prove its continued commitment to Saudi security against Iran.
On Thursday, John Hannah, who led the JINSA delegation, wrote that during their meetings six months ago, the Saudis warned that if the U.S. failed to reassure the Saudis of its commitment to defending the kingdom from Iran, Saudi Arabia would “become Iran’s best friend.”
But while Iran’s international rise is a source for concern, the fact is the regime is rotted out from the inside. More than 80% of Iranians hate the regime and seek its overthrow.
According to Iran International, Iran’s inflation rate is over 50%. Its currency has declined more than 60% since August. Food prices have risen more than 70% over the past 12 months.
Either to raise revenues or pay off regime cronies, President Ebrahim Raisi recently appointed a committee to start selling off Iran’s national heritage sites for “business development.”
The regime is also considering selling the islands of Kish and Qeshm to pay pensions. The regime is short the equivalent of $9 billion to pay its pensioners. Telecommunications pensioners in 10 provinces protested against the non-payment of their pensions last week.
On Tuesday, the Coordination Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations called for teachers to protest against the regime for its role in poisoning children in girls’ schools countrywide. To date, more than 130 girls’ schools have been subject to gas attacks. The teachers’ association demanded a fundamental overhaul of the school system in Iran, including an end to the “dominance of the ruling totalitarian ideology.”
The murder of Mahsa Amini by the regime’s morality police last September sparked unprecedented, months-long revolutionary protests throughout Iran, which were brutally suppressed. Regime forces killed more than 500 protesters and imprisoned more than 20,000 for participating in the protests.
Last month, the protests began again. On May 1, workers in the oil, gas, mining, steel and petrochemical industries struck in 70 cities across multiple provinces. Nighttime protests have been renewed. And even as Khamenei ordered a crackdown against women found in public without hijabs, since April 22 anti-hijab protests began again in Tehran and cities around the country.
On Wednesday, the Iranian media reported an explosion at a Revolutionary Guards base in the outskirts of the city of Damghan, in the Semnan province. Assaults on regime targets like the base in Damghan increase the sense that the regime is on its last legs, empowering the people to redouble their efforts to bring it down. The more attacks, the more strikes and protests. The more strikes and protests, the more attacks, until the rotten-to-the-core regime collapses.
Given the Iranian regime’s vulnerability, it is apparent that Israel’s best move is to support the Iranian people in their continued efforts to overthrow the regime through direct political support for the cause of freedom in Iran and through subversion and sabotage. True, Iran’s nuclear clock is ticking, but the only long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear weapons program is to bring down the regime.
While the big bet is Iran, Israel cannot ignore its proxies. Israel has no interest in a major war with either the Palestinians or the Lebanese right now. But it also cannot stand back and let them attack it. Rather than attack tertiary sites and foot soldiers, Israel should make the most of its limited responses by directing its fire against strategic targets.
Israel should renew its targeted strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror masters in Gaza and northern Samaria. It should also take steps against their soft underbellies. Two come to mind. First, Ben-Gvir has rightly identified imprisoned terrorists in Israeli jails as one such underbelly. Terrorists in Israeli prisons receive benefits that terrorists in U.S. and other prisons could only dream about. These special privileges, such as making their own food, receiving conjugal visits and using cellphones (which also pose security threats) need to end. The swank conditions terrorists enjoy in Israeli jails are at best not a disincentive for would-be terrorists.
The second soft target is the NGO network that supports terrorists. Last month the undercover investigative group Ad Kan published an expose on Channel 14 about HaMoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual. HaMoked members were exposed admitting that their group is a lawfare organization used to undermine Israel’s legal system in its efforts to punish terrorists. HaMoked leaders view their mission as protecting terrorists, whose actions they justify and support through their efforts. HaMoked needs to outlawed as a terror entity. Criminal probes should be opened into its activities. Other NGOs registered in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and abroad also need to be placed under a magnifying glass.
As for Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, the first step Israel should take is to stop allowing the U.S. and other global powers to get away with pretending that the Lebanese government and armed forces are independent (and pro-U.S.) entities. Today, the U.S. is largely underwriting both the Lebanese government and its armed forces, even though both are controlled by Hezbollah. The more open this situation becomes, the more difficult it will be for the Biden administration and European governments to maintain their support. The less legitimacy these entities receive, the more exposed Hezbollah and Iran become.
This won’t eliminate the threat both pose to Israel. But it will make them less interested in open aggression, for which they will no longer have plausible deniability.
A two-pronged strategy of destabilization with the goal of overthrowing the Iranian regime on the one hand, and choosing targets that strategically weaken Iran’s Palestinian and Lebanese proxies on the other, will diminish their interest in attacking Israel, advance our strategic goal of defeating them and leave our enemies teetering. It will stabilize the government and give a sense of security to Israeli citizens.