Opinion | For Israel, Revenge Should Be a Dish Served Cold

Equipo
By Equipo
7 Min Read

After several days during which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repeatedly vowed that “the evil Zionist regime” would be punished for its April 1 attack on Iran’s embassy complex in Damascus that killed seven Iranian military advisers, including three top commanders, the Islamic Republic struck. More than 300 drones and missiles launched from Iranian soil took aim at Israel on Saturday. Nearly all of them were intercepted, mainly by Israeli or American defenses, with a report of just one Israeli casualty, a girl from a Bedouin community wounded by shrapnel.

Will that be the end of it?

It’s no secret that Israel and Iran have fought a shadow war for decades. The weekend attack is notable for two reasons: its directness and its ineffectuality. Iranian military commanders undoubtedly understood that most of their slow-moving drones, about 170 in all, would be shot down before reaching their targets. They were a diversion. Those commanders were probably more surprised that their 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles also did negligible damage.

That should drive home a clear lesson to Iran’s leaders: They are no technological match for the Jewish state, especially when the United States is lending a hand. If Israel decides to respond to the attack with direct strikes on Iran — perhaps against oil installations, nuclear sites or military infrastructure — it isn’t likely to miss its targets.

As I write this, Israel’s cabinet is debating that question. As a matter of self-defense, Israel has every moral and legal right to respond in kind — and then some. It is not enough for Israel to demonstrate its capacity for defense, as it did over the weekend. It must also re-establish its capacity for deterrence. That is, it needs to show Iran’s leaders that the price for bringing their war against Israel out of the shadows will be unbearably high, and is therefore not to be repeated.

But if right is one consideration, prudence is another.

Israel has an unfinished war against Hamas in Gaza, and a direct Israeli attack on Iran could trigger a second full-scale war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, if not with Iran itself. Most Israelis understand that particular war will have to be fought sooner or later — perhaps before the end of the summer — and that it will be probably much tougher on them than the Gaza war has been so far.

But war with Hezbollah will demand two things: the full concentration of Israel’s fighting capacity and sustained support from the United States.

Iran’s attack, and the Biden administration’s laudable participation in Israel’s defense, is an opportunity for Benjamin Netanyahu to mend frayed ties in Washington and other Western capitals by showing restraint. Among other things, it can help move the House of Representatives finally to vote for the Ukraine-Israel military assistance package that the Senate approved in February. It also buys Israel time to destroy what remains of Hamas’s military forces in Gaza.

An Israeli attack now would lack an additional advantage — the element of surprise. It isn’t just Israel’s technology that is superior to Iran’s. It’s also its intelligence, the kind that has been on display with Israeli hits on Iran’s top nuclear scientist, senior commanders and the spectacular 2018 heist of its secret nuclear dossiers. The clandestine nature of the warfare has helped to keep Tehran paranoid, vulnerable, and guessing. It’s the sort of place where a wise nation wants its enemy to be.

None of this is to say that Israel should simply stand down.

Israel will find opportunities to hit its enemy where it hurts, at a time of its choosing. So, of course, will Iran — but Iran would do that anyway. Israel’s diplomatic facilities have always been vulnerable to Iranian attack, as have civilian Jewish targets. We were reminded of it again on Thursday, when an Argentine court finally held Iran responsible for the 1994 attack on a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

Nor is it to say that Israel doesn’t deserve President Biden’s full support if it chooses to retaliate for Saturday’s attack. The Ayatollah Khamenei surely noted the friction between Israel and the West over Gaza when he ordered the strike; daylight between Israel and the United States is often an invitation to mischief by the common enemies of both. The president has political reasons to avoid another full-scale regional war in an election year. But the best way to avert such a war is to leave Tehran with no illusions that it could separate Israel from the United States by starting one.

The key decisions of the past half-century that have driven the Middle East to the place it is in today have a common origin: Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, which brought to power a theocratic despotism intent on sowing fanaticism, brutalizing its own people, destroying Israel and causing misery across the region for the sake of its ideological aims. Saturday’s missile attack is the latest example of a long and ugly record. But as Israelis decide how to react, they would serve their interests best by recalling the useful adage that revenge is a dish best served cold.

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