Fateful days for Israel as war with Iran looms — Opinion

Syraia’s president Bashar al-Assad meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Damascus, this week. Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi appears to have been a critical figure in the IRGC’s alliance with Hezbollah and Assad, says the writer.
(PHOTO: SANA/REUTERS/The Jerusalem Post)

By Yaakov Katz — The Jerusalem Post

The scenarios for how Iran might respond vary, and each carries a variety of risks. At the top level is the option that Iran will attack from Iran itself. In this case, it will be hard for Israel not to retaliate also against targets in Iranian territory, something that has a high degree of potential to lead to additional blows between the sides and a wider conflict.

On the other side of the spectrum is the possibility of an attack via proxy. Here it will depend on which proxy attacks and what exactly they attack. If, for example, Hezbollah fires missiles into Haifa or Tel Aviv then we can assume that Israel will be compelled to attack Beirut and then the path to war is short.

If however, Hezbollah or another proxy – the Houthis in Yemen or Iranian militias in Iraq – attack a military base then the question will be more what is hit and who is hurt or killed. There is also always the option of an attempted attack against an Israeli consulate or embassy overseas.

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Israel will naturally need to respond in any case, but when the attack is against a base and there is not real damage or casualties then the response can also be symbolic to wrap up the entire round.

Proof of how severe this threat is was provided on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden who took a break from his regular criticism and attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – just this week he said the Israeli leader was making a “mistake” with the war in Gaza – to warn Iran that America will stand with Israel if it is attacked.

“As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad. Let me say it again: ironclad. We’re going to do all we can to protect Israel security,” the US president said at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday. Hours later, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made similar comments, telling Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that the US will stand with Israel against Iranian threats.

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While this might seem like a dramatic shift in US policy, it is not. Since the beginning of the war, the Americans have been concerned with the prospect of a wider regional confrontation.

That is what prompted the famous “Don’t” speech by the president when he warned Iran and Hezbollah shortly after the October 7 Hamas attacks. The US concern now is a continuation of that same policy – do everything to avoid a regional conflict.

Israel has also learned its lesson from the mass hysteria that engulfed the country last week, which is why Israeli officials are not saying much publicly. Then, amid the call-up of reservists and threats from Iran, people started taking out cash from ATMs, stocking up on water and buying every available generator.

The government doesn’t want that same reaction now when this whole thing could end with a few short blows.

Israel does though have to be prepared. For that reason, the Israeli Air Force held a long-range strike simulation over Cyprus this week and is on high alert, all signals to Iran that Israel is prepared to strike far away in Tehran even if needed.

And with that said, this also needs to be put into proper proportions and context. Iran cannot destroy Israel and Hezbollah cannot destroy Israel.

They can both cause damage to Israeli civilian infrastructure and kill civilians, but they are not a threat of an existential nature. Israel can and will overcome them.

What we also need to remember is that the current reality is not exactly normal. It is not normal that Israel lives with 150 000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon right up along its northern border and it is not normal that the Islamic regime in Iran regularly calls to eliminate the Jewish state.

If October 7 taught us anything it is that while we – in Israel – might wish to contain a threat and keep it under wraps, that threat does not always play along. When these terrorist groups have a desire to strike Israel and the means to do so, that ultimately will prevail.

Does this mean that war with Hezbollah is inevitable? Possibly, but it does not mean that it needs to happen now. Based on the last six months, both Israel and Iran have showed an interest in containing their conflict and not letting it spill over into something wider.

We will know soon enough if that can continue.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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