Israel’s Response to Iran’s Attack Requires U.S. Follow-Through

The American inventor Charles Kettering said, “It is the ‘follow through’ that makes the great difference between ultimate success and failure, because it is so easy to stop.”

President Biden was wrong to advise Prime Minister Netanyahu to “take the win” just after Israel was attacked in an unprecedented way by Iran on April 13-14, as many have rightly noted. But President Biden would be doubly wrong to give him that advice today, after Israel’s masterful, if measured, April 19 strikes in Isfahan.

According to initial assessments, Israel launched three missiles that were reportedly successful in dismantling the radar system that constitutes part of the security of the Natanz nuclear facility. Iranian officials have been downplaying the attack, suggesting perhaps that they may not be interested in retaliating

Irrespective of the strike’s evident success, the post-April 19 Middle East will depend on the follow-through.

The last week not only demonstrated Iran’s failures (which are now exacerbated by its further diminished capabilities) but also the tremendous potential for regional cooperation in meeting its threats. The extraordinary success between the U.S., Israel and regional partners in intercepting Iran’s nearly 300 projectiles during “Operation Iron Shield,” as the effort has been named, would not have happened without Israel being a part of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility – a move that Jewish Institute for National Security America advocated as early as 2018, and about which it published a report in 2020.

Now is the time for the United States to build those successes.

A first step must focus on bolstering Israel’s shadow war against Iranian military assets and proxies, particularly in Syria, otherwise known as its “campaign between the wars” (CBW).

According to JINSA data of known or reported strikes (there are likely others), every year since 2017 Israel has launched at least 50 strikes, with the exception of 2022 when it only launched nearly 40. 2020 was notable for Israel having launched over 80 strikes that year. Between 2013 and 2017, Israel launched a handful of strikes into Syria per year.

Since October 7, Israel’s CBW has broadened to include strikes in Lebanon – where Hezbollah amassed around 2,600 of its elite Radwan Forces on Israel’s border around the time of Hamas’s attack. Israel has to date have eliminated nearly 240 key Hezbollah operatives and officers, much of the group’s military infrastructure in the south, as well as many members of the Radwan Force.

Indeed, Israel’s efforts – particularly a series of strikes in late December and early January that killed key Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders – was reportedly the reason the IRGC announced earlier this year that it was reducing its presence in Syria.

Regional partners were instrumental not only in their actions as part of “Operation Iron Shield” on April 13-14, but they have also focused unilaterally on the Iranian threat in both kinetic and quiet ways since October 7.

Over the course of 2023, Jordan has carried out periodic strikes into Syria and ground interdictions to stop drug smuggling, and has intensified efforts – with three rounds of air strikes over the course of two weeks in January of this year.

In addition to supporting Israel in its CBW campaign, through intelligence sharing and even participating in strikes, regional partners have the ability to create diplomatic offramps and deltas between Iran and its proxies.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in the days leading up to Iran’s April 13-14 attack Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had held conversations with Hezbollah encouraging it to de-escalate with Israel. Hezbollah, to Iran’s reported dismay, did not join it more forcefully during its attack. It was reported shortly after October 7 that the UAE told Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, a proxy of the Iranian regime, not to get involved in the attacks on Israel.  To date, to Iran’s frustration, Assad has not become involved.

Israel’s regional partners can only perceive its actions on April 19 as validation of their bravery the previous weekend.

Partners outside the region like the United Kingdom and France have been essential to “Operation Iron Shield,” as they continue to be in other current regional efforts like the Red Sea “Operation Prosperity Guardian” and in diplomatic efforts on Israel’s northern border. They should be included in this follow-through effort.

Unlike Iran’s attack on April 13-14, Israel’s was successful. And Iran appears uninterested in escalating. But even so, it is premature to call it a win. For one thing, we still don’t know whether the Isfahan strikes were the totality of the response or merely the first act.

The ultimate win will be in the follow-through, one in which the United States has a critical role to play. A focus on deeper and closer regional cooperation – both military and diplomatic – could not only restore deterrence against Iran but could shape the conditions on the ground such that Iran’s influence and presence is greatly diminished, if not driven out altogether.

This latter task is unquestionably more ambitious and will take time, but with participation from regional and local stakeholders – many of whom view the threats to them from Iran clearly – it is an attainable goal.

And that would be an outcome that everyone could celebrate as a “win.”

Originally appeared in Real Clear Defense.