Netanyahu wants war with Iran; Biden can avoid – Strange news

Past US presidents have rejected Israel’s attempt to attack Tehran, but Biden is falling into their trap.

Iranian missiles and drones did not even approach Israeli airspace when Tehran declared the matter had been settled. The Iranian retaliation for the April 1 Israeli bombing of an Iranian consular building in Damascus was choreographed to be heavy on symbolism and light on destruction. The point was not revenge, but restoring Iranian deterrence and avoiding a broader war. But the choreography had a major flaw: a broader war with Iran is exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking for more than two decades.

At the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, the Biden administration was concerned that Israel was willing to expand the war into Lebanon. According to Wall Street JournalUS President Joe Biden successfully convinced Netanyahu to shelve plans for a pre-emptive strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon. But what neither Biden nor the Washington establishment fully appreciated was that Netanyahu had been trying to draw the United States into war with Iran since the late 1990s.

Netanyahu has an interest in prolonging the ongoing war with Hamas, as the moment it ends, his political career will likely end as well – and a prison sentence could soon follow if his corruption trial continues. Likewise, the hardline Israeli leader has also long desired to expand the conflict to tackle what he considers Israel’s greatest strategic threat: Iran.

A military conflict with Iran that attracts the United States would achieve several Israeli objectives. This would degrade both Iran’s nuclear program and its conventional military, thereby restoring a regional balance more favorable to Israel and avoiding a US-Iran rapprochement that Israelis see as tantamount to Washington abandoning Israel . A de-escalation by Iran would also weaken Iran’s regional partners, from Hezbollah to Iraqi militias to the Houthis in Yemen, all of whom depend on Iranian weapons and financial largesse.

But a broader war would not advance U.S. strategic objectives, and actively pursuing a new conflict in the Middle East could seriously damage Biden in an election year. So the question is whether Washington will use the power it has built up by helping Israel shoot down Iranian drones and missiles to prevent further escalation.

American presidents did not share Netanyahu’s enthusiasm for armed confrontation with Iran. George W. Bush, Barack Obama and even Donald Trump turned back on Israel, recognizing that Iran’s nuclear program could not be irreversibly destroyed militarily and that American interests would not be served by another war in the Middle East , because this would destabilize the world. region and undermine the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, deeper US military involvement in the Middle East would divert resources from what they saw as a more pressing strategic problem: the rise of China.

Although Bush publicly took a very optimistic position on Iran, privately he was much more optimistic. When then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought American support for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in May 2008, Bush refused to offer it and made it clear that his position would not change for the rest of his presidency. Bush also refused to offer Israel the bunker-busting bombs it needed to hit Iran’s nuclear sites.

Obama went a step further and made it publicly clear that the United States did not give Israel the green light to attack Iran. But more importantly, when Netanyahu increased pressure on Obama to take military action, Obama responded by doubling down on diplomacy with Iran.

By raising alarm bells about Iran’s growing nuclear program, Netanyahu hoped to eliminate Obama’s “turn the corner” option and force Washington to attack Iran militarily. But his behavior had the opposite effect. This forced Obama to risk transformative diplomacy with Iran rather than starting a war. Had Netanyahu not cornered Obama, he likely would have left the Iranian nuclear headache to his successor.

Even Trump, who has so far taken the strongest US line on Iran and who did not hesitate to escalate matters with Tehran when he felt it served his own personal interests – and who succumbed to Netanyahu’s pressure to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran – however, stopped waging war against Iran in the name of the Israeli Prime Minister. According to a former senior Trump administration official who spoke to Axios, Trump felt that Netanyahu was “prepared to fight Iran to the last American soldier.”

But US presidents’ long-standing refusal to allow Netanyahu to draw the United States into war with Iran may now come to an end. Biden’s support for Israel in recent months is often described as a continuation of long-standing US policy toward Israel. In reality it is a break with tradition.

This is because Biden has refused to pressure Israel to show restraint in the way US presidents such as Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Obama used to do. It is also a break from its previous position of firmly rejecting Israel’s attempts to draw the United States into war with Iran.

Not only has Biden been more dutiful to Netanyahu than any other American president — Bush Sr. Secretary of State James Baker banned Netanyahu from the State Department — he has also committed himself to two conflicting goals: preventing a regional war while supporting Israel in the event of war, even if Israel initiates one.

Israel attacked the Iranian embassy in Syria, killing one of the country’s top military officers, Mohammad Reza Zahedi – which Tehran treated as an attack on Iranian territory and an act of war. Following Iran’s retaliation against Israel – in which the US military, along with the British, French and Jordanians, helped Israel defend itself against Iranian air threats – Biden declared that the United States would not participate in or support offensive military actions against Iran by Israel. but that they would provide defensive support if Israel were attacked again. But the distinction between offensive or defensive support becomes meaningless once war breaks out.

Biden’s logic encouraged Netanyahu to attack Iran. He knows that although the United States will not participate in the attack, it will be drawn into the battle, the second time Iran responds to Israel’s offensive. Either way, Washington will become embroiled in a war in the Middle East that will not serve American interests, will draw the United States further into the region rather than out of it, and will likely lead to Iran abandoning its nuclear program will be armed. .

If Biden really wants to prioritize war prevention, he will have to draw much stronger and clearer red lines. Biden must clearly state publicly that the United States will no longer tolerate further escalation from either side. He must signal to Israel that American military aid in the future can no longer be unconditional. And he should take a page from the playbook of Bush Sr., who during the first Gulf War refused to provide Israel with IFF codes (“friend or foe” identification to distinguish enemy from friendly aircraft) and thus prevented Israel from to attack. Iraq and the unraveling of Bush’s anti-Saddam coalition.

By prioritizing the prevention of war, Biden will also not have to adjust his rock-solid defense promise, as war will not break out in the first place.

Netanyahu – desperate to prolong and expand the war to avoid the prison sentence he is likely to face at the end of his political career – has consistently ignored Biden’s soft, private resistance over the past seven months and could do so again do, as he has done thus far. suffered no consequences for his resistance.

This is the inevitable failure of Biden’s bear hug approach to Israel and his break with the treatment of Israel by previous US presidents. But while more than 33,000 Palestinians paid the price for Biden’s first bear hug, the American people—and American soldiers—could ultimately pay the price for Biden’s second bear hug, as Netanyahu could finally achieve the war that three administrations before this one had rejected. .

Text published by Foreign Policy.