Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Biden’s Belated Retaliation Ignores the Lessons of October 7


It all went according to the familiar formula, long established by the enemies of Israel and America for fighting endless wars in the Middle East. The deadly drone attack by an Iranian proxy militia on American troops at a base in Jordan provoked a limited and largely symbolic U.S. military response ordered by President Biden in response to the political outcry in the U.S. over the death of three of its soldiers due to the proxy attack. Given the limitations imposed by the Biden administration on the scale of the American air strike, it immediately became clear that it was primarily designed to help silence Biden’s critics who have been accusing him of weakness and a lack of will to strike back at America’s Iranian-backed enemies who have launched more than 165 such attacks on U.S. forces in the region since October 17, using Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza as an excuse.

The retaliatory strike did not take place until six days after a cruise missile, launched by the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite terrorist group known as Kataib Hezbollah, hit a housing facility for American troops at the support base in Jordan called Tower 22, killed three U.S. Army soldiers from a reserve unit based at Fort Moore, Georgia, and injured 47 others.

The air strike was carried out by two U.S. Air Force B-1B strategic bombers which took off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, each carrying dozens of precision-guided munitions, according to a statement by U.S. Central Command. The planes flew 6,000 miles, with the aid of in-flight refueling, in order to attack a total of 85 specific targets at four Iranian-backed militia sites in Syria and three more in Iraq, which included command and control centers, and storage facilities for rockets and missiles.

But what was more important was what that U.S. statement didn’t say, that the strike failed to target the militia leaders who had ordered the attack which was clearly intended to kill the U.S. troops, or the Iranians who had provided the militias with the weapons, training and the green light that had made the attack possible.


President Biden said in his statement announcing the air strike, “This past Sunday, three American soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone launched by militant groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Our response began today [and] will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

Biden continued, “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

However, according to his critics, the threat Biden issued for an undefined “response” to any more attacks on American troops in the Middle East, lacked the necessary sense of outrage over the original attack, and was much less convincing than his repeated claim to want to avoid U.S. military involvement in a full-blown regional conflict, apparently at almost any cost.

Because of the extended delay, and the narrow selection of targets, which excluded sites inside Iran or the members of Iran’s IRGC Quds force who have been supporting and advising the Iranian proxy forces attacking U.S. troops in the region, the U.S. air strike last Friday did little to deter further attacks on U.S. troops in the region. Reporters were told that the targets of the retaliatory strikes had been specifically chosen to avoid any civilian casualties, and administration spokesmen repeated like a mantra the limitations in the size and scope of the American attacks to avoid triggering an escalation of the assaults by the Iranian proxy groups on the roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria.


A Wall Street Journal editorial mocked the American retaliatory strike, which Biden administration officials had been telling reporters about for days, as “what must be one of the most advertised military attacks against an enemy in history.”

Iran still insists that the militias it supports have been acting independently when they attack American targets, but it has also publicly praised the attacks and has not done anything to stop them.

Iran and Iraq also said that 16 people, including civilians, were killed in Friday’s U.S. air attack, and warned that it could trigger greater instability in the region. But the Wall Street Journal editorial observed that if any Iranian-backed militia leaders were still around the areas when the American air strike hit, they must have been “the world’s dumbest terrorists.”

The editorial also noted that the long delay in the air strike, which administration officials lamely blamed on rainy weather in the region, also gave the Iranian IRGC advisors to those militias plenty of time to “vamoose” from the most likely targeted areas or return to safety in Iran until the U.S. retaliatory strikes had run their course.

John Kirby, a former U.S. Navy admiral, who is the spokesman for the White House National Security Council, is the Biden administration’s most credible news source on military matters. He said that the aim of the American air strike was “taking away the capability” of the Iranian-backed militias to continue attacking American troops.


Kirby insisted that the belated air strike, “wasn’t just a message-sending routine.” But, in fact, the long delay in launching the attack, and the very limited scope of its targets, sent the leaders of Iran and its proxy groups the opposite message. It told them that Biden is much more afraid of the political backlash against him at home during a presidential election year, than a retaliatory strike strong enough to provide a level of protection through deterrence for American troops in the region.

According to Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for the past five years, the U.S. has left those troops as “sitting ducks” in isolated and vulnerable bases spread out across Syria and Iraq. Their mission is to continue the fight against ISIS. But most Americans believe that fight had already been won by a coalition led by President Trump back in March 2019, when it ousted the remnants of ISIS from the last of the territories it had previously ruled as its “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

While there were still dangerous ISIS terrorists active in the region, at that point, Iraq, Syria, and the other states in the region with their own substantial military forces, should have been capable of keeping the reduced threat from ISIS under control. But instead, those states relied on the small and inadequate remnant of U.S. forces left behind, first by Trump, and then by Biden, to finish the task. Ever since, those American troops have been a tempting target for Iran and its proxy forces whose long-term goal has always been to replace the U.S. and its allies, including Israel, as the dominant military force in the region.


American troops stationed in Iraq and Syria had been under nearly constant attack by the militias since October 17. The fact that there had not been any American fatalities due to those attacks before January 28 was not proof that the defenses at those bases were invincible. In fact, dozens of American personnel were injured. It was clear that the longer the attacks continued, the more likely it became that, at some point, one of the attacks would result in the death of one or more American soldiers.

The fact that the American military responses to those attacks before January 28 were minimal also encouraged the Iranian proxies to believe that they could go on indefinitely, as long as Iran was willing to continue replacing the expended weapons and making up for any other losses that might be incurred.

It is also hard to believe that the Pentagon needed six days to put together its plans for an air strike whose effectiveness as a deterrent against further attacks on American troops stationed in the region is virtually nil. Before the January 28 attack on the base in Jordan, U.S. troops had been under daily assault, and it would have been the height of incompetence for Pentagon planners to fail to plan for the likelihood that the U.S. would need to respond in a more forceful way, and most likely did have those plans available for immediate use. Therefore, the delay in launching the American reprisal attack was most likely politically driven, and no, it had nothing to do with the rainy weather.


The minimal American military responses to the militia attacks provided the illusion that the underlying simmering conflict was under control. However, even the more dramatic U.S. retaliatory attack last Friday did not deter the same Iranian-backed militia group responsible for killing the three U.S. soldiers in Jordan from launching another drone attack that killed at least six U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters Monday who were stationed at the U.S. al-Omar base in the eastern Deir al Zor province of Syria.

Emile Hokayem, director of regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the New York Times that because last Friday’s retaliatory air strike against the militias was so timid the U.S. was at risk of being stuck in a “cycle of tit for tat,” and that Iran and gave its proxies more “options, [including] space and time and can decide when to turn up the heat. They also have largely supportive constituencies outraged by the Gaza war.”

Hokayem suggested that “the only way the U.S. can end this cycle is to quickly move to a diplomatic track to end Israel’s war in Gaza.” But he ignored the fact that the U.S. military presence in Syria and Iraq is totally unrelated to the war in Gaza, which means that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would not necessarily bring an end to the militia attacks which are ultimately intended by Iran and its proxies to drive all remaining U.S. troops out of the region.

Despite its claims to the contrary, all of the international players at this point well understand that the rulers in Tehran are the puppet masters pulling the strings of the militias attacking American targets in Iraq and Syria, and so far they have not had to pay any serious price for ordering their proxy militias to kill Americans.

But a limited American reaction to Iranian aggression by proxy is still better than almost no reaction at all. That had been Biden’s response during the first couple of months of attacks by the Iranian-backed militias on American bases in Syria and Iraq, as well as the Houthi moves, starting in November that have diverted shipping traffic away from the Red Sea and Suez Canal.


So far, America’s enemies and the rest of the world see Biden’s reaction for what it is, a gesture rather than a serious effort to defend U.S. vital interests and those of its allies in the region and defeat the Iranian strategy to force the remaining American troops to leave.

To Biden’s critics, including congressional Republicans as well as some respected foreign policy experts, his reactions to the attacks by Iran is still far too timid and cautious to be effective.

“The overriding intellectual construct of Biden’s foreign policy is avoidance of escalation,” said Kori Schake, a former defense official in the George W. Bush administration who now directs foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“They [the Biden administration] are not wrong to be worried about escalation,” she said. “But they don’t take into account that it encourages our adversaries. We often seem [to be too] worried about fighting wars we can win, and that encourages them to manipulate our fear.”

Instead, Schake suggests, there is a possible middle ground the U.S. can take between limiting its retaliation to attacks on Iranian proxy groups, like Kataib Hezbollah and the Houthis, that have struck at American forces, and the much more provocative move of launching an attack at targets inside Iran itself. Biden could legitimately target for assassination any senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards leaders responsible for attacks on American targets “anytime they set foot outside of Iran.”

That is what President Trump did to General Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind of Iran’s regional military activities, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on January 3, 2020, after landing at the Baghdad airport to meet with Iraqi militia leaders whose group had just attacked American troops. Soleimani’s death was seen at the time as a serious setback to Iran’s global terrorism strategy.


Perhaps the most important lesson that Israel learned on the morning of Shemini Atzeres, October 7, was that routine enemy military activities could also serve as camouflage for one side while it is preparing for a much more devastating all-out surprise attack on the other side.

More than 15 years of periodic, inconclusive exchanges of air strikes and artillery and rocket fire, and a couple of very brief ground incursions between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza had lulled Israel’s leaders into a dangerous sense of complacency unmatched since the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The painful lessons that Israel learned that day and during the subsequent four months of costly war with Hamas in Gaza have changed the “rules of the game.” They have made it clear that it is not a game at all, but rather a desperate fight to the death between Israel and the modern-day equivalent of Amalek, a force of pure evil determined not only to defeat Israel’s military but also to wipe out the Jewish people around the world, chas v’sholom.


Since October 7, Israel’s leaders have been applying that same lesson to the war that has been simmering along its northern border with Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, who are much more dangerous and better armed than Hamas. The Israeli government has pledged to keep attacking Hamas until it is no longer a threat to repeat its October 7 attack, no matter how long or how many lives that takes. This Israeli government is also committed to restoring peace and security in the north to enable 100,000 of its evacuated residents to return safely to their homes, even if Israel must fight and defeat Hezbollah in another war to do so.

Israel has learned that in its current fight for survival, deterrence is not a viable option, in part because Iran has “no skin in the game.” Iran, the leaders of Hamas, and the rest of the Arab world continue to treat the 2.1 million residents of Gaza as expendable pawns to be used literally as cannon fodder. That has been their primary role since the end of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence when the rest of the Arab world decided to perpetuate the plight of the Arabs who fled from their homes in Palestine during the 1948 war in order to use them as an excuse to justify waging a perpetual war against Israel’s existence over the next 75 years.

October 7 served as a very painful reminder to all Israelis and Jews around the world that Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu was right when said that the core of the historic conflict with the Palestinians is not the territories that the Arabs lost to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, but rather the right to exist that Israel fought for in 1948 as the only truly safe haven for Jews around the world.


When given the choice over the past 30 years, Palestinian leaders have consistently rejected the offer for the creation of an independent state of their own on very generous terms, from both American and Israeli elected leaders, including Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton at the failed 2000 Camp David Summit conference, and from Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008. Instead, the Palestinian leaders continued their efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Israel either through terrorism, in Yasser Arafat’s case, or diplomatic means, in Mahmoud Abbas’ case.

The heinous way that Hamas carried out the October 7 attack, and the rest of the “civilized” world has reacted, justifying the atrocities that were committed against Jewish men, women, and children on that day, have finally made Palestinian genocidal intentions crystal clear, even if the Biden administration still refuses to recognize that fact.

That is why large majorities of both the Israeli people and the Palestinians now oppose a two-state solution. Palestinian opinion polls show that 75% of them now support Hamas, which remains as committed as ever to Israel’s destruction, while Israeli opinion polls show that three-quarters of Israelis are also now opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, including 70% of those who voted for one of the opposition parties in the last Knesset election.


In addition to the Palestinians in Gaza, Iran’s leaders also treat their other terrorist proxies across the region and around the world as expendable. They are willing to fight Israel and America down to the last member of Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the members of their proxy Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, as they have been to sacrifice the terrorists in Gaza, and Gaza’s Arab civilians which Hamas has been using as human shields.

History has shown that Iran’s Islamic regime has only succumbed to outside military or economic pressure when it felt directly threatened. The first instance was in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan ordered the U.S. Navy to launch Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian targets in the Persian Gulf in retaliation for laying the mine that nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts. The Navy’s attacks sank or disabled roughly half of the ships in the Iranian navy, and forced Iran to give up its attempts to block international oil shipments through the Persian Gulf.

In 2003, Iran decided to temporarily halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon after U.S. President George W. Bush claimed that the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and used that to justify the U.S.-led invasion and military occupation of Iraq.

Ten years later, in 2013, Iran was forced to seek negotiations with the U.S. and its European allies which ultimately led to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The U.S. had imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports, which Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted as an alternative to a planned Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The sanctions eventually brought Iran’s economy to its knees. Unfortunately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama then failed to take advantage of Iran’s weak negotiating position and agreed instead to the deeply flawed final deal which left Iran’s nuclear weapons capability intact.


The day after the air strike on Iranian militia targets in Iraq and Syria, the Biden administration conducted attacks against the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have used Iranian-supplied anti-ship missile systems against dozens of merchant ships and U.S. naval vessels in the Red Sea, as well as medium range, surface-to-surface missiles that the Houthis they have launched at the Israeli port city of Eilat.

The Houthi attacks have seriously disrupted international shipping routes using the Suez Canal as a shortcut for shipments between Asia and Europe. In December, the BP oil company said it was rerouting its Middle East oil shipments around the Horn of Africa, delaying deliveries and increasing shipping costs, while furniture giant Ikea warned of potential product shortages due to shipping delays, and the Carnival cruise line announced that 12 of its cruise ships would avoid the Red Sea.

Since the attacks on Red Sea shipping began in November, the Biden administration reversed a decision it had made in February 2021, shortly after taking office. It has now added the Houthis, once again, to the State Department’s list of “specially designated global terrorist groups.”


This weekend’s joint air strike on the Houthis by the U.S. and Great Britain was the third since January 11. It struck 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations in Yemen, including weapons storage facilities, air defense, missile and radar systems.

In a joint statement, the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand who participated in the attack said, “Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea. But let us reiterate our warning to Houthi leadership: we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

A Houthi spokesperson said that the group would not be deterred, adding that the joint air strike on Yemen over the weekend would “not pass without a response and consequences.”

After the joint strike, the U.S. military announced that it was forced to launch another strike “in self-defense” in the early morning hours of Sunday against a Houthi anti-ship missile that was being prepared for launch against yet another vessel in the area.

But after months of indecision and delay, and vague general warnings to Iran from Biden by simply telling them, “Don’t do it,” the question now is whether the U.S. is at last using enough of its military capabilities in strikes against Iran’s proxies to convince the ayatollahs in Tehran that his threats must start to be taken seriously.


So far, Biden’s reluctance to risk a response that might do too much damage to the attacking Iranian proxy groups has cost the lives of at least three American soldiers, and scores more wounded, the drowning of two Navy SEALS trying to board a ship off the coast of Somalia that was carrying embargoed weapons to the Houthis, the disruption of the flow of international shipping through the Suez Canal, and almost resulted in the sinking of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea last week, when a Houthi anti-ship missile penetrated its sophisticated Aegis air defense system and was shot down at the last minute by a high-speed, radar-guided CIWS anti-aircraft gun, its final line of defense.

Iran and its proxy forces are sure to keep winning the test of wills with the U.S. and its allies until President Biden decides that the time for restraint is over. He needs the U.S. military to start using enough of its strength against the right targets so that Iran’s proxies can no longer use U.S. troops in the region for target practice with impunity, and their masters in Tehran start to fear further escalation more than President Biden does.

Biden can start by ending his shameful policy of appeasement towards Iran, by resuming enforcement of the sanctions that President Trump reimposed on Iran and are technically still in force. He can stop giving in to Tehran’s demands for billions of dollars of ransom payments, thinly disguised as reimbursements, for innocent American citizens falsely held in Iranian prisons. And, perhaps most important, Biden must finally abandon his useless efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which Iran’s violations by illegally enriching uranium to near-bomb grade have turned into a cruel joke.


Biden needs to finally give up on Barack Obama’s naive dream of trying to reform the Islamic leaders of Iran through secret messages of goodwill and tens of billions of dollars of bribes. While Biden, like Obama before him, may never have wanted to go to war against Iran, he can no longer continue to pretend he doesn’t notice that the radical Islamic leaders of Iran have been waging war against the U.S. and its ally, Israel, ever since they came to power in 1979.

“This is not an all-or-nothing moment for Iran — this is just one dot on a much longer plotline of Iran’s strategic agenda in the Middle East,” said Afshon Ostovar, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and an expert on Iran’s military.

“Iran can suffer as many Iraqi and Syrian casualties as it likes,” he said. “It doesn’t feel compelled to respond to the deaths of proxy militants. But if Iranians are killed, it’s different.”

“For Iran, this is a long war, not a short war, and this has nothing to do with Gaza,” Dr. Ostovar said. It is, he said, “about Iran’s steady, long march across the Middle East to push out U.S. forces and weaken U.S. allies.”

The U.S. has not been getting the cooperation it needs from some of its allies in the region in fighting the Houthis, the IRGC, and the other Iranian proxies because Biden has alienated the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by ignoring the Houthi ballistic missile attacks on both countries and by publicly accusing the leader of Saudi Arabia of ordering the murder of a Saudi-American journalist.


Until now, in the Middle East, Biden has been fighting the wrong battles and the wrong enemies. His reluctant recent decision to finally start striking back with more than minimal force to defend U.S. troops and allies under concerted attack from Iranian proxies is a hasty political reaction to an international crisis that has been spinning out of control since October 7. Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, need to discard the obsolete foreign policy concepts they picked up during the Obama years, including the impossible dream of a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, and resume the pursuit of the new approach to Middle East diplomacy that made so much progress towards a lasting regional peace during Trump’s presidency, as much as it may hurt them to admit it.

Only the willingness to consider such a fresh approach can yield a serious and effective new strategy to defend U.S. interests in what is still one of the most crucial regions anywhere in the world.

The Biden administration should also stop trying to impose on Israel its thoroughly unrealistic ideas for dealing with the war in Gaza and adopt a much more pragmatic approach based on what is currently possible, and the political realities on the ground in Gaza, and in the rest of the region that the war has already created.


A good place to start would be to recognize the split in Hamas’ leadership that was reported last week by the Wall Street Journal, in which the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and his colleagues in Gaza say that they are now ready to accept the joint U.S., Egyptian and Qatari proposal for an initial six-week pause in fighting to enable another major exchange of hostages still held by Hamas for a significant release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in three or four separate phases. But the Hamas political leaders in exile, led by Ismail Haniyeh, are reportedly rejecting that offer and are still holding out for their original demands, including a permanent cease-fire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, which Israel will not accept, as well as the release of nearly 3,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, in exchange for the freeing of only 36 of the remaining civilian Israeli hostages.

The U.S. and its negotiating are reportedly hoping that an extended pause in the fighting will make it more difficult for Israel to resume the process of trying to permanently destroy the threat from Hamas. However, given the strong emotional reaction of the Israeli people to the trauma of the October 7 attack, it is difficult to believe that any post-war Israeli government could politically survive for long if it tolerates the continued presence of Hamas in Gaza or the West Bank in any form.

Sinwar and his colleagues are reportedly ready to accept the six-week pause instead of a permanent cease-fire because they realize that every day that passes increases the chances that they and their families still in Gaza will be killed, and that even a temporary cease-fire will be sufficient to permit surviving Hamas forces to regroup, and for an adequate amount of humanitarian aid to reach Gaza’s civilians.

In the meantime, Israeli negotiators are demanding from Hamas a full list of all hostages in Gaza and their current status, alive and dead, and assurance from Hamas that they will all be released eventually if the initial pause in the fighting is a success, to continue the negotiations. On the other hand, Hamas’ negotiators have reportedly been asking for more time to locate all the hostages, especially those who might have died while being held prisoner after October 7.

The current proposal has received broad approval from the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, who participated in the negotiations, but its ultimate approval by Israel’s war cabinet led by Prime Minister Netanyahu may be problematic. At some point, the prime minister will have to answer to his right-wing coalition partners, who are already criticizing the published terms of the deal. They could bring down the current unity government, forcing a new Knesset election, which current polls suggest would mean Netanyahu’s ouster as prime minister.


The ultimate success or failure of any deal will likely depend on the complicated tradeoff between the length of the cease-fire, the number of Israeli hostages to be liberated, and the number of terrorists that Israel must agree to release from prison.

Meanwhile, Israeli military leaders say that they need to continue fighting to increase the pressure on Hamas and to further improve the terms of the deal as negotiations continue. Israel this week vowed that its forces would target Hamas in Rafah, the southern Gaza city packed with civilians sheltering from the war.

“We are achieving our missions in Khan Younis, and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate terror elements that threaten us,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said late Thursday.

Doing so would hasten the release of the hostages, he added during a visit to Khan Younis, Hamas’ last major stronghold in the strip. Rafah has previously come under Israeli bombardment. Gallant didn’t provide details about the Israeli military’s plan for Rafah.


The Ynet website reports that Biden is exerting heavy pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a cease-fire deal with Hamas in return for its release of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza at almost any cost to Israel.

According to Israeli media sources, the Biden administration is also hoping that the actual implementation of a six-week cease-fire deal in Gaza would also result in a halt to Hezbollah’s rocket attacks along Israel’s northern border, as well as a halt to Houthi missile attacks on Red Sea shipping, the Shiite militia attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan front, and ultimately the finalization of the long-anticipated normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia which could help to stabilize the entire region.

But hope for a negotiated peace, alone, without a lot of siyatta diShamaya, is not a reliable strategy.



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