Kenneth Jacobson

Iran’s Malign Behavior Must Be Taken Seriously

After last week’s massive launch by Iran of drones and missiles at Israel, there was much attention given to whether and how Israel might retaliate. This was understandable and now that Israel has reportedly reacted, discussion goes on about its significance and potential consequences. At the same time, it also distracts from an important element of the April 13 event: What was the meaning of the Iranian missile assault?

Much of the commentary focused on the uniqueness of what Iran had done. Attacks on Israel and the Jewish communities around the world, most notably the terrorist act against the Jewish community of Argentina in the 1990s, had been going on for years. All, or most of these, however, were conducted by surrogates of the Islamic regime. And even when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was involved in some action, there was an effort by Iran to conceal it. 

Now, it was noted, Iran attacked Israel directly and openly from Iran’s own territory. Unanswered, however, is: why the change? Speculation involved the Islamic Republic’s need to save face after Israel killed two leading Iranian generals in Syria. 

We may never know the exact thinking of the regime, but it well could be the beginning of testing Israel’s defenses leading up to the moment that, if realized, would change the Middle East: When and if Iran becomes a nuclear power. 

The last six months make clear that past assumptions about the meaning of a nuclear Iran must undergo change. The international community’s opposition to Iran’s developing a nuclear capability until now has focused on the danger it would create in the region by propelling a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. 

As to the threat to Israel, this generally was downplayed by virtue of the fact that Israel has a significant nuclear arsenal of its own. It was assumed that Iran would never use its weapon against Israel as that would lead to a massive Israeli nuclear retaliation.

Beginning with the massacre on October 7 and now with the first huge missile attack against the Jewish state, one must question these assumptions. When Hamas, clearly supported by Iran, committed its barbaric attack on the people of Israel, they had to know that Israel would react in the most ferocious manner that might destroy Hamas, but at the very least lead to huge damage and harm to the civilian population. 

Despite the obvious qualifiers—that Hamas didn’t care about what happened to its civilian population, that it was aware that Israel’s response would inevitably lead to pressure on Israel to stop—the irrational character of Hamas’s decision to plan and engage in such brutality even while recognizing the price to be paid, speaks volumes about the irrationality of the Islamic extremist mentality. 

In that context, it is time to question the assumption of the rationality of the Islamist regime in Iran. The focus must move to the vital need to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon primarily because of the very real possibility down the road that Iran might decide, rationality aside, to use a nuclear weapon against the Jewish state. 

Through this prism, we can see the assault on Saturday, April 13th, which was hailed as a triumph by Israel and its allies in preventing the missiles from hitting their targets, as a first testing ground by Iran. The Iranians may not have succeeded in causing damage on the ground, but they may have begun to learn what they may have to do going forward to make the success of a future nuclear attack a real possibility. We need to keep an eye out for all Iranian activity which could be seen as learning how to penetrate Israel’s missile defense that worked so well on April 13. 

In this regard, the main conclusion from the assault should not be whether Israel will respond or not— Israeli leaders will have to continue to decide, even after its limited action —but a recommitment to isolate Iran and prevent it from continuing on a path toward a nuclear capability. 

Strategies must now be developed by the US and our allies to begin to reverse the path of Iran’s nuclear development. A comprehensive approach, including expanded sanctions, political pressure on those assisting Iran, intelligence work and military options— should all be part of a more serious approach to the Iranian nuclear challenge. 

Let’s focus on the real existential threat to Israel. 

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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