Jason Silverman

Israel lacks strategic thinking and Iran is taking advantage

Following the deadly attack carried out against Israel by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas on October 7th, 2023, in Israel, there was no question with regards to who was responsible. Israel’s purview initially remained steadfast on Hamas as the primary target, quickly declaring its intention to completely dismantle the Islamist organization’s military and governance capabilities.

While Hamas is the immediate culprit of the attack, the aftermath of October 7th illustrated that there is a much greater strategic, and even existential, threat that Israel faces. The surprise attack served as a window of opportunity for other militant groups in the region to join the assault on Israel—Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria as well as the Houthis in Yemen. The common denominator of all of these organizations is their foremost patron—Tehran.

The Islamic Republic, who seeks to spread its influence throughout the region through its proxies in order to realize its vision for gaining regional hegemony, is Israel’s primary threat. The regime, through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has for decades sought to create chaos, or utilize it, in different parts of the region in order to export the Islamic revolution and replace existing power structures, for instance, in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

Israel has always been and remains an obstacle to the regime’s objectives. To Iran, Israel is the ultimate manifestation of pervasive Western imperialism and for sustained involvement of the United States in the region’s affairs. Israel favors the more secular and monastic Arab regimes while Iran seeks to install Islamic regimes. Iran has numerously called for the destruction of Israel and has asserted that its trajectory for doing so is 2040.

However, Israel often lacks strategic vision. Israel’s inability to look at its major geopolitical issues strategically hinders its ability to cope with such multifaceted strategic threats. Israel’s tendency is to think about its external threats mostly in military terms. As a result, for decades Israeli governments have often provided tactical answers to strategic questions.

The absence of long-term, strategic thinking on foreign affairs and national security in Israel enabled the threat of Iran to build up and expand with minimal interference throughout the past decade. This may sound strange to some considering the immense attention seemingly devoted to Iran during Binyamin Netanyahu’s long tenure as Israel’s Prime Minister. Although Israel’s security establishment has been directed to act on the issue of Iran, Israeli policy has remained in the tactical sphere primarily engaging in the delaying Tehran from obtaining nuclear capabilities and obstructing the transfer of weapons to militant organizations that threaten Israel. Years of Netanyahu’s enflamed rhetoric pushing the US to leave the deal is an emblematic example of Israel’s chronic tactical thinking as a decent alternative was never offered, and as a result, it paved the way for Iran to make significant progress towards obtaining the lethal weapon.

Iran’s power is fueled by Israel remaining in sustained levels of conflict. The longer the war protracts the better Tehran’s strategy is served in the region. Israel at war with non-state actors places it in a position where it is extremely difficult to bring about a decisive military victory, thereby wearing down its forces, damaging morale, and creating war fatigue, subsequently increasing public demand to stop the war at a point that may not ultimately serve Israel’s interests.

In addition, Israel’s engagement in guerrilla warfare with militants who operate within population-dense areas makes Israel an immensely easy target for criticism and delegitimization. This fuels the global boycott movement against Israel spearheaded by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and leftist groups in the West which seek to popularize the idea that a Jewish and democratic state cannot justifiably exist as a legitimate member of international society.

This indirectly serves Iran’s interests. Israel is becoming weaker in the international arena, Zionism as the idea of Jewish self-determination in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people is becoming increasingly perceived as illegitimate and erroneously compared to Apartheid South Africa, and Iran, through its proxies, are able to complete that pressure by bogging down the country in sustained armed conflict with no decisive end in sight.

Both the global boycott movement and Iran gain power and influence mainly from the exacerbation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also from any active conflict in which Israel is engaged. These conditions allow for Israel to be painted as a warmongering, pariah state, while at the same time weakening it militarily.

Currently, almost nine months after the October 7th massacre, the Israeli government remains without a clear strategy for eradicating Hamas in Gaza, to push Hezbollah back from Israel’s border and allowing for tens of thousands of Israeli civilians to return to their homes, and most importantly, for mitigating the existential threat of Iran. They are all connected and require a comprehensive geopolitical strategy, not just the advanced technology and weapons of the IDF.

So long as Israel continues managing this multi-front war with tactical instead of strategic thinking, Iran’s war against Israel and the global movement to delegitimize the very essence of the Jewish State, will continue unabated.

About the Author
The writer is a PhD candidate in international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a social activist, and a combat reservist. He lives in Jaffa with his wife and two children.
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