War with Iran? Don’t be the Dog in the Fight

When a dog is hit with a stick it bites the stick; the person holding the stick remains unscathed.

This isn’t a great revelation, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that the dog is never going to win by attacking the stick. Apparently however, we can’t or won’t take this simple lesson and apply it to our own situation. By going after Hamas and Hezbollah and not their chief benefactor, Iran, Israel is well, the dog of the Middle East. But with Israel’s alleged attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, this may finally be changing.

Iran couldn’t care less about Palestinians and Lebanese getting hurt by Israel. They are the sticks – there to simply hit Israel. No matter how many Palestinian and Lebanese lives are lost, infrastructure destroyed, and dreams dashed, if it results in Israel getting hurt, Iran delights. For Iran, the deaths of more than 1,500 Israelis at the cost of almost zero Iranian lives is a clear victory. The longer this goes on, the more Israelis’ lives will be lost. All at the cost of almost no Iranian personnel. Palestinian and Lebanese lives be damned.

Israel needs to change the nature of this fight. And the Damascus hit may mean that Israel is slowly waking up to this reality. It needs to go after Iran. It needs to make sure that every time it is hit by one of the sticks (Hamas, Hezbollah, and now the Houthis), Iran feels the bite. It needs to project fear. These bites need to hurt. The fear needs to be real. Deterrence needs to be reestablished. Not sanctions, not tweets about nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. Not press releases and statements about antisemitism. Enough. Israel needs to go after the source. And if Iran begins to feel the bite – really begins to feel the bite – it will think twice about supporting Hamas, Hezbollah and all the rest.

Many will say that this is war mongering. Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, the war is on. It is happening. And it didn’t start on Oct 7 either. It’s been on for years but maddeningly, only Israel’s enemies seemed to know that.

So how exactly does Israel go about this? Iran is geographically quite far and dropping troops off on Darak beach in southern Iran every time there is a rocket launched from Gaza into Israel isn’t exactly feasible. Targeted assassinations work well; they stoke fear. But let’s learn from our enemies. Iran has created and nurtured Hamas and Hezbollah among another half dozen terrorist orgs around the Middle East. Due to this support, they are now formidable players capable of doing real damage to Israel. Why doesn’t Israel nurture its own proxies? There is a myriad of Iranian opposition groups in and around Iran, many of which would love real (not token) support from Israel and the West.

To be fair, this isn’t so simple. These organizations are fractured, many with disparate goals and aims, and…weak. Incredibly weak. But we have to start somewhere. If we had half the success that Iranian support of Hamas and Hezbollah has engendered, we would be able to cause real damage to Iran – enough to make them think twice before employing their proxies again. Some in Israel have even called for a more bold and aggressive strategy along these lines: the creation of an Israeli Quds Force – an Israeli version of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, Iran’s paramilitary organization responsible for foreign operations. There is definitely merit to this argument.

To those who would argue that these opposition groups would then become fodder (‘sticks’ in our earlier analogy) akin to Hamas and Hezbollah, a separate and additional goal of supporting them would be to actually overthrow the Islamic Republic, something they are already trying to do (though failing miserably). Many of these groups (though not all) have laudable goals that stand on their own merit.

Another strategy would be to create a real and robust, anti-Iran, or more specifically, an anti-Islamic Republic, coalition (though likely covert at this stage). Again, lets learn from our enemies. Iran has created a Shia Crescent – a large swathe of the Middle East that is under Iranian influence. Their reasons for doing so are complex and frankly, less relevant here, but it has resulted in a non-Shia bloc that is petrified of whats next. This gives Israel an opportunity. The Abraham Accords is a good start but not enough. Saudi Arabia needs to be brought on board. That really shouldn’t be so difficult, as it has been locked in its own proxy war – sometimes hot, sometimes cold – with Iran for years. Additionally, the US needs to back these actions, something that won’t happen anytime soon. But again, we need to start somewhere.

A cursory look at the map of Iran and its neighbors shows that it can be semi-surrounded by a coalition of the willing. The gulf countries (such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE) are to its southwest, Azerbaijan (a close trading partner of Israel’s) to its northwest. The Kurds are already inside Iranian borders, both in general and in the west in particular. Finally, Israel also recently opened an embassy in Turkmenistan – a Sunni-majority Muslim country on Iran’s northeastern border that is keen to bolster its relationship with the Gulf states and has concerns over Iran’s growing belligerency in the region. (To be fair, other sources say that Turkmenistan and Iran enjoy quite warm relations, but this hasn’t stopped analysts from dreaming up Israeli Airforce attack scenarios stemming from this country.)

For all these strategies to be considered a success, the fall of the Islamic Republic – while the ultimate goal for sure – isn’t a necessity. Israel just needs to make sure that every time Iran employs its sticks, it gets hurt in the process. So hurt that it stops using its sticks. If the aid and support from Iran dries up, the terrorist organizations surrounding Israel would quickly become toothless. But the corollary is also true: unless and until Iran is dealt with, fighting Hamas and Hezbollah is a fool’s errand. Even if the current round ends in an Israeli victory, the next round will just be around the corner. Let’s not be the dog in the fight.

About the Author
Ari Rudolph is a political risk analyst currently working in philanthropy. Before graduating from Hebrew University with a Masters in Diplomacy and National Security, Ari served as a lone-soldier in the IDF. Over the years, Ari has lived and worked in Johannesburg, Washington, D.C., New York and Israel, where he worked at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Related Topics
Related Posts