The parallels between Hamas and ISIS became awfully apparent following the grotesque horrors over the last two weeks. This parallel, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden have both rightfully drawn, offers an opportunity to reframe the nature and scope of U.S. and allied engagement in this war. Much like the world rallied to defeat the scourge of ISIS after its rise in 2014, a new global coalition is needed to confront the threat without which the October 7 attacks would not have been possible: Iran.
The attacks demonstrated Iran’s unrestrained desire to disrupt peace and spread violence, as well as its multi-faceted and ever-evolving tactics for doing so. Just recently, the Biden administration was touting the thaw in relations it had achieved with Iran: the Houthi rebels in Yemen had adopted an uneasy ceasefire; Iraqi militias had not attacked U.S. forces in months; Tehran released five American hostages; and it appeared to have slowed its nuclear program.
We now know that this was a feint. While appearing to demonstrate restraint on the fronts the world was watching, Iran sowed the seeds of strife in Gaza by funneling weapons, funding, and training that made the October 7 attack possible. Simultaneously, it fed Russia’s war machine with drones, waged information and assassination operations that threatened dissidents in the United States and Europe, and reaped billions from selling discounted oil to China. At the same time, it continues to brutally suppress the Iranian people who continue to bravely demonstrate following the killing of Mahsa Amini over a year ago. And it remains just days away from a nuclear weapons capability, should it decide to sprint for the bomb.
That is why the United States and international military and diplomatic support for Israel’s effort to defeat Hamas is not enough. There is no question that Israel can eliminate the immediate threat from Hamas. But this is not merely a war between Israel and Hamas. Nor is the only looming threat that of another front opening in the north, though it remains vital that the United States and its allies continue their robust messages and actions seeking to deter escalation by Iran and proxies in the Middle East.
The bloodshed and instability unleashed on October 7 may be revisited upon the world so long as Iran’s ability to export terror remains unchecked. And the window to restrain Iranian destructiveness is shrinking. The complexity of the threat from Iran and its proxies will only expound once Iran achieves nuclear capability, and the options for countering it will shrink once it crosses that threshold.
Addressing Iran and its proxy network comprehensively—eliminating active threats and systematically degrading its ability to plot and coordinate around the world—requires not only Israeli or U.S. action but also a robust international effort. What is needed is a Counter-Iran coalition.
This coalition, formed based on the existing counter-ISIS coalition, should consist of NATO and Arab partners, as well as partners in the Indo-Pacific, and should aim to degrade, if not altogether destroy, the Iranian regime’s proxy network and its capabilities to launch and inspire attacks in the region and around the world through military, economic, diplomatic, and rhetoric means. At a minimum, this means expelling or eliminating Iranian regime proxies from their countries and de-platforming them from any local media presence.
Allies in different regions have different comparative advantages, and all should be leveraged in this global effort to maximize impact. All should contribute to the effort to economically choke and geographically isolate Iran and its proxies by enforcing sanctions (including snap-back sanctions), restricting travel, and reimposing UN embargoes. All can and should dismantle Iran’s terrorist network in their hemisphere and country. And all can coordinate military activity regionally (for example, joint exercises with allies in the Indo-Pacific to intercept “ghost fleets” carrying oil from Iran to China). In the U.S. context, this could require a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) focused on Iran and its proxies. (This option may prove necessary if the United States is to have the option to take kinetic action against nuclear facilities located in Iran).
Regionally-focused efforts could include a coordinated effort by Arab allies to economically share the burden of stabilizing areas of conflict in the region (all of which have an Iranian military or proxy presence). These include Gaza and soon the West Bank.
Ultimately, as JINSA has advocated, the coalition should adopt as its objective facilitating the collapse of the Iranian regime, especially as a way of standing with the Iranian protests since the death of Mahsa Amini. It is unclear when and how that event will come about, but it should be an outcome the United States and the international community should roundly support.
Peace in the region and the world cannot afford Israel to act alone—either responding to attacks or preemptively eliminating threats. And the world now sees clearly that Iran will not adopt a peaceful posture once it acquires a nuclear capability.
With clear statements and actions from the administration and our allies, there is an opportunity to give structure, mission, and coordination for continued engagement. Our future depends on it.
Blaise Misztal is Vice President for Policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). His research interests include Iran and its nuclear program, U.S.-Turkey relations, countering extremism, and strategic competition. Most recently, Misztal was a Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Prior to that, he served as the Executive Director of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, a congressionally mandated project convened by the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Program.
Jacob Olidort is Director of Research at the Gemunder Center for Defense & Strategy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). Olidort served in a range of national security roles across the U.S. government, including in the Office of former Vice President Mike Pence and as foreign policy advisor to two U.S. Senators. He also served in the Central Intelligence Agency and as an advisor on Middle East policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.