Iran Strikes Israel: What’s Next?

April 15, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Tags: IsraelIranAbraham AccordsSanctionsPalestine

Iran Strikes Israel: What’s Next?

A robust set of sanctions and alliances is the best deterrent to Iran. To prevent a wider war and the economic and political catastrophe that will come with it, the United States needs to strengthen its friends and discourage its enemies. 

Iran’s attack on Israel, with more than 170 drones and 120 ballistic missiles, is the largest airstrike that Tehran has ever launched against the Jewish State. 

Previously, Iran used proxy forces, including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, to rain down rockets on Israeli homes and ships. Now, Iran is attacking directly and striking at better-guarded military sites. 

Iran has crossed a red line—forcing responses from both Israel and America. The Islamic Republic is openly courting war. We should not give them the war that they want.

“Certainly, this is an escalation,” U.S. House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Turner said on NBC’s Meet the Press, urging the Biden administration to respond to an “already escalating” crisis.

Israel is already promising a response. We will “exact a price from Iran in a way and time that suits us,” War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

Israel is expecting more attacks. It announced country-wide school closures to protect its most vulnerable civilians better. 

The world is inches from an open war between Israel and Iran, which would then draw in Arab states and then the United States.

Let’s carefully consider the chasm opening beneath us. With war, oil and gas prices would climb to new heights, sputtering the U.S. economy and scrambling the U.S. presidential race. Elections are also slated for the UK and other NATO allies this year. 

War would bring to power anti-immigrant parties as either leaders or key coalition partners. 

Meanwhile, with America and NATO distracted, Russia would have a free hand in Ukraine, and China could more safely invade Taiwan, home to the world’s largest maker of semiconductors. Without oil or chips, America is no longer the “leader of the free world” but a captive to the whims of dictators in Tehran and other places. 

The idea that, for the first time since British rule ended in 1783, America’s future will be decided overseas is so bleak and unthinkable that it will drive public opinion to fight a long war with casualties comparable to World War II.

While this dystopia is possible, there is still time to prevent it.

Many ordinary Iranians do not seek war. 

The Iranian regime is unpopular with its own people, the majority of whom are younger than 30. They want prosperity, not conflagration. These are tens of thousands who protested in 2022 and 2023 at a scale that shocked the ayatollahs. The demonstrators cited corruption, not Israel, as the source of their suffering. The unemployment rate reached 9.6 percent in 2023, according to the IMF. It is expected to top 12 percent this year.

Iran’s galloping inflation, now north of 40 percent, mobilizes more apolitical people against the regime. They see the prices in the souk and blame the mullahs. This is why war is a helpful distraction for Iran’s leaders.

At the same time, Israel largely regained its position within the world community, a position that had been severely eroded by civilian losses suffered in fighting Hamas in Gaza.

President Joseph R. Biden praised American forces who helped Israel shoot down “nearly all” of the drones and missiles fired by Iran and pledged to coordinate a global response.

That said, there is fear in Washington that Israel may set off a wider war by responding to Iran’s aggression—a war that America does not want.

President Biden, who confirmed his administration’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel, told Netanyahu in a phone call Saturday that the United States would not join offensive operations against Iran.

Biden is wary of becoming further entangled in the region, as the U.S. Navy is already fending off missiles from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Israel’s and America’s forbearance—sticking to defensive use of anti-missile technology and pinprick counterattacks on Iranian proxies that directly attack U.S. forces—may not be enough to deter Tehran. The mullahs may simply escalate further. 

Clearly, policymakers must think more broadly to prevent war.

Sanctions. While Iran is already one of the most sanctioned nations on Earth, sanctions must be expanded to companies and countries that supply weapons to Iran or its proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. Sanctions should reflect the reality that Iran leads a consortium of terrorist groups. These sanctions need to be enforced by all G-7 nations.

America should also strengthen its support for opposition movements both inside and outside Iran, including trade unions and democratic dissidents.

Air-tight sanctions on oil and gas sales will cut off funds for Iran’s war machine. A slowdown in Iran’s oil exports means more unrest in Iran’s electricity-starved cities and larger budget deficits, which may topple the regime.

Support. The U.S. needs to help its friends, not just cripple its enemies.

Jordan, once described as an “island of stability” in a sea of chaos, now finds itself with a fragile economy, an ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria, and a large population of Palestinian refugees (many of whom are now Jordanian citizens). While a staunch U.S. ally and a recipient of both U.S. military and economic aid, it is teetering as Iran-backed groups spread dissent and militants cross its desert frontiers.

When Jordan’s king decided to shoot down Iranian drones, which had crossed into its sovereign airspace, his decision was popular in Jerusalem and Washington but not at home. Supporting the Jordanian monarchy is not just a moral but a strategic obligation for America.

Other Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, are a few kilometers from Iran and risk reprisals from Iran or its proxies. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have already suffered terror attacks by Iran-backed militants.

The Emirates and Bahrain took a big risk by choosing to be on the side of modernity and peace by signing the Abraham Accords, recognizing and making peace with Israel.

Morocco, America’s oldest ally and also a signatory to the Abraham Accords, will also be vital for countering terrorism across North Africa and stopping Iran’s growing influence across the Arab world and Africa. Morocco’s king is also his nation’s top religious leader and has worked tirelessly to promote a moderate form of Islam across Africa—countering Iran’s many efforts to foment extremism among Africa’s young Muslims.

Prosperity. After vanquishing Hamas in Gaza, a Marshall Plan for the Palestinians would be needed to keep Iran at bay while Gaza is reborn as a peaceful and growing region. In this, Gaza would be reclaiming its past, when, in the days of the Ottoman Empire, it was a key port and a food supplier to the Mediterranean. 

Gaza has sizeable offshore proven gas reserves and could use these resources to finance a low-tax, light-regulatory model like the UAE. This would give ordinary Palestinians hope and prosperity, the proper foundations of a lasting peace.

Washington should sign military treaties similar to the ones that the United States has with Israel to provide ready access to military equipment for Arab countries to defend themselves against Iran. The Arabs need their own “Iron dome.”

The United States often criticizes Arab nations for working with China to maintain their economic and military security. Yet, the Arabs are only asking Beijing for what Washington will not give them. It is time to reverse this dynamic and make it more valuable to be America’s friend.

A robust set of sanctions and alliances is the best deterrent to Iran. To prevent a wider war and the economic and political catastrophe that will come with it, the United States needs to strengthen its friends and discourage its enemies. 

Piecemeal politics won’t do.

Ahmed Charai is the publisher of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune and the CEO of a Morocco-based media conglomerate. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Center for the National Interest, and the International Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace.

Image: John Karrak /