When adversaries tell you what they want, it is best to believe them. For decades, the regime in Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas loudly demanded, “Death to Israel. Death to America.” The mistake in the West was to dismiss such calls as political theater—offering concessions and “grand bargains” instead. The savagery of Hamas’ Iranian-backed attacks on Israel should leave no doubt: America’s enemies mean what they say. If the United States is to fully support Israel in defending itself at this critical hour of need, it is urgent that the White House radically and publicly reverse course on Iran—a major supporter of Hamas.
For decades, Tehran has provided Hamas with arms, training, and support. The regime reportedly assisted the unprecedented barbarism that Hamas unleashed on Israel over the weekend. Clearly, Tehran does not fear meaningful retaliation from the United States for promoting such violence. A major reason: The White House’s conciliatory approach to Iran has been misguided from the start.
President Joe Biden entered office promising to roll back the Trump White House’s previous maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Biden’s official intention was to “de-escalate” tensions with Iran’s clerical regime through a “strategy of deterrence, of pressure, and diplomacy,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was a fine sentiment. Unfortunately, it was the wrong strategy.
Even as the Biden White House negotiated with Iran, the clerical regime’s proxies and militia groups steadily increased their attacks against U.S. partners and forces in the Middle East. Hamas is one of those groups. While its grotesque escalation against Israel over the weekend was unprecedented in its brutality, its intensification of violence was also in line with Tehran’s method of entertaining negotiations with Washington on the one hand while spreading terror and chaos on the other. Sadly, this tactic is not new. Like Iran, Russia has played a similar double game in Europe.
President Biden entered office with plans to improve U.S.-Russian relations. “We want a stable, predictable relationship” with the Kremlin, he asserted. The White House quickly sealed a nuclear arms control deal with Russia to extend the New START Treaty and—astonishingly—entrusted the Kremlin to act as our intermediary in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. In less than a year, all of these efforts were in cinders.
Russia burned the New START Treaty, repeated its taunts to topple American power worldwide, launched the largest European land war since World War II, and continues to kill innocent Ukrainians with drones made in Iran. Three years into this administration, Washington’s relationship with Moscow is anything but stable or predictable, and we no longer use Russia as our formal go-between with Iran.
The fact is that America does not have a specific “Iran problem” or a “Russia problem.” Tehran and Moscow are just the most prominent examples of America’s larger rogue state problem. Regimes are finding that overtly challenging the United States and its allies through direct or proxy violence reaps rewards and concessions. Hamas’ attack from Gaza is only the most recent — and most murderous — manifestation of this intensifying trend.
From Venezuela to North Korea, Syria to Niger, restive, revisionist, and repugnant regimes are flouting—and in some cases unraveling—the old order of rules and alliances that America built up over decades. In its place, these rogues seek to topple that order and establish an alternative world where might makes right. Russia’s expanded invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was the violent overture of this strategy. With the support of Iran, Hamas’s assault on Israel is the murderous counterpoint. The United States tried to sanction Putin’s war machine with mixed results. In responding to Hamas’ violence, Washington has a clear moral and political imperative to make Iran an object lesson for other rogues and predatory regimes.
The White House can start by reverting to America's previous—and successful—policy of maximum pressure on Iran. This means targeting the clerical regime’s cash—money it uses to fund terror operations like the one we just witnessed. The U.S. Treasury must close the permissive gaps in our current sanctions that allow Tehran to sell over a million barrels of illicit oil per day and immediately freeze the $6 billion in funds that the Biden administration allowed the regime to access in August. The White House claimed that it could shut off Iran’s access to these funds at any time. Now is absolutely the right time to do just that.
If we are going to fully support Israel in defending itself — and we must — the world must see that Hamas and Iran are defeated. The economic carrots for Tehran must be replaced with only sticks.