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Source: The Hill

Nov 7, 2023

Biden’s Iran policy needs to match post-10/7 realities


Everything in the Middle East changed on 10/7, except President Biden’s Iran policy. 

Hamas’s savagery exposed Iran-led Islamist extremism seeking to not only “obliterate” Jews and Israel but also to destroy the foundations of Western civilization. The United States, the guarantor of that civilization, unwittingly helped enable this aggression by accommodating and emboldening the Tehran regime. 

It’s time for President Biden to recognize and confront the new stakes.

Immediately following Hamas’s brutal invasion of Israel, President Biden admirably conveyed staunch support for Israel, visited Israel, launched an impressive resupply of weapons to Israel and proposed $14 billion more in supplemental support, which has cost him support from his progressive base.

However, Biden hasn’t altered his accommodationist policy toward Iran, even though the Tehran-backed Hamas invasion proved his pre-10/7 Iran policy a failure and based on incorrect assumptions.  

Biden was determined from the start to engage the Tehran regime, reduce tensions and avoid confrontations with it, and delay, not prevent, it from going nuclear by returning to a version of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, to which senior Biden officials have been almost theologically committed.

This approach involved lax U.S. enforcement of sanctions against Iranian oil exports which conservatively earned the Tehran regime an extra $30 billion since 2021, and this year unfroze Iranian funds and granted International Monetary Fund special drawing rights totaling over $20 billion. This helped Tehran continue or raise its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other brutal anti-Israel, anti-American Islamist terrorist proxies.

Biden further signaled there was no penalty for Iranian aggression, even against Americans. There has been no U.S. retaliation against various Iranian plots to abduct and kill Americans on American soil. And before 10/7 our organization tracked 90 attacks on U.S. forces by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria during the Biden administration, with the U.S. retaliating only four times. And when America did retaliate, the damage was limited, with Washington stressing it didn’t want a conflict with Tehran.

This past March, the last time the U.S. retaliated against Iranian proxies before 10/7, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated, “The United States took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties.”

Tehran leaders could safely conclude there was little cost to its aggression against America, let alone Israel.

Indeed, an emboldened Iran helped orchestrate the savage Hamas attack on 10/7, and then attacked the U.S. troops via proxy at least 38 times, which resulted in injuries to around 45 American soldiers and one American contractor dying of cardiac arrest.

Austin still stuck to script and stated on Oct. 26, much like in March: “The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities. ….These narrowly tailored strikes in self-defense were intended solely to protect and defend U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria.” He further undercut Israel, adding these retaliatory strikes “are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

Iran replied the next day with another proxy attack on U.S. forces. And it has attacked at least 18 more times since.

The result: America’s standing declined further, Iran emboldened and more likely to achieve nuclear weapons, Arab allies more fearful, peace more distant, Israel more challenged, and an Iran-Israel war more likely.

Biden needs to revamp his Iran policy, making regime collapse his strategic aim — applying pressure on all fronts to heighten the regime’s internal stress and hasten the Iranian people overthrowing it. In the near term, he needs to signal to Iran the party is over.

He has to hit back at Iran hard for its attacks on U.S. forces and signal he is prepared to hit back far harder. Iran doesn’t want a serious conflict with the United States.

He also he needs to enforce sanctions strictly, and no longer unfreeze Iranian funds. There can no longer be a permissive environment, and American deterrence needs to be restored.

Further, to limit the conflict widening, Biden needs to firmly communicate to Tehran that America will not tolerate Hezbollah unleashing on Israel its arsenal of 150,000 rockets and several hundred precision-guided missiles.

One initial way to send that signal would be for Biden to expedite the delivery to Israel of KC-46 aerial refueling tankers, which will help Israel bomb far-away targets, such as Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The U.S. approved Israel’s purchase of eight tankers, with delivery beginning in 2025; Israel has asked for at least two to be expedited.

To restore its shattered deterrence, Israel is now compelled to make an example of Hamas and destroy it for the whole Middle East and the world to see. But Israel knows its ultimate threat is Iran, which it must neutralize. 

President Biden needs to recognize the new global stakes and restore U.S. deterrence to confront Iran.

Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official, is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).

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