Strategic Analysis: Israel eyes the Islamic Republic

Tensions are soaring in the Middle East. But as the world awaits and debates the possibility of a highly speculated unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, the reality is that the Iranian threat to Israel goes far beyond a nuclear device.

Protesters burn American and Israeli flags at an anti-Israel demonstration.

Decades of proxy wars with Iran, attacks, genocidal rhetoric and Tehran’s dangerous obsession with the “Zionist entity”, highlight that the primary perceived threat to Israel stems not from a nuclear device, but from the Islamic regime and the revolutionary ideology behind it. Therefore, as long as the Iranian state remains committed to Israel’s destruction, Israelis will feel continually threatened and the conflict between Iran and Israel will persist – with or without a nuclear bomb.

State-sanctioned anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish ideology has been a staple of the Islamic regime since its founding in 1979. Thus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent calls for Israel’s destruction and more importantly Ayatollah Khameini’s prediction of it are not new developments. But for Israelis, such threats are not easy to dismiss, despite Iran’s ability or inability to make good on them. Israel’s critics often respond to its concerns over Iran with allegations of warmongering, citing lack of clear intelligence.  But for better or for worse, the collective history of Israel’s Jewish population and their peculiar situation in the volatile Middle East, underline why Israel  takes Iran’s threats seriously and even considers acting against it in the first place.

In line with the “Begin Doctrine”, Israel has proven throughout its history that it is willing to undertake daring operations far beyond its borders, even against opposition from its closest ally – the US. In 1981, Israel attacked Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, while destroying Syria’s reactor in 2007. Both times, Washington was either not involved or adamantly against any unilateral Israeli attack.  At present, Israelis are highly divided on how to act against Iran, but they do not disagree that Iran is a dangerous and determined enemy and one that must be curtailed. Israel does have options. It is just a question of what should be done, when, or how.

The center of gravity inside Iran is not its nuclear program; rather it is the fiery brand of revolutionary Islam that brought the Islamist regime to power in the first place. Therefore, one should not be surprised if Israel opts not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities but rather chooses to do something more daunting. Striking only Iran’s nuclear program would be a tactical solution to a grand strategic problem.

While Israel could theoretically live with delaying Iran’s atomic program in the short term, the aim of any concerted action, should it happen, would likely be to facilitate strategic consequences that would ultimately serve to end or severely alter the Islamic Republic in the long term. Without addressing and acting against this primary threat, Iran will continue to hound Israel wherever it can and whenever it can.

Mullahs of Iran Real Threat

An Iranian nuclear arsenal is undoubtedly a threat to Israel, but that threat is only as dangerous as the Mullahs who wield the ideology that guides it. This is evident in that unlike other nuclear states, the Islamic Republic views its nuclear program as a source of national pride; a testament to the successes of revolutionary Islam. Very few nations hold mass-rallies and grand celebrations to highlight achievements in “peaceful” nuclear technology; all the while chanting “Death to Israel.”  Thus the question arises: would Israel simply settle for striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, only to witness the same breed of Iranian leaders rebuild and continue to target them in the near future? Israel’s leaders are likely aware that the Iranian threat is much broader than that.

Like Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime considers the Islamic Republic as the premier Islamic authority. Therefore, it is committed to spreading the Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East – by violence if need be. But standing in Iran’s way is a host of Sunni states as well as an economically and militarily-sound, sovereign Jewish State.

Israel and Iran have been in a proxy war for decades. Iran has been a sworn enemy of Israel, devoted to destroying it. Such sentiment is obsessive and Israelis see it as dangerous. The Islamic Republic remains Israel’s ultimate target, all else, including their nuclear program, is secondary. With Iran’s Shiite-led axis now on the defensive throughout the Middle East, Iran may be in for some surprises.

Pointedly, Israelis remember the times when Iran was an ally in the region, a fellow ancient nation that acted to counter Arab hegemony in the Middle East. While many Israelis often speak fondly of such cooperation and of Persian culture, Israel must now contend with a state that professes to want its obliteration with or without a nuclear weapon. Nonetheless, Israel will ultimately act on its own perception of what enhances its interests and security, with or without the consent of policymakers in Brussels, Washington, and other foreign capitals. As Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently said: “We mustn’t sweep the reality under the carpet. We should impose harsher sanctions and not be under the illusion that we are dealing with a conventional regime. We mustn’t take any option off the table. And, before it is too late, we must force the violent, tyrannical Iranian regime to face a dilemma: A bomb or survival.”

Whether right or wrong, as long as the Iranian regime considers Israel an ideological threat and cannot countenance a Jewish state amidst a sea of Islamic states, the Islamic Republic will remain in Israel’s sights.

This article was written by Daniel Brode and was also published in the Jerusalem Post on September 3.