Why Iran Won the Last Middle East Conflict

by HERBERT LONDON December 19, 2012

Although the truce between Gaza and Israel didn't lead to an unequivocal result, Israeli officials said they destroyed most rocket launchers and Gazan leaders maintain the settlement means they resisted the Israeli offensive and have been emboldened by their relative success. Is there a victor in this struggle?

Despite the ambiguity and competing claims, there is a victor: Iran. Admittedly the rockets destroyed by the Israeli Iron Dome were Iranian made, but the Iranians deployed marginal, inaccurate Fajr 5 missiles in order to learn how to avoid anti-missile defenses. Moreover, this was a test for a class of missiles; their more sophisticated hardware remained at home for another day.

Second, this war was a useful distraction for the Iranians to proceed with their nuclear weapons program. The West was focused on ending the strife as soon as possible; Iran was not on the agenda. Considering what is known about the Iranian program, enough fissile material, even at a 20 percent grade level, now exists to produce six Hiroshima-like nuclear weapons - crude by contemporary standards, but more than enough to cause extraordinary damage.

Third, Iran has reliable surrogates eager to go to war to enhance Iran's imperial goals. Hamas is armed and financed through Iran. Notwithstanding the fact it is Sunni oriented and Iran is Shia, the two sects can easily collaborate when they have a common goal: the destruction of Israel. In fact, Iran is promoting a three front war against Israel - Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and a potential nuclear force in Iran itself.

Fourth, Iran has made it clear that it is a power to be reckoned with in the Middle East. The inability of the United States to shut down its nuclear program and prevent the exportation of thousands of missiles are regarded by Iranian leaders as "no cost" options. That explains why Hezbollah has rearmed with thousands of missiles and why Hamas is waiting in the wings to be rearmed as well. It is only a matter of time before a new class of Iranian weapons are fired at Israel and Iran adopts the stance of "implausible" deniability.

Fifth, Iran senses the weakness of the United States. Afterall, it was Prime Minister Morsi of Egypt who negotiated a settlement between Israel and Gaza; a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood negotiating with Hamas, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is tantamount to a father negotiating with his son. On every level, it is absurd. However, it demonstrates to Iranian leaders that Israel is isolated, not merely because the U.S. doesn't have the stomach for intervention, but because European states have tilted in a Muslim direction.

Sixth, it has long been assumed that Sunni nations in the region - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey - could serve as a counter weight to Iranian ambitions for a "Shia Crescent." ‘But this Hamas-Israel war makes it clear that these nations share the Iranian hatred of Israel and, while they are suspicious of Persians, will make their peace with Iran - recognizing Iran as the "Strong Horse" in the region.

Israel may rejoice over the 88 percent missile shoot down rate of the Iron Dome. But war is not static. It remains to be seen how the Iron Dome will respond when a new class of missiles are deployed. Israel will soon introduce David's Sling for somewhat longer range missiles in an effort to anticipate Iranian strategy. However, as long as Israel refuses to engage in land battles to clean out all the launchers, another round of war is inevitable. Now the Iranians know Israel is not likely to attack Iran, even if it was the catalyst for the recent war.

Israel is certainly not the defeated party in this recent war, but it is not the victor either. Iran is the victor. It may have lost many missiles, but its investment in this war was modest compared to its gain. This is a frightening outcome that we in the United States ignore at our peril.


Herbert London is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the President of the London Center for Policy Research. He is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). 


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