Australia/Israel Review, Featured

Editorial: A new coalition against Iran

Apr 19, 2024 | Colin Rubenstein

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari displays to the media one of the Iranian ballistic missiles Israel intercepted on April 14, in Julis army base, southern Israel, April 16, 2024 (Image: AAP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari displays to the media one of the Iranian ballistic missiles Israel intercepted on April 14, in Julis army base, southern Israel, April 16, 2024 (Image: AAP/Tsafrir Abayov)

The massive, unprecedented Iranian attack launched against Israel in the early morning hours of April 14 was truly a watershed event, combining the first-ever direct fire on Israel from Iran itself with attacks from virtually every single one of the numerous proxy armies Iran sponsors across the Middle East. 

In the words of US-based analyst Jonathan Schanzer, “For years, the Israelis have been talking about [the] so-called octopus strategy, where they have said that it’s not sufficient to fight with the tentacles of the octopus but that they need to strike at the head of the octopus. Well, the octopus head has just emerged.” 

What Schanzer means is that Iran has been orchestrating a vast plan to surround Israel militarily on all sides and attack it constantly – which the regime openly says is intended to lead to the destruction of the Jewish state by 2040. Teheran’s ability to hide behind the non-Persian proxies it finances, trains, arms and largely controls, and pay no price for this blatant aggression, should now be coming to an end. 

Iran’s pretext for the attack, we’re told, was to retaliate for the April 1 killing of seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers in Damascus, in a building adjacent to the Iranian Embassy, reportedly by Israel. But who were these targets?

Chief among them was IRGC General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the IRGC’s highest-ranking commander in the region, in charge of coordinating Iran’s network of proxy militias in Syria and Lebanon. 

As the only non-Lebanese member of Hezbollah’s decision-making Shura Council, Zahedi held tremendous influence over the Shi’ite terrorist group’s attacks on Israel’s northern border communities, which have been ongoing daily since Oct. 8 and have forced the continued evacuation of more than 60,000 Israelis from their homes.

Also among those killed were Zahedi’s deputy and his chief of staff. These men were at the very centre of Iran’s ongoing, unprovoked war of aggression against Israel. 

The IDF strike on these IRGC commanders wasn’t only legitimate, it was effective – seriously disrupting the command-and-control system that Iran uses to coordinate with not only Hezbollah, but with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iraqi militias and the Houthis, as well. 

Given Iran’s openly-declared multi-front war of aggression, for Israel to give IRGC officers a pass and focus only on the proxies they command and use as cannon-fodder would be both foolish and immoral.

Iran’s retaliation, however, was unquestionably reckless. Contrary to some misguided reports, it wasn’t symbolic or intended to fail, but was most likely the largest long-range missile attack the region has ever seen, deploying slower drones as a diversion for the 150 cruise and ballistic missiles carrying warheads of up to one tonne. 

Israel’s extensive missile defences and a US-led coalition including the UK, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia successfully tracked and shot down almost all of the incoming projectiles, with only one Israeli – a young Bedouin girl – injured, and minor damage to an airbase. In US President Biden’s words, this was indeed a “win” for Western allies in their first head-to-head confrontation with Iran. 

Moreover, the fact that Jordan and, more discreetly, Saudi Arabia didn’t hesitate to assist in Israel’s defence six months into Israel’s gruelling war with Hamas and Hezbollah dramatically demonstrated that, at the moment of truth, the national interests of Sunni Arab states – in this case, confronting the common threat from Iran – took precedence over support for the Palestinian agenda.

The defence against Iran’s attack was so good, in fact, that the Israeli Government is now being pressured not to respond at all. These calls are misplaced, because defence – even the best defence – doesn’t deter the enemy. Failing to respond is very likely to lead to future attacks. 

Israel’s right to defend itself includes the right to respond at a time and in a manner of its choosing. While that response had not happened as of press time, it must be supported in principle. Still, if international actors want to minimise the risk of further military escalation as a result of Israel’s response, they need to find other ways to ensure Iran internalises that its acts of blatant aggression lead to serious costs.

Thus, just as a coalition took part in the defence, the response to Iran’s unprecedented barrage ought not to come from Israel alone. For its part, the US has already taken the initiative and announced it will be slapping new sanctions on Iran, targeting its missile and drone program and entities that support the IRGC and Iran’s Defence Ministry. Washington has also said it is expecting US allies to add their own sanctions – and some European states are reportedly preparing to do so.

The Albanese Government, which warned Iran not to attack Israel and appropriately condemned the attack afterwards but did not participate in the defence operation, has an opportunity here to go beyond mere rhetoric and respond to Washington’s call. Given it was mainly the IRGC behind these attacks, it seems more than timely to now move to implement the Senate Committee recommendation last year to list the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.

New sanctions should just be a curtain-raiser to a much broader policy shift for the US, EU and its allies regarding Iran’s nuclear program, which today stands on the cusp of weaponisation.

As former International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director Olli Heinonen wrote in the wake of the April 14 attack, “Imagine the impunity with which Iran might act if it felt emboldened by possession of a nuclear umbrella.” 

Heinonen says it’s still not too late to pressure Iran into a workable nuclear deal that, under tight supervision, could stop a nuclear breakout. However, given how close Iran stands to building a bomb, that pressure “must be backed not only by sanctions but also by the willingness to take military action.”

Before its April 14 attack, the West could perhaps turn a blind eye to the malevolent actions of Iran’s proxies and hope that Iran’s aggression could be managed quietly. Following the unprecedented attack that night, such beliefs are exposed as delusional. What must therefore change dramatically, before it’s too late, is an effective response to Iran’s destructive and dangerous path from all nations committed to a stable international order, meaning not only the US and Europe, but also Australia. 

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