Why did Israel have to strike back to Iran?

By Fadi Quran

Israel’s core military strategic doctrine is founded upon achieving maximum deterrence by convincing its adversaries that they will pay a disproportionately high price if they challenge it.

To achieve this deterrence, Israel focuses on 4 key pillars:

– Decisive military victory: Israel’s military will always pursue a crushing and decisive military victory against its adversaries. This is what Israel pursued in the Nakba, the 6 day war, the war on Lebanon in 1982, and so forth. It seeks to show its adversaries that it can crush them fast.

This of course requires military strength and readiness, which is why Israel ensures no other regional actor has anything equal to the military it has and why they force every Israeli to serve in the military. It’s all designed to achieve what’s termed as Qualitative Military Edge.

– Robust Intelligence: this gives Israel’s adversaries the perception that its intelligence capabilities are everywhere, that they’re infiltrated, “Israel sees everything they do”. It also allows early warning.

– Defensible borders and strategic depth: Whether through its air force or through the iron dome – Israel seeks to convince its adversaries that its borders are impenetrable. This is one of the reasons the US used its leverage on Jordan and regional allies to take down many of Iran’s missiles before they reached the Jordan river.

– Superpower protection: Israel has invested in strengthening its lobby groups in the US to ensure any White House administration feels the deep necessity, based on US electoral politics, to serve Israel even if that is against US national interests.

– Arab regime infiltration: Israel has also invested in penetrating Arab regimes and engaged with the US in efforts to ensure only Arab dictators they like remain in power. It has sought to help censor Arab voices and populations who support Palestine, while amplifying claims of Israel’s invincibility and the necessity of giving in to it.

Crucially, this deterrence posture is not just designed for the consumption of Israel’s adversaries, but for Israeli society. The ideology of Zionism is partially founded on weaponizing the trauma and fears of the Jewish people (caused by their painful history of persecution), and using that fear to convince them that the only way they can be safe is an ethno-national state. In order for this ideology to be trusted by the average Israeli, the Jewish state needs to feel like a fortress – impenetrable and invincible.

Yet since October 7th, Israel has been bleeding deterrence. First their “impenetrable” borders were penetrated. Their “robust intelligence” proved to be a failure. They failed to achieve a decisive victory in Gaza after 195 days.

Their tactic of mass bloodshed has weakened their alliances, with even the US population shifting against them.

Moreover, the inability to return the hostages held in Gaza or return the Israelis displaced in the north and south to their towns has chipped at Israelis’ trust in their government’s ability to protect them.

Iran’s strike in retaliation for the bombing of its embassy last week partially sought to increase the hemorrhage of deterrence by signaling they can hit Israel’s depth. They made the attack large and public forcing the average Israeli to go into bunkers as part of psychological warfare.

Israel’s military strategists realized they needed to stitch up this new wound in their deterrence by showing they still have qualitative military edge. Yet they were under pressure not to turn this into a regional war.

Their solution: Hit back, avoid creating casualties, but ensure Israeli society gets a strong signal that “we’re still strong”, Iran gets a signal that Israel will hit its territory whenever Israel gets hit, and the regional tension keeps eyes away from the crimes it’s committing in Gaza – deflecting away accountability.

What we saw this morning largely reflects these calculations.

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