Deterrence and Punishment

Iran fired over 300 drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic rockets at Israel in the overnight (my time) of last Saturday. That’s what the question of deterrence and of punishment must respond to.

Israel’s leaders were considering whether to respond to the wave of more than 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles fired by Iran. [Pedantic nitpick: missiles are guided; ballistic “missiles,” being unguided, are rockets.]

Israel’s defenses, along with American, British, and—significantly—Jordanian air forces, shot down many of those Iranian weapons before they reached Israeli airspace. Also significantly, Israeli fighters were operating in Jordanian airspace as part of those shootdowns. In toto, 99% of those 300 plus were destroyed in the air, which according to my third grade arithmetic, means that 3, or so, got through to do minor damage, in one case to an Israeli air base, and to inflict mostly minor injuries on Israelis: possibly one death, possibly one with critical injuries. Other estimates, less pedantic than mine, put the number of Iranian weapons that got through at “a handful.”

The question, then, is what should the Israeli response be? Progressive-Democratic President Joe Biden is pressing for a diplomatic answer exclusively, and he’s convened a G-7 meeting to develop one. So far, though, all that’s come out of that meeting is firm finger-wagging and empty words of reaffirmed commitment to Israel’s security.

A sub-question is what else should that diplomatic response be? One outcome could be a complete economic isolation of Iran by the Seven, even though Russia and the People’s Republic of China would ignore that. It’s an open question, too, whether all of the Seven (or any one of them) have the moral, much less the political, courage to implement—and enforce—such an isolation.

I’m not holding my breath on that. I have no principled objection to serious diplomacy here; however, diplomacy, no matter how serious, cannot be the only response, given Israel is a target of an ongoing existential war nominally begun by the Iranian satrap, Hamas, and now directly prosecuted by Iran, whose rhetoric always has called for the extermination of Israel. “Nominally,” because Hamas would not have struck in the way and to the extent it did without Iran’s prior permission, encouragement, and weapons supply.

At least some high-up Israelis favor a more concrete response.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said last week his country would attack Iran should Tehran launch an assault on Israeli territory. “That assertion remains valid,” Katz told the Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday.

Frankly, I agree. Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate appears to agree, also (and with more weight than my august self carries) [emphasis added]:

The idea of trying to de-escalate the war in the Middle East is no doubt in the US interest, and no doubt also in Israel’s. However, the deterrence of Iran and the punishment of Iran for Israel is more important.

Some will see this desire for punishment as a desire for vengeance. Often “punishment” is just petty get-even. In many cases, though, and this one is canonical, deterrence doesn’t exist without a serious response inflicting serious consequences on the attacker: punishment.

Iran claims it’s done with its attacks for now:

Iran on Sunday said it plans no more action against Israel, but its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has said it would retaliate against the US or any country in the region that helps Israel hit back against Tehran.

That may be; Iran only took one shot at the US (and missed) in response to our execution (my term) of the then-head of the IRGC’s QUDS Force during the Trump administration. That was a trivial response, though; Iran’s attack on Israel was much more significant, involving as it did so many drones, missiles, and rockets, including what appears to be a significant fraction of the 3,000 homegrown missiles Iran still has. The weight of that supposed one-off response means it was not at all merely a tit-for-tat answer to Israel’s execution (again, my term) of two of Iran’s senior terrorist commanders in a building near, and separate from, an Iranian consulate building. A physical response is necessary.

One question that arises from this is how strong a physical response would be appropriate, with “appropriate” centered on proportionality. One school argues for a response commensurate with the actual damage done by the Iranian attack—which is to say, Israel would be done, also.

Another school argues for a response commensurate with the damage that would have been done had the Iranian assault succeeded in rain[ing] death and destruction on the people of Israel, as Avi Mayer, Former Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post put it (via Claire Berlinski’s The Cosmopolitan Globalist, a periodical well worth reading in its own right). This is, by far, the more optimal response, although it need not—should not IMNSHO—include raining death and destruction on the people of Iran. That would be petty tit-for-tat (and I don’t think that’s what Yadlin or Katz are aiming for). Instead, Israel should (again IMO) identify two or three of the bases from which the cruise missiles and rockets (ignore the drones for now) were launched and strike them with a view to severely damaging, if not destroying, them.

That would satisfy the necessity of an Israeli response, and it would be lesser in scope than that of Iran’s prior “responding” attack on Israel—a step down in violence. Iran likely would respond again, and likely in keeping with past practice, do so with its own decreasing response. Then it would be time to call a halt, if only tacitly, by Israel not responding further.

But wait:

Iran’s missile capabilities remain potent: US officials estimate it has over 3,000 homegrown missiles.

How potent, really? Israel and some friends (some sort of real, and some sort of tacit) knocked down those 99% of the 300. Iran’s missile (and rocket and drone) capabilities aren’t all that. I predict, too, that an Israeli attack on those two or three Iranian facilities would succeed with very few losses by the Israelis. That punishment response would demonstrate the utterly one-sided imbalance in both defensive and offensive capabilities between the two nations. That empirically demonstrated imbalance would enhance deterrence.

Such a decreasing cycle would fit a legitimate desire for de-escalation, too, as opposed to Biden’s knee-jerk quit now for the sake of quitting, or any “we quit, please don’t shoot at us anymore for a while” path.

Frankly, I favor de-escalation via the more durable (though still not permanent) path of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and its ability to mount another attack past its own geographic borders until it has completely rebuilt its defense establishment. Israel cannot afford such a move, though, in materiel, personnel, and money, especially given the weak-kneed position of Biden who has, until Saturday (and may again, after the current public hoo-raw dies down), openly supported the pro-terrorist Hamas supporters in his own administration and Party.

Too, Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, and Iraqi permission for overflight in support of such a move, and permission from the UAE and Qatar to refuel going and coming, would be problematic (although the latter two seem to have provided that support this time, it was to help Israel to defend, not to attack). Behind the scenes, they support Israel in its conflict with terrorists and with Iran, but granting those permissions would force the Arab nations to take a public stance in support of Israel. The Abraham Accords don’t include all of these nations. In the end, too, Accord member or not, they may not be willing to be so overtly public in opposition to Iran, especially given the Biden administration’s general timidity in front of Iran.

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