After a protracted period of uncharacteristic dithering over whether and how to retaliate against Iran’s unprecedented and potentially catastrophic attack, Israel finally struck back last Thursday night, albeit in rather muted fashion. Yet the need for prompt and hard-hitting action to reset failed deterrence has long been the centerpiece of Israeli foreign policy. How to explain the change? As we see it, the decision-making this time around was freighted with new game changing considerations.

Indeed, Israel now seems on the cusp of a likely transformative change in relations with the U.S. and several of its Arab neighbors. It is now an open secret that Israel received critical help defending against the Iranian onslaught from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. All have committed, in word and deed, to cooperate with each other in defending against Iranian attacks. And they were all adamant that Israel pull its punches this time around since, they argued, the new era of cooperation would more than make up for the loss of traditional deterrence.


It’s noteworthy that within hours of the toned-down Israeli action against Iran, the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have recognized a Palestinian state as a full member of the UN. Saudi Arabia told the U.S. that it will no longer insist on concrete steps by Israel now in the direction of the establishment of a Palestinian state as a precondition for normalization with Israel. Rather it will now accept apolitical commitment from Israel to support the establishment of Biden is reportedly weighing more than $1 billion in new arms for Israel which would be one of the largest transfers of military hardware – including tank ammunition, military vehicles and mortar rounds – to Israel since the start of the Gaza war.

In fact, the new grouping is loosely based on the Abraham Accords in which several Arab countries agreed to normalize relations with Israel at the behest of the Trump administration to form a common front against Iran and foster economic, technological and military cooperation.

So therein lies the rub.

All of the above countries say their commitment to Israel includes defense only. It does not include support for any affirmative retaliation against Iran, which is not in their respective security interests. Their view is that they have no interest in unnecessarily adding to the perception that they are enemies of another Arab state – especially when they would be cooperating with a country that is currently in a shooting war with Arab Palestinians. Nor are they in favor of any Israeli action that could lead to a larger war between Israel and Iran.

And this is to say nothing about the risk of Iranian retaliation against them!

Pointedly, they have all counseled Israel to be satisfied with its outstanding success in resisting the Iranian rockets, missiles and drones, which together with a strong, regional alliance would stand as a potent deterrent to any Iran adventure in the future.

To be sure, Israel necessarily has a different calculus. That is, if they didn’t retaliate in a serious way against Iran, the only cost to Iran would appear to be the cost of the weaponry expended in the attack against Israel. And Israel cannot allow Iran to think for one moment that that will now be the measure of their exposure in the future.

In addition, according to a new Hebrew University poll, 74% of Israelis oppose a counterstrike on Iran if it undermines its alliance with its new allies.

The U.S. and the cooperating Arab countries have alternatively been urging Israel to try and make its deterrent point in a way that will not lead to a wider regional conflict, further adding another layer to Israel’s uncertainty.

So Israel’s decision on whether and how to retaliate had a lot of moving parts, even though, if history is guide, Israel really had no choice but to strike Iran – and hard. But, in the last analysis they chose to risk appearing weak in order to accommodate their allies.

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