US President Joe Biden speaking during an event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, April 16, 2024

Iran-Israel ‘Open Conflict' Shatters Biden’s Myth Of De-Escalation

Wednesday, 04/17/2024

President Joe Biden wishes Israel not to retaliate against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s attempt to attack with 351 drones and missiles. Although the strike largely failed, it set a dangerous precedent.

In line with Biden, many of Israel’s western allies are pressuring Israel not to respond. Everyone is concerned about the breakout of an all-out regional war in the Middle East, and since the attack catastrophically failed, many argue that there is no reason to escalate.

While Israel has declared its intent to “hit back” at Iran, Biden, has declared the US would not participate in any Israeli attack against Iran, while stressing the US’s “Iron Clad” commitment to defend Israel. The last time a US president warned Israel not to attack an adversary, was during the presence of an existential threat in 1967.

Many in the West argue that the Iranian regime only wished to deliver “a message” to Israel, and save face in the eyes of its regional proxies and domestic audience, and thus argue for Biden’s stance from a different angle. To blame Israel for its “escalatory” tendencies on account of its insecurities whilst declaiming the merits of Iran’s vehement, albeit failed, “retaliation” as grand scale messaging distracts from a global culprit.

Biden’s appeasement policy, billed as “de-escalation” and “containment”, has failed to act as an effective deterrence and critics say the US administration can no longer shrink from its own responsibility with regards to Israel-Iran Proxies entering a phase of “Open Conflict.”

Biden’s continued efforts at “containing” the Iranian regime is informed by domestic economic concerns, namely, skyrocketing oil prices, if the Middle East is plunged into a region wide conflict. Correspondingly, Biden is concerned with his own ongoing unpopularity amongst the independent voters as well as amongst the critical Arab-Muslim voting bloc in bellwether states like Michigan. However, long before any such consideration becomes an important part of any “re-election” calculus, the Biden administration’s propensity to “de-escalation”, read “appeasement”, was its Achilles heel that was exploited by Iran and its proxies.

Since assuming the presidency, Joe Biden’s foreign policy has been marred with adopting policy options that have at once emboldened the adversaries of the US and its allies and provoked uncertainty and insecurity amongst many US partners globally. Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan marks the first significant misstep that only emboldened various actors, from Russia to Iran, to test the limits of Biden’s “de-escalation” policy. Biden’s vision of US national security, as outlined in Biden’s National Security Strategy, prioritizes the threat Russia and China pose and seeks to proactively confront them in strategic fissure points of conflict like Ukraine and the South China Sea.

Yet, in dealing with state and non-state actors that can equally wreak havoc in the rules-based global order, namely Iran and its proxies, the Biden administration prefers to reactively apply “strategic patience” and de-escalatory measures. As I have detailed in another piece, such an approach has in fact backfired. It has only made “rogue” states like Iran and their proxies become progressively more aggressive against the United States and its allies. According to the US Congressional Research Service Brief(February 28, 2024), not only has the Biden administration systemically refrained from enforcing the secondary sanctions against Iran’s petroleum importers, but it also has sought to cajole the ever-emboldened Iranian regime through a combination of “cash incentives” and “waivers.” The administration’s justification for such behavior only seeks to reinforce its national security orthodoxy of “maximum de-escalation.” Biden’s team argue that such an approach has helped the administration to bring back home US dual citizens in the Iranian custody whilst ensuring that US would not enter direct conflict with the Iranian regime.

Nonetheless, for the Biden administration’s every conciliatory step, Khamenei’s regime strode light years in both bolstering its armed regional proxies and expanding its ambitious enrichment program. The administration’s inability to implement the many sanctions that it has imposed on Iranian proxies caused some analysts to question their purpose and efficacy in reports published only a month before Hamas 7 October attack on Israel. Just two years into Biden’s presidency, advisors of the Tehran regime argued that Iran and its proxies must pursue maximum pressure on the US and its allies in the Middle East as a matter of national, Shia, security strategy. Such a maximum pressure seeks to win the good graces of the regime’s senior security partners, namely, Russia and China. According to this vision, Russia and China may treat the Iranian Shia Imperium’s chronic escalation as a critical leverage that could distract the Euro-American alliances from conflict points in Ukraine and East Asia.

Amid all the above, it is astonishing how the Biden administration continues to claim to appreciate the Iranian regime’s forty-five-year long practice of sowing the seeds of instability in the region and at once discounts it as a threat that can be and should be contained through “de-escalation. Having squandered all its resources to build up an imperium of proxies with the express goal of “the destruction of the state of Israel”, the regime has funded them all with cash and fattened them up with the most advanced weaponry to impose upon Israel, an asymmetrical war of attrition since the 1990s.

From the Israeli point of view, there are several constants that remain unchanged with respect to the Iranian threat: as long as Israel exists, whether it does so in peace and harmony with the Palestinians or in constant war, the Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction. Israel’s fundamental rationale to retaliate is informed by the fact that Tehran’s most recent “retaliatory” attempts establishes that it is both “willing” and “able” to bring to bear this “conventional capacity” directly from its own soil upon Israel. Israel, and the world, are fully aware of the “unconventional” “nuclear” capacity that the Iranian regime has. To Israel, Biden’s pressure on Netanyahu for “restraint” is an illusory hope for “de-escalation”. Israel’s determination to respond to Iran is meant to disabuse Biden’s administration of this illusion.

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