Iran may still win against Israel

Israel just marked six months since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other Gaza-based proxies of Iran. Israel’s military response has largely been a success, with rapid advances and fewer Israel Defense Forces casualties than initially predicted. Palestinian civilian casualties have been high, but Hamas is decimated. The problem?

Iran may still win.

The IDF has reportedly destroyed 19 of Hamas’s 24 battalions and has taken out key operatives and commanders. Yet, perfection is impossible in combat, much less when fighting in densely populated areas against foes who use human shields. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others have a long history of intentionally placing munitions and fighters in schools, hospitals, United Nations buildings, and elsewhere — and this conflict hasn’t been an exception. A recent IDF strike killed several employees of the World Central Kitchen who were there to deliver aid, sparking international outcry. Israel has accepted blame for the strike, firing top military commanders and promising an investigation. Despite these regrettable deaths, militarily, the war in Gaza is going well for Israel. But larger problems loom.

History is replete with examples in which battlefield success failed to translate to larger objectives. The history of the U.S.-led global war on terror is arguably just that — America won nearly every military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that are now ruled or largely controlled by the Taliban and Iran, respectively. Tactical victories do not always translate to strategic wins.

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That takes us back to Iran. Iranian proxies have surrounded the Jewish state, launching attacks from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, in addition to Gaza. They’re literally on Israel’s borders, and, per capita, Oct. 7 was an attack that was multitudes larger than Sept. 11, 2001. A winning strategy will require not only the unequivocal defeat of Hamas and other Gaza-based proxies but also restoring deterrence against Iran. Israel is not purely at war in Gaza against Hamas. Rather it is at war with the Iranian regime — a war in which Tehran struck a devastating blow. 

In a tough neighborhood like the Middle East, perception is everything. A failure to destroy Hamas is tantamount to an Iranian win. It will mean more wars and a more emboldened Iran.

Israel has been right to prevent the opening of multiple fronts. But Jerusalem must not forget Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s adage: “In war, there is no substitute for victory.”

The writer is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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