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To Respond or Not to Respond: Is That the Real Question?


Cartoon by Amjad Rasmi, April 14, 2024. (Arab News/Asharq Al-Awsat)
  • In light of the Iranian attack on Israel, a debate is underway on whether or not Israel should respond. What is missing in the discussion is the fact that the Iranian attack is, in fact, a “response” to a presumed Israeli action that eliminated the command staff of the Al-Quds force in Syria.

  • The reasons for and against Israel’s counterattack focus on deterrence, a concept measured behaviorally. Those favoring an immediate response contend that without it, Israeli deterrence would be weakened, while those opposing it contend that the very nature of the Israeli defense was a loss for Iran.

  • The question of deterrence ignores the fact that the Iranian attack was specifically designed, from their point of view, to create deterrence against Israel – to dissuade Israel from future attacks against Iranian figures and assets.

  • The real question is whether or not the Iranian attack will succeed in its purpose and reduce the probability of future Israeli military behavior. Psychologically, deterrence is measured by subsequent behavior.

  • Continued Israeli actions that target Iran inside and outside of Iran will be evidence that Iran failed to achieve deterrence with its current attack.

  • The focus on a future Iranian attack rather than future Israeli actions to weaken Iran misses the point in the big picture for Israel. The measure of Israeli success in thwarting the Iranian attack is whether or not Israel will continue to pursue its current military policy against Iran. Considering the success of Israel in its defensive stance, any future Iranian actions in response to Israeli initiatives should be viewed as a failure in Iran’s stated goal of deterrence, viz. Israel.

  • Likewise, the ability of Israel to defend against Iranian counterattacks allows it to continue to deter Iran from its military and political goals against Israel.


In conclusion


In the aftermath of the Iranian attack on Israel, the crucial consideration lies in whether Israel's strategic response will maintain its proactive deterrent stance against Iranian interests, with a focus on sustaining defensive capabilities while fostering regional alliances to counter Iran's broader objectives, including nuclear ambitions and potential regime change.






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