With Iran, events may not be as auspicious as they seem

While Israel is certainly a beneficiary of America’s latest actions, its enthusiasm for America’s entrance into this conflict should be tempered,

Women hold pictures of Iranian Maj.Gen. Qasem Soleimani during a funeral procession and burial in his hometown, Kerman, on Tuesday.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women hold pictures of Iranian Maj.Gen. Qasem Soleimani during a funeral procession and burial in his hometown, Kerman, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The assassination of Qasem Soleimani this past week was greeted with universal, if inflated, support across Israel. Deemed Israel’s number-one enemy, the IRGC Quds Force leader zealously created and nurtured Iran’s global network of terror that has targeted Israelis both overseas and along its borders. He successfully entrenched Iran in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon, creating maximum positions through which to expand Iran’s influence, target American allies, and threaten and antagonize Israel. Israel, believing that Soleimani was even more radical and unrestrained than the government in Tehran, had wanted to assassinate him on several occasions - but was stopped by a cautious US government.
It is not surprising then that the Israeli embrace of the assassination has transcended political lines. Benny Gantz, who reminded the public that security transcends politics, lauded President Donald Trump, calling the assassination a warning to all leaders engaged in global terrorism. Amir Peretz, the muffled leader of Israel’s Labor Party, enthusiastically welcomed the move. The often-critical press responded with equal warmth; one touted an “indescribable sense of satisfaction,” another called it a “strategic miracle.” The controversy and digital hysteria that has confronted the US administration for its decision domestically has been entirely absent from the Israeli discourse.
Despite its own quiet elation, the Israeli government has been tactfully muted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went so far as to say that Israel stands by America’s side in this “just fight” but went no further. He urged his cabinet not to speak to the press about the matter and reportedly told minsters that the assassination is an American event – not an Israeli one.
“We were not involved and should not be dragged into it.” This official response is nothing if not strategic. By putting distance between Israel and the assassination, the government hopes to shield itself from retaliation, and should the worst-case-scenario play out, escape blame for another American war.
There is much uncertainty as to how Iran will respond – driving widespread fear in the US over the prospect of an all-out war. If past is prologue, Iran is predisposed to avoid direct confrontation with the United States. Instead – in a tribute to the very strategy that Soleimani himself spearheaded – Iran is likely to utilize proxies in terrorist attacks or escalate elsewhere. Pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon, Syria or Gaza may also chose to carry out attacks in anger or solidarity on their own, even without direct orders from Tehran. It is for this reason that Trump was said to have notified Israel prior to the assassination, so that it could adequately prepare.
Israel is accustomed to tangling with Iran and its proxies, including decades of attacks from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. More direct skirmishes with Iran have become increasingly common, and Israel has responded to provocations by attacking key Iranian targets in Syria.
DESPITE CONCERNS these intensifying attacks caused, there has been no major escalation in conflict between the two countries. While Israel took preliminary measures to mitigate possible increased threats stemming from the assassination – calling for a heightened alert among key branches of the military and overseas offices, as well as briefly closing the Mount Hermon ski resort on the Southern Syrian border – it has thus far effectively been business as usual since the assassination. Because for Israel, the conflict with Iran is just that – business as usual.
For now, Israel is enjoying the elimination of an arch enemy at a cost no greater than what it already pays in its ongoing battle with Iran. Israel did not even have to expend political capital in exchange for US action. Israelis believe the US has restored the deterrence it lost through its lackluster response to Iran’s attack on Saudi oil fields and sent a forceful message that attacks on American assets in the region will not be tolerated. From its perspective, Israel’s longtime struggle with Iran is, at long last, buttressed by a newfound American willingness to directly confront Israel’s chief adversary, Iran.
While Israel is certainly a beneficiary of America’s latest actions, its enthusiasm for America’s entrance into this conflict should be tempered, particularly given the high levels of uncertainty that remain. Iran may yet escalate in ways not seen before. And it is not clear just how far this administration is willing to go or how sustained their response would be. Trump’s intentions for the region – including his willingness to remain in places like Iraq and Syria – are precarious, at best.
Israel, for its part has never sought a full-blown war with Iran. While Israel is eager to see Hezbollah and other proxies defeated, Iran’s nuclear program foiled, and ideally, regime change, it has not been willing to pay the hefty price of accomplishing these objectives militarily, and has settled for deterrence and containment over defeat. The assassination – welcome by Israel though it may be – certainly hasn’t advanced these goals either.
Yes, Soleimani’s death will deprive Iran of its great strategic mastermind, but he has been quickly replaced, and Iran will continue to arm, train and finance Israel’s enemies. With Iran’s retaliatory announcement that it will no longer observe limitations on its enrichment, it is clear that Iranian nuclear ambitions are only progressing absent the nuclear deal. And, for all their divisions, Iranians are now rallying together behind their leadership in unprecedented numbers; war might only coalesce them further.
So while Israelis – publicly and privately – may be celebrating the latest turn of events, these developments may not prove to be quite as auspicious as they may seem.
The writer is a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council. Her research focuses on US-Israel relations, Israeli politics and broader issues affecting the Middle East. She was previously the director of strategic engagement at AIPAC.