Just an hour after President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement, Israel hit an Iranian site in Syria with a missile strike. The next day, the IDF hit more than 50 sites controlled by the Iranian Quds force in response to claims of missile strikes within Israel in a massive escalation.
What comes next may not be all that surprising.
Israel retaliating with overwhelming firepower is nothing new. Since its birth, whenever Israel comes under attack, its policy has been to hit back hard enough to discourage the attacker from ever wanting to strike again. The effect works in the short term, but the resulting peace has never been permanent.
The difference today is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing no less than four corruption scandals, for at least one of which Israeli police have recommended a indictment. At one point in 2018, half of Israelis believed the embattled Prime Minister should resign. But security is big in Israel – so big in, fact, that Netanyahu and the ruling Likud Party saw a huge surge in popularity between missile strikes on Syria.
The party is pulling in its highest polling numbers in a decade, according to Tel Aviv-based public opinion expert, Dahlia Scheindlin.
Netanyahu’s job security depends on his ability to handle military matters that seem to come to Israel every so often. But will a few missiles fired from Gaza be enough to beat the charges in Israel’s Supreme Court? Maybe not. That’s why Iran is such a blessing to Israel’s Bibi-Sitter.
What’s more, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, seems pretty sick of Palestinians missing opportunities for peace with the Jewish state, reportedly telling them to “make peace or shut up.” Warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel could mean closer military ties and a new partner for the Saudis in the ongoing ideological war against the Islamic Republic. A new, powerful alliance will embolden both countries.
Iran, for all its rhetoric, has never been to war with Israel but its strategy for keeping terrorism and fighting out of Iranian borders is to project power and influence into neighboring countries and fight its enemies there, instead of the streets of Tehran. This does not earn Iran many friends in the region, but it works, considering there have been relatively few attacks inside Iran compared to neighboring nations.
Meanwhile, some Iranians took to Twitter (with the hashtags #ThankYouTrump and #WeAreHostages) to thank President Trump for leaving the Iran Nuclear Agreement, in the belief that renewed U.S. sanctions will hurt the regime enough to cause widespread unrest and, eventually, regime change.
The idea of starving out Iran and its ability to sell oil was once enough to bring the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table, but that doesn’t mean it will work again. The Iranian economy isn’t entirely dependent on oil (though oil accounts for 80 percent of its revenue) and maintains a large regional economy. But banking restrictions will hurt the economy — and the regime — even further. By 2012, Iranian currency lost 40 percent of its value, making simple, daily purchases too expensive for many Iranians and led to widespread food and medicine shortages.
So, who do Iranians blame: the regime or the West?
As Benjamin Netanyahu can attest, nothing is better to rally public support for your government than a good war. For Iran, survival of the regime depends on the severity of the war — and the Iranian regime needs a really good enemy right now for a war they have a chance to win. Iran can’t beat the United States, but it can beat Israel. It can definitely beat Saudi Arabia.
Rallying around the flag is one of the oldest political tricks in the book. A wave of patriotism overtakes a population in the face of a perceived threat while the leaders of dissenting opinions tend to fall silent rather than become victims of the oncoming wave. But in the face of the Israeli Prime Minister’s corruption charges and the threat of looming economic demise in Iran, the two regional powers seem destined to clash in a bloody diversion from domestic woes.