Biden Faces an Iran Reckoning
I have every confidence that Joe can still remember the difference between Iraq and Iran. Is he awake now? It's 6:12pm CT, Two hours after the afternoon nap. He should be 100%.
"Well, uh, like, huh, I don't understand how you can't
'Cause, like, I've been to, you know, Paris, Beirut
You know, I mean, Iraq, Iran, Eurasia, you know
I speak very, very, um, fluent Spanish
Uh, todo 'stá bien chévere"
Biden Faces an Iran Reckoning
Tehran looms behind Hamas’s atrocities and Hezbollah’s next move.
By The Editorial Board, WSJ
Oct. 11, 2023 6:20 pm ET
President Biden on Tuesday showed appropriate outrage at the wanton slaughter by Hamas this weekend, and his pledge of support for Israel is welcome. But there was a crucial word missing from his remarks at the White House: Iran. Tehran is Hamas’s terror master, and its assault on Israel exposes the failure of his Iran strategy.
The Journal has reported that Iran gave the approval for Hamas’s bloody assault at an Oct. 2 meeting in Beirut. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has denied it, and the U.S. is saying it has no “specific evidence” of Iran’s assent. But Iran has long been the chief benefactor of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen. All have praised the Hamas assault, as has Mr. Khamenei.
This is what Iran sends Hamas guns and money to do. Hamas killed at least 22 Americans in the attack at last count, and others are now captives. Mr. Biden has a duty to get them home and avenge those deaths.
It’s implausible that Hamas would have struck without Iran’s approval, knowing Israel’s response would be devastating. One question is whether the massacres were part of a deliberate strategy to court such a response. An Israeli ground assault could be the excuse for Hezbollah to open a second front in Israel’s north.
Hezbollah receives an estimated $700 million a year from Iran, and its missile stockpile runs to 100,000 or more with greater accuracy than rockets fired from Gaza. They could target most of Israel. A Hezbollah attack would also require Iran’s approval.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday warned unnamed countries not to take advantage of the war in Gaza, and his deployment of a carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean is a useful show of support for Israel. But the question is whether Iran will believe this attempt at deterrence after Mr. Biden’s behavior over the past three years.
It’s worth recalling how hard Mr. Biden has tried to accommodate the mullahs in Tehran. Upon taking office, his Administration ended Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. It relaxed enforcement of sanctions on Iran’s oil sales, which has been worth tens of billions. It also dispatched Iranian sympathizer, Robert Malley, to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal. (Mr. Malley has since been sidelined for unexplained reasons that may be related to security concerns.)
Iran has refused these entreaties. The latest “understanding,” before the Hamas invasion, was that Iran would slow or stall its uranium enrichment for a bomb while the U.S. would let Iran have billions of dollars held by Iraq and South Korea. This included the $6 billion that was part of the trade for five Americans held as hostages by Iran.
Mr. Biden has also failed to respond aggressively when Iran’s proxies have attacked Americans. Under questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Iran or its proxies have launched 83 attacks on Americans since Mr. Biden took office, but the U.S. has responded militarily only four times.
One goal of all this seems to have been to avoid any confrontation with Iran through the 2024 election. But Iran has clearly interpreted it as a sign of U.S. weakness. The Hamas assault should finally convince Mr. Biden that Iran has no intention of abiding by his timetable. It will order its proxies to strike when it serves its purposes and sees a vulnerability.
Iran’s current purpose may be to blow up the emerging rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia—at a moment when the U.S. is also assisting Ukraine against Russia. Iran is run by a revolutionary regime that wants to destroy Israel and dominate the region. It wants a “Shiite crescent” of power from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.
The question now is whether Mr. Biden will adapt to this reality and drop his appeasement strategy. He can start by blocking the transfer of the $6 billion and return to maximum pressure. He may also soon face a decision on whether to assist Israel militarily if Hezbollah opens a second front in the north.
Israel can defeat both adversaries, but at great cost. If Israel’s new unity government, which was announced Wednesday, requests U.S. help from the air or otherwise, Mr. Biden would be wise to grant it. Iran and the world will detect further American weakness if he won’t help a steadfast ally. Sen. Lindsey Graham has proposed that the U.S. bomb Iranian oil facilities, and Iran has to know that its military sites, nuclear program and oil fields aren’t off-limits if it escalates its war against Israel.
The history of another Democratic President is instructive. For three years, Jimmy Carter sought detente with the Soviet Union. But the Soviets sensed weakness and promoted revolution around the world. When they invaded Afghanistan, Mr. Carter recognized reality and began a defense buildup that laid the groundwork for the Reagan rearmament.
President Biden now faces a similar reckoning with Iran. For three years he has tried to appease Tehran into taming its revolutionary ambitions. That hope has exploded with the Iran-backed slaughter of more than 1,000 Israelis and Americans. Can Mr. Biden make a Carter-like pivot back to reality? His legacy may depend on it.