Home inSight “Pocketing the Win” for the Future

“Pocketing the Win” for the Future

Shoshana Bryen
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, leads a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on April 17, 2024. (Photo: Maayan Toaf / Israeli Government Press Office)

Last week, President Joe Biden told Israel to “pocket the win.” In his view, “winning” was having survived the Iranian barrage of more than 300 drones, rockets and missiles with a relative lack of physical damage – and a single Israeli injured. He meant that Israel should overlook the aggression against its people; he meant, “don’t retaliate.” The Israeli government made a different decision – that allowing Iran to determine the timing and nature of its attacks without retaliation was appeasement that could only lead to further aggression from Tehran.

The results are not clear yet. But in this interregnum, there are points that can be made. “Wins” that are much different from the ones Mr. Biden posited, and which should prevail.

The first big win – and a win for the US as much as for Israel – is vindication of missile defense capabilities. The Iranian barrage was much bigger and more concentrated than the rockets from Gaza and Lebanon that have been intercepted by Iron Dome in the past. Here, a huge tip of the hat goes to President Ronald Reagan, who introduced the concept of strategic defense 41 years ago.

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation… that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? … It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs… I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

He was mocked and derided, but engineers, scientists and military professionals in the US, in Israel, in the NATO countries and elsewhere determined that defense would work.  He was right; they were right. More Iranians died of Iranian missiles that fell short than Israelis died of Iranian missiles. The latter number is zero.

Win #2 is the “coalition of the willing” that came together to defend Israel. The US was where it should always be; the UK and France, who have been rhetorically awful for months, did well. But the best news of a terrible night was the participation of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. For the first time in Israel’s history, Arab armies geared up not to attack Israel, but to defend it. They are not necessarily long-term allies, not necessarily partners in other enterprises, but their enemy is Israel’s enemy.

Win #3 is the US House of Representatives. By a margin of 404-14, the House “condemns the Iranian attack, reaffirms and supports Israel’s right to self-defense; stands with Israel as it defends itself against Iran’s attack and seeks to re-establish deterrence against Iran and its proxies; fully supports Israel’s right to respond to this aggression through military, diplomatic, economic, and other necessary means.”

Not some mealy-mouthed “right to exist,” but a right to self-defense and the restoration of deterrence.

The House called “on all countries to unequivocally condemn Iran’s attack on Israel.”  They didn’t get them all, but 48 countries – from South Korea to Denmark to Argentina to Ukraine to Papua New Guinea to Japan – joined the United States in a statement condemning Iran. Yes, they hoped there would be no “escalation,” but noted that “Iran’s escalatory attack is the latest in a pattern of dangerous and destabilizing actions by Iran and its militant partners that pose a grave threat to international peace and security.”

Naming the enemy is win #4.

Saving the best for last, win #5 is the coordination and cooperation between the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Here again, a hat tip to President Reagan, who announced something called “strategic cooperation” between the US and Israel in 1983.

[Disclosure: the US military was hesitant because they weren’t sure what Israel brought to the table. I, in a different incarnation, was able to bring together military professionals who built a grid of needs and capabilities and produced the opening document for the American delegation to first strategic cooperation meeting.]

In the years since, the relationship has grown in compatibility, interoperability, and significance. We all saw the result.

Israel has been monstrously attacked twice in the past seven months – once by Iranian proxy Hamas and once by Iran itself.  It was, as the House of Representatives said, Israel’s right to respond, to make the choice for re-establishing deterrence.

The story isn’t over, but there are more wins out there for Israel than perhaps President Biden understood. With a clear-eyed strategic assessment, and determination to place the burden on the aggressor, those wins can carry into the future.