There has been much talk in the media lately about Israel’s latest bombing and assassination campaign in Gaza and the possibility that it is a pretext for a larger operation against Iran. However, regardless of Israel’s motives or calculus, this does nothing to change things with Iran, especially not in Israel’s favor.
As the bombs continue to drop, along with innocent Gazans — over 100 so far — the motives for such a campaign are being highly contested amongst pundits, scholars, and your average Arabs and Israelis who inevitably allow their emotions to get in the way of any rationality. But the question remains: Why would Israel, in the midst of coming to a permanent truce agreement, turn around and kill the man that they themselves vetted to maintain it?
The most plausible scenario seems to be that election cycle politics are the main motive, combined with a show of force and possibly a test to see how Iran plays its hand in coming to Hamas’ defense. Although the Iran test scenario doesn’t add up logically, that has never stopped Israel from an operation before.
Regardless of how many strikes Iran carries out on Gaza, it says nothing about its capabilities to strike Iran domestically as some pundits have suggested the Gaza operation is intended to test. Gaza is Israel’s backyard; Iran is barely within operational striking distance without a risky refuel in hostile territory. It makes little sense, then, to expect Gaza strikes to foretell the outcome of an operation against Iran.
Further, Israel has never had to fight a long-term, intensive conventional war anywhere, which it would have to do far away from home if it got itself tangled up with Iran. While some may argue that this isn’t what Israel intends, pointing to an air strike instead, no air war against a formidable adversary such as Iran ends that way. Israel’s most lethal foe is Hezbollah, a hostile next-door neighbor that gets Iranian scraps, not the big boy toys Iran has at home.
What this latest skirmish with Gaza may do instead is realign Hamas with Iran, even though Hamas had understood that distancing itself with its Persian friend of convenience was bearing little political fruit, and was on a path towards pragmatism.
This is the last thing Israel needs, whether its leaders realize it or not. Its “Iron Dome” defense system is getting good reviews, as its success rate at intercepting rockets fired into Israel averages about 80 - 90%. But all Hamas needs is to scare Israelis by continuing the barrage; deaths and injuries are just added effect. If Israel manages to bring Iran closer to its regional allies, Iron Dome’s effectiveness may drop both statistically and psychologically – not to mention economically.
It appears that the Iran story doesn’t provide much tactical advantage to Israel, and may even help Iran as the focus gets redistributed away from their nuclear program and into Gaza. However, if Israeli calculations do in fact include Iran as a major variable, they are doing so at considerable detriment not only to themselves, but to the human pawns average Gazan and Israeli citizens have become in a perpetual deadly game of chess that Israel can never finish.