Biden dictates the line to Israel but risks losing the elections

«Bibi, you had your victory. We intercepted all the launches and neutralized the threat. There is no need to react. We stand by you with an unwavering commitment to ensuring Israel's security. Our enemies cannot effectively threaten Israel's security.”

This is the meaning of the phone call that Joe Biden, president of the United States, made on the night of the Iranian retaliation to his Israeli counterpart. “We intercepted, we contained, together we will win” was Netanyahu's cryptic response. As if to say that they will respond to the attack in any case. The war cabinet in Jerusalem, reduced to the bare bones for security reasons, has in fact already made a decision to this effect, which we will probably see take shape in the coming weeks.

In short, Biden's paternalistic tones do not seem to have exactly made inroads on the Israeli front. In any case, the President of the United States acted in a very prudent manner, following that prudent approach in international crisis situations that has already characterized both the Obama and Trump presidencies. The United States, in the name of continuity in foreign policy, no longer intends to be dragged into exhausting wars thousands of kilometers away to militarily defend a geopolitical objective. Even if it involves defending a “special” ally like Israel.

Of course, this does not mean a disengagement in combating every threat to America and its allies. And in fact it was the USA that raised the alarm in time, signaling to Israel and the whole world that Tehran had armed drones and missiles and would attack within 48 hours. Likewise, he warned Kiev and the entire world of Russia's imminent invasion, and so he also warned Moscow of the terrorist attack that ISIS had in store for them. All this thanks to the technological superiority of its defense system: satellite, first and foremost, but not only.

If American eyes and ears observe and record practically “everything” and therefore can reasonably know and prevent sensitive threats in time, they cannot however predict the reaction of the people, i.e. the governments involved. What does Netanyahu really think he is doing? What will be the response to Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel? US intelligence cannot say this, and may not even know how to manage it. See the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip: discouraged, disapproved and repeatedly condemned by the Biden Administration, it did not prevent it from happening in any case.

Tehran's was officially a retaliation. In fact, «the matter can be considered concluded. However, if the Israeli regime were to make another mistake, Iran's response would be significantly more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the United States MUST STAY AWAY” underlined Tehran, citing article 51 of the United Nations Charter relating to self-defense. Nonetheless, the American government is well aware that the ongoing escalation in the Middle East is of historic significance. Never had Iran so openly challenged Israel and given the green light to an act of war with unpredictable consequences for the Iranians themselves. And so Washington also expects Israel not to listen to the wise advice of their best friend.

As we have already seen with the response to the death of General Suleimani at the hands of the Americans, the Iranians yesterday as today follow the pattern of a direct but very limited “retaliation”, which in fact this night did not cause even one victim or caused any damage. By belittling the extent of their demonstrative action, the Pasdaran themselves have made it clear that they have no real intention of engaging in a direct conflict with Jerusalem, which appears sufficient in the eyes of the Pentagon and the White House.

However, the attack still constitutes a very dangerous precedent and opens up something new for the Americans too. First of all, because it poses a great dilemma for Israel. How to respond now? Above all, how to defend yourself in the long term? The operation in Gaza is already wearing out the Israeli armed forces, and the fronts to defend – Gaza itself and the West Bank, southern Lebanon, Syria – are already quite numerous even without Iran.

If it is now clear what the red line is for the Islamic Republic, the same cannot be said for Israel. According to the Israeli mentality, this hostile act reinforces (because it proves it) the thesis according to which Tehran intends to erase Israel from the geographical maps. And even if the scale of the attack was very moderate, Jerusalem cannot tolerate being permanently threatened. So it could treat Iran the same way it treats all its other enemies: as with Hamas, the time for reckoning may have come. Preventive attacks to defuse the risk of a similar scenario recurring.

If Israel opts for a similar muscular response, probably by pre-announcing (but not coordinating) it with Washington, this could at best target not so much Iranian territory but rather its proxy militias in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. In this case, Washington would have no reason to stop them. More worrying and plausible, however, is the scenario already outlined by the Israeli Foreign Ministry: “If Iran attacks Israeli territory, Israel attacks Iranian territory.” An eye for an eye, in short. With the obvious consequence that Tehran would be forced to respond again, throwing the Middle East into an expanded spiral of war which is in all respects the nightmare of the Biden Administration.

When Ayatollah Khomeini took power with the 1979 revolution, he immediately pointed the finger at the USA and Israel, and had an internal advantage. He did not dream of engaging in a direct clash with Washington and Jerusalem, yet he attacked the American embassy in Tehran and took the 53 embassy employees hostage to make the world understand that times had changed. President Carter then chose an approach similar to that of Biden: to stall, and then choose the less drastic option: sending American special forces to free the hostages of the Khomeini regime. But the mission was a spectacular failure, the most serious in the history of American special forces. Even though President Carter had until then been recognized for his diplomatic skill and conciliatory ability – only a year earlier he had managed to get a very important peace signed between Israel and Egypt – his strategy of calm and moderation with Iran, although initially appreciated, cost him the presidency. In fact, the hostages were released only a year later, after long and difficult diplomatic negotiations.

Netanayhu knows this story well, and he knows well that the ayatollahs only understand force: his governments (as well as those of his colleagues) have already carried out sabotage and incursions in Iran to stop their nuclear program, and nothing suggests that this time it will be different. The old generation of Iranian politicians, the ayatollahs but even more so the Pasdaran – that is, the first religious caste and the second military caste who “own” the Islamic Republic – could not afford to unleash wars that they could not win (as they learned better in the clash with Iraq) and preferred to focus on domestic affairs and growth.

For this reason, the regime has never crossed any red lines, which has allowed it to remain in power for decades, and to grow an increasingly powerful army and military industry. On the contrary, the new generation in power – whose approval rating within the country is at an all-time low – might instead believe that it is now time to react in a more muscular way. Even if this were to provoke a reaction from the “great Satan of the world” or the United States.

And the fact that in the meantime the streets of the Middle East are heating up, that the war in Gaza continues at a rapid pace, and that Russia, the United States and Europe are experiencing a crescendo of anxiety (since the terrible Iranian example can only galvanize a large front of international terrorists) are signals that Washington cannot ignore. Furthermore, Iran is Moscow's first ally and those same drones that flew over Israel are used daily in Ukraine as well as by the Houthis in Yemen. Therefore, it can be assumed without fear of contradiction that there is a common thread that binds the destinies of these conflicts and the countries involved in them.

Precisely for this reason, Netanyahu does not give in: he is convinced that dragging Washington into an open conflict is legitimate, because those he is confronting are common enemies. Everything now depends on understanding how Biden's America, in the most delicate moment for the presidency, because a few months before the elections, he will be able or willing to react to the response/revenge that Jerusalem promises.

“Israel has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to defend itself and defeat unprecedented attacks,” the president said, flattering his ally. “We helped Israel shoot down almost all incoming drones and missiles,” he then underlined. As if to say that for the White House the issue is archived. That Americans have a clear conscience.

But this may not be enough. If Israel attacks Iran by reacting emotionally and distressed by a sense of insecurity (which is real), it could trigger a spiral that will put Biden against the wall, and at that point the American president will find himself in the same situation as Carter, with the difference that Biden is now aware that moderation does not pay in electoral terms: by acting with excessive caution, he could lose the White House.