Turns out that simply saying “don’t” is not an effective deterrent against genocidal regimes hellbent on the destruction of Israel—and the United States. On October 18, 2023, merely 11 days after the Hamas-led massacre against Israel, President Joe Biden issued a warning to any state or hostile actor considering attacking Israel: “Don’t, don’t, don’t.” And yet, Israel has faced relentless bombardments from multiple Iranian proxies for the last six months. The ineffectiveness of Biden’s strategy was on full display again this past weekend, when the president issued a similar warning to Iran against striking Israel, this time with a single “don’t.” Predictably, this did nothing to halt the rogue state, which launched 300 drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday night. Almost all were intercepted, thanks to the combined efforts of Israel, the U.S., the U.K., France, and several Arab states.

The Biden administration’s response to this attack was not to commit to taking action against Iran but to caution Israel against retaliating. Reports have even surfaced that the administration informed Iran through Turkish intermediaries that its onslaught must be kept “within certain limits,” essentially acquiescing to moderated aggression. The notion that Israel should not retaliate against an Iranian missile strike, marking the first assault on Israel launched directly from Iran, is untenable for both Israelis and Americans. This is, after all, the same regime that paints “Death to America” on its missiles during training exercises and whose proxies killed three American servicemen in January. Iran’s agenda is clear: to destroy the so-called Great Satan, America, which requires first eliminating the Little Satan, Israel.

Israel should not be penalized for having top-notch aerial defense capabilities. Yet, that’s exactly what appears to be occurring, with President Biden reportedly dissuading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from greenlighting a retaliatory strike, partly because Iran’s drone and missile barrage caused so little damage.

This capitulation to aggression against a key ally embodies the flaws of Biden’s “don’t” doctrine: words followed by minimal action toward adversaries, and pressure on allies not to respond to attacks. It’s an approach that recalls the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the tepid response to Houthi terrorist-pirates attacking American-owned vessels and destabilizing crucial shipping lanes. Thanks to the “don’t” doctrine, Iran has established a new status quo: it can fire scores of rockets and drones at an American ally and emerge materially unscathed.

The only saving grace of the “don’t” doctrine, and the associated capitulation to Iranian aggression, is that it inadvertently highlights an important truth often overlooked by the U.S. government, media, and punditry: that the Iranian regime is fundamentally responsible for the ongoing chaos in the Middle East and the deaths in Israel and Gaza.

Moreover, the situation underscores the potential of the Abraham Accords, the series of agreements seeking to normalize Israel’s relations with Arab states. Jordan’s and Saudi Arabia’s participation in the joint defense effort against Iran’s attack demonstrates how security cooperation between Israel and Arab states can enhance regional stability—a potential nearly derailed by the Biden administration’s initial reluctance to embrace the accords.

The U.S. urgently needs a shift in strategy. Biden must abandon his ineffective “don’t” doctrine and adopt a more assertive regional posture. This does not mean deploying American ground troops, a move widely opposed in the U.S. and Israel alike. It does, however, mean rallying Democratic support for unconditional defensive weapon sales to Israel, allowing Israel to strike back at Iran, reinstating the embargoes on Iranian drones and missiles that expired in 2020, and initiating a broad international sanctions regime to isolate Iran further.

Unfortunately, the G–7 summit convened by President Biden to address Iran’s attack resulted only in a strongly worded statement condemning the Tehran regime. The administration needs to do much better than this.

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images


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