Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions present an existential threat to Israel as well as one to the security and stability of the Middle East and the West. But Iran’s power rests on more than the despotic Tehran government. It is the leading sponsor of international terror via Hezbollah, a group that has in recent months been responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Europe.
Indeed, far from intimidating the Israelis to stand down, it is likely that drone flight strengthens the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as he heads toward new elections that he hopes will give his government a mandate to defend the nation’s security.
Though Nasrallah is playing to his own supporters as well as hoping to get credit from the ayatollahs in Tehran, his little stunt has re-emphasized the need for Israelis to be focused above all on the Iranian threat. While there is a lively debate within Israel about the wisdom of striking against Iran on its own, there is no debate about the nature of the threat or the need to address it. So long as the main issue facing Israelis in the upcoming January election is defense policy, Netanyahu remains the only plausible choice among the country’s political leaders.
Iran’s calling card ought to focus both President Obama and Mitt Romney on the need to have a coherent policy that will force the Iranians to back down. But for Israelis, it is a wake up call that reinforces the imperative need of having a strong and determined leader at the helm of the country.