Tablet Magazine President Barack Obama thinks that the deal with Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons was possible only because of his credible threat of force. The way he sees it, Iran’s gotten the message, too. As the president told George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria], to think we won’t strike Iran.”
However, the essential feature of a credible threat of force is to have previously employed actual force against the adversary you’re threatening. Shortly before Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for the use of military force against Syria, the White House briefed House and Senate staffers on the possible ramifications of U.S. action. Perhaps unintentionally, the briefings seemed only to have dampened congressional appetite for attacking Iran’s man in Damascus. “They showed them Iran retaliation scenarios,” a senior official at a Washington, D.C.-based pro-Israel organization told me. “They highlighted the fact that Hezbollah has a global reach. The staffers left those briefings with the blood drained from their faces.”
Iran and its allies have proven their willingness to use force against America—as witnessed by the April 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut; the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut; the 1998 bombing of Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia; and Iran’s war against American troops in Iraq, which lasted until Obama’s 2011 withdrawal.[...]
It is easy to frame some of Iran’s recent terror plots as evidence that they are the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. For every operation that, say, kills five Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort town, there are a dozen botched plots, like the operation in Thailand where an Iranian agent blew off his own legs with a hand grenade.
But from another perspective, it doesn’t matter that the vast majority of Iranian projects come up empty, like the plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, which might also have killed hundreds of Americans in the nation’s capital if it had succeeded. Taken together, what these operations show is an obvious, and alarming, inclination to employ violence against America—even in the absence of any direct American military action against Iran. Carried out by second-string operatives, yet backed by arms of the Iranian government and the global terror infrastructure it has put in place, these attempts are generally interpreted by policymakers as warning shots—a reminder of what will happen if America really gets the Iranians mad.[...]