What is the Octopus Doctrine?
And why does it matter?
There is always something a little wink wink nudge nudge in the way Israel denies shenanigans like quadcopter drones smashing into Iranian nuclear research facilities, a spate of deaths from food poisoning or acute radiation sickness, or being fatally stung by a swarm of bullets in downtown Tehran, as recently happened to Colonel Hassan Sayyed Khodaei. Colonel Khodaei, formerly of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), was believed to have planned terror attacks against Israeli targets. Tel Aviv denies any knowledge of the two assassins - on motorcycles in broad daylight - however epic the maneuver might have been. You don’t want to be too straightforward about these things, but Mossad does good work. And they are proud of it.
Before an unworkable Israeli government collapsed last week, its Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet, crystalized the country’s relationship with a newly weapons grade Iran. “We are implementing the Octopus Doctrine…” he said, “We are no longer playing with the tentacles, with Iran’s proxies: we’ve created a new equation by going straight for the head.” Bennet went on to point out that Iran has waged proxy wars all over the region and yet “for some reason the head for the octopus – Iran itself – has enjoyed immunity.” You can’t fault the man’s logic.
Proxy wars that have been the fad for the last generation. They serve rich, comfy democracies well when they don’t want to tell voters they’ve got an actual war on their hands. The real winners in a proxy fight, though, are the second-tier dictators distracting the rabble from a domestic train wreck with a foreign enemy without too much fear that said rich, comfy democracy will wipe them off the face of the map. All of which makes Israel’s strategy, by the standards of 21st century global conflict, pretty novel.
Will it work? Since Iran already has had its breakout with nuclear material, probably not. What Iran doesn’t have is a warhead to deliver its bomb – but expect that to be sorted by next year. The Israeli strategy is what they call “mowing the lawn”, which boils do to: If you can’t stop them, at least constrain their efforts and slow them down. As for the late Col. Khodaei, he’s probably not coming back.
A government as theatrical as Tehran really can’t be expected to take this thing lying down. For one thing, its government is built on a queer interpretation of Shi’a Islam that is, for lack of a better phrase, a doomsday cult and they’ve got an apocalypse to deliver. So, the concern is escalatory retaliation – because we are living in a post-secret social media world, Iran actually published some the prominent Israeli citizens on its revised hit-list. What Iran can’t do is get the rest of the Muslim world to rally to its cause.
Most of the Muslim world is Sunni. These days, Sunni Arabs tend to have stronger opinions on Iran than they do on Israel. And those opinions are not good. Sure, Hebrews in the neighborhood may be a religious annoyance but religion, even to true believers, is not an existential threat. People just pretend it is when they need a hated “other” to fight about while ducking a domestic train wreck. When faced with a real problem – like a weapons-grade Iran – people of all cultures and hues get very practical. The Saudi’s won’t admit it, but they are thrilled with Israel’s winking denial of assassinations, drone strikes and a whole catalog of curiously timed deaths to check to Iran’s meddling. The smaller Gulf States have largely gone ahead and admitted it.
Does this mean that the Middle East is moving toward some post-sectarian upland of co-operation? Well, Iran still has that bomb, they just need to decide at whom they wish to lob it. They’ve got an Armageddon to trigger.