The incredibly successful defense of the skies over Israel and the surrounding area Saturday night made something complicated look easy. And the circumstances that made it possible provide a significant contrast with the last time anything remotely like this happened in the Middle East.

Iran fired more than 200 missiles and drones at Israel on Saturday. Israel’s Arrow defense system and Israel Air Force jets downed them one by one, with an assist from American and Jordanian forces in the region. The British Royal Air Force also mobilized for the attacks. Iran was left trying to hype its attacks by spreading a video of a years-old farm fire in Texas and claiming it was proof the Islamic Republic had hit Israel Saturday night. If that is where this attack ends, and that’s still an “if,” Iran appears to have miscalculated. But a fuller judgment on that will have to wait.

We also don’t yet know where the various actors in the alliance will come down on the question of Israel’s retaliation. “Deconfliction” is the popular word in the corridors of power in Washington these days, but Israeli leaders likely believe that some response is necessary to restore deterrence after an unprecedented direct attack like the one Iran just launched on Israel. At the same time, some in the Israeli political and security establishment will argue that U.S.-Israel-Arab unity is itself an effective response, and therefore it might be worth giving President Biden the final word on what comes next.

The fundamental fact remains: There was a ceasefire in place on Oct. 6, Iran (via its proxies) shattered that ceasefire on Oct. 7, and the events of this weekend are part of the very same conflict that followed. The Iranian barrage on Israel cannot be separated from the ongoing war in Gaza. Compartmentalization is not an option. Every front in this conflict was opened by Tehran, and the West cannot long afford to let the Iranians continue to set the parameters of the war.

Yet despite all the questions that remain unanswered in the immediate wake of this weekend’s attacks, the nature of the Western response does tell us something important about the world we are living in today—and the one we have left behind.

The 1991 Gulf War, in which President George H.W. Bush organized a coalition to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, offers a good point of contrast. The Desert Storm coalition notably included Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a diplomatic coup for Bush. In order to try and split off the Arab world from the coalition, Hussein ordered the firing of dozens of Scud missiles at Israel, intending to provoke a response that would force the Arab states to the sidelines. Bush understood that the breadth of the coalition was a historic achievement and that as the Cold War ended, the emergence of a pro-Western bloc in the Gulf would be of immense strategic value.

This meant Israel had to sit on its hands, despite fear that some of the Scuds might be carrying chemical weapons. In return, American Patriot interceptors would protect Israel from the Scuds. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed.

The problem was that the Patriots were far less effective than expected. Israeli civilians were killed both by direct Scud attacks and by heart attacks and unnecessary injection of anti-nerve-gas medications. The absence of the promised protection made it harder for Israeli leaders to hold their fire. (It didn’t make it any easier that the U.S. was claiming an absurdly high interception rate that wasn’t publicly debunked until well after the war.) This was less a matter of effectiveness—the U.S. needed no help defeating Saddam’s troops, so Israeli intervention was viewed as high-cost and low-reward—than a basic demonstration of self-defense of a nation under fire.

In the end, Israel held its fire but won itself no favor from the Bush administration for doing so, leaving a sour taste in many Israeli mouths.

Fast forward to 2024, and we read this report in the Times of Israel: “Jordanian jets downed dozens of Iranian drones flying across northern and central Jordan heading to Israel, two regional security sources said in a dramatic show of support from Amman, which has heavily criticized Israel’s prosecution of its war against Hamas in Gaza.

“The sources said the drones were brought down in the air on the Jordanian side of the Jordan Valley and were heading in the direction of Jerusalem. Others were intercepted close to the Iraqi-Syrian border. They gave no further details.”

The coalition was mobilized not for offensive moves but for the sole purpose of defending Israeli territory from Iranian missiles. Israeli and American and Jordanian and British jets flew a coordinated defense maneuver, presumably with the tacit support of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states.

This is the post-Abraham Accords Middle East. And it is the key to understanding the true strategic accomplishment of those peace agreements: all these states are in a very public coalition not only with the United States but with Israel. Recognition and normalization of ties with Israel by Arab states enables the U.S. to organize and broaden its own alliances. The only variable now is whether the Biden administration wants those alliances to thrive or whether it will continue its courtship of Iran, whose overarching goal is the destruction of all of America’s strategic gains over the past 30 years.

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