How do Iranians ‘Boil a Frog’? Slowly and methodically.

Shivan Mahendrarajah- Iran’s apparent restraint in the face of Israeli aggression should not be mistaken for weakness. Tehran steadily applies pressure on Tel Aviv through its own methods, setting the stage carefully for Israel’s unravelling.

Legend has it that a frog placed in a shallow pot of water heating on a stove will remain happily in the pot of water as the temperature continues to climb, and will not jump out even as the water slowly reaches the boiling point and kills the frog. The change of one degree of temperature at a time is so gradual that the frog doesn’t realize he is being boiled until it is too late.

While the story is an apologue – a pretty fable meant to convey a meaningful lesson – it is one frequently invoked by militaries and geopoliticians to describe the “long game” of reaching strategic objectives.

Today, it is Iran and its regional allies who are using a measured approach to increase temperatures in West Asia until the water boils the US and Israeli ‘frogs’ to death. Strategy, discipline, and rare patience – the antithesis of western short-termism – will bring Iran victory. To quote the Taliban: “Americans have watches, but we have the time.”

Time is now on the side of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its regional allies. Two connected examples show how the IRGC is calibrating temperatures like scientists in a laboratory.

The Yankee Frog

Following the launch of the Hamas-led resistance operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October of last year, US President Joe Biden deployed US Navy assets to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea to “defend” Israel.

On 26 November, the USS Eisenhower and its escorts navigated through the Straits of Hormuz, anchoring in the Persian Gulf on the Saudi Arabian side. Yemen’s Ansarallah-aligned naval forces initially targeted Israeli ships and Eilat Port with their first shots on 19 October. But by 29 November, their attacks escalated to include vessels bound to or from Eilat, irrespective of flag or ownership.

This pattern culminated in the Pentagon’s announcement of “Operation Prosperity Guardian” on 18 December, aimed at safeguarding Israel’s economic interests at the expense of US military personnel. Subsequently, the Eisenhower and its naval escorts relocated from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, purportedly to “defend” the occupation state.

Instead, the positioning of US Navy assets in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has left them susceptible to potential attacks from Iranian or Iranian-supplied weaponry, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and drones.

Despite efforts from the US Navy (USN) and the US Air Force (USAF), Ansarallah remains undefeated. Previous Anglo–American airstrikes in Yemen have proven ineffective, while the ongoing pace and expanding scope of Yemeni operations are straining naval resources and dampening morale.

Unlike ‘Hollywood guns,’ US Navy vessels do not have unlimited interceptor missiles, nor can they be reloaded at sea. As for the morale of American personnel, it will break in the long run, particularly since many, if not most, sailors and marines are simply not invested in a fight for Israel.

Last month, Captain Chris Hill, the commanding officer of the USS Eisenhower, said: “People need breaks, they need to go home.”

While sailors, marines, and airmen are getting antsy dodging Ansarallah’s drones and missiles on a daily basis, the ‘Yankee Frog’ is merrily paddling about his Washington hot tub, believing the ‘might’ of the USN will defeat the pesky ‘Houthis.’

This was arguably a well-calibrated move supported by Iran that accomplished two objectives: First, it got the carrier battle group out of the Persian Gulf, and second, it sucked the US into an escalatory trap. The Yankee Frog is in the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden hotpot. It cannot win.

It will either jump out and flee in humiliation, further destroying the credibility of the US armed forces following its humiliating 2021 debacle in Afghanistan; or it will remain in the hotpot and be boiled to death—with the loss of ships and lives.

With either outcome, Iran wins. Relatedly, an Iranian defeat of the US will be welcomed by China, Russia, and scores of US adversary states, particularly across the global south. As noted by one astute Twitter/X user, Armchair Warrior (describing Russia’s likely responses to Ukrainian provocations), by its actions, Iran has demonstrated “reflexive control” over Washington’s actions. By this, he means, “If every military action you take gets a symmetrical reaction, then you can control the nature, venue, and tempo of the conflict to your benefit.” This is precisely what the IRGC is cleverly doing.

The Israeli Frog

The wee ‘Israeli Frog,’ meanwhile, somnolent in the warm water, is dreaming of his ‘new Israel’ – the Israel that he will create once he has ethnically cleansed Gaza. He has plans to develop Gaza, build luxury condos along the beachfront, and build housing units for new settlers.

Architects are now drawing up plans. Former President and current Republican contender Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a Netanyahuist and Likud Party benefactor, is measuring drapes for his Gaza waterfront condominium.

However, the Israeli military has not defeated Hamas, which continues to inflict significant damage to Israeli military hardware and human assets. By one estimate, Hamas has only been degraded by 15–20 percent. The occupation army wholly depends on the US and its European vassal states for armaments since its domestic production capacities are limited.

According to one estimate, some 500,000 settlers have returned to their homelands; most will not return. Since 7 October, conscription is no longer a safe yet inconvenient three-year requirement: parents are afraid for their daughters and sons.

The dormant refusenik movement that emerged from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon has re-awakened. Draftees are refusing to serve and being jailed as a result. The conscription exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews expired on 1 April; they are threatening to flee Israel, whose very survival is dependent on Jews moving there.

If representatives of ultra-Orthodox Jews quit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, it could bring down his extremist government. Internal tensions within Israeli society are escalating, fueled by socio-economic pressures and disillusionment with the government’s handling of the war.

The Israeli economy is in shambles. The shekel is declining. It is 3.60 ILS to 1 USD from highs of 4.01 ILS to 1 USD, with further declines likely. Budget deficits and borrowing have skyrocketed. Moody’s downgraded Israel’s credit from A1 to A2 on 9 February. Israel’s tourism industry has collapsed into crisis. Most major airlines no longer fly to Israel. Israel’s manufacturing and agricultural bases are small. Israel has limited access to natural resources and energy; it depends on overland lifelines to Jordan and Egypt, with Azerbaijani oil and gas coming to Haifa from Turkey.

Iran is doing to Israel just what Israel did to it with economic sanctions. But unlike Israel, Iran has abundant supplies of oil and gas, 85 million literate and educated people who are not planning to flee, and formidable agricultural and manufacturing bases.

Tehran is methodically throttling Israel’s economy. Haifa port is on Hezbollah’s target list. If Haifa is shut down alongside Eilat, Israel will only have overland lifelines for food and energy supplies. Ben Gurion International and other airports may be targeted in the future.

Turning up the heat, one degree at a time

The recent Israeli attack on the Iranian diplomatic mission in Damascus, purportedly in response to an Iraqi drone striking Eilat, mirrors Netanyahu’s apprehensions and frustrations – that “the whole world is ganging up on us.”

Netanyahu’s strategy appears to be to goad Iran into escalating tensions, potentially prompting them to target American military assets in the region, thereby drawing the US into the Gaza War. However, it’s uncertain whether Tehran will take the bait.

While the IRGC is likely to respond, they will look to avoid falling into Netanyahu’s trap. Instead, Iran may opt to tighten its economic stranglehold on Israel, possibly by targeting strategic locations such as Eilat, Haifa, and Ben Gurion Airport.

The IRGC understands that Israel’s economy cannot sustain a prolonged conflict. Therefore, their strategy might involve a gradual escalation – effectively boiling the Israeli frog slowly – through coordinated actions involving Hezbollah, Ansarallah, and various Syrian and Iraqi-based factions.

As the economist Herbert Stein noted, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” While Israel is far from being on the brink of collapse, the disciplined and calculated actions of the IRGC are steadily increasing regional tensions. If left unchecked, this could lead to significant repercussions for Israeli society and its economy – all without it realizing, like the wee boiling frog.

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