Figuring Out Iran’s Attack

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Looking back at last weekend’s massive drone and missile attack on Israel by Iran gives some perspective.

While it is fair to say that Iran’s attack “failed” — thanks to an impressive coordination of defensive responses by Israel, the United States, Great Britain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — the brazenness of the attack presents a significantly changed circumstance. How Israel reacts to the attack could set the tone for future interactions between Iran and Israel and between Iran and the Western world.

Late on April 13, Iran launched a wave of more than 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles targeting Israel. The attack was not a surprise, although its precise timing was.

Iran announced its plan in advance to claim retribution for Israel’s attack on an Iranian “diplomatic complex” in Damascus, Syria, in which a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and several others were killed. Almost all of Iran’s attack drones and missiles were shot down before reaching Israeli territory. But the attack shook Israel’s civilian population, angered its political leadership and challenged its military.

President Joe Biden condemned the attacks and pressed for a diplomatic response to head off further military escalation. He spoke directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the impressive success of Israel’s defensive effort and urged Netanyahu to declare victory and move on.

He also made clear that based on the facts known at the time, and despite significant U.S. involvement in defending against the attack, the U.S. military would not join in a counterattack response against Iran.

Israel’s political and military leaders promised a response. Those declarations of retribution were fully expected. But at least as of this writing, the Israelis haven’t said what the response would be or when it would come. They shouldn’t.

Further verbal jousting serves no purpose. Fear of retaliation and the persistent, nagging uncertainty of deadly retribution and its likely scope are an effective deterrent. And deterrence is what Iran needs.

Through its April 13 attack, Iran opened a dreaded sixth “front” in its orchestrated war on Israel. Until last weekend, Israel and the West were accustomed to the regular issuance of bellicose bombast from Tehran — replete with demonstrations, coordinated campaigns and hateful accusations — but not bombs.

Instead, Iran directed attacks on Israel and the West with missiles, drones and associated activity launched through its proxies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Houthis in Yemen, militias in Iraq, troops and proxies in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. But now, the proverbial wizard has emerged from behind the curtain to show its proxies how things “are supposed to be done.”

At least that seemed to be Tehran’s plan. Or was it?

Was last week’s attack a pathetic failure of Iran’s military prowess, or was it an intentional, relatively minor slap, designed to warn Israel and the West against efforts to further target Iran’s military, political and scientific leaders? We don’t know.

But now the ball is back in Israel’s court, and Israel seems to have captured the attention of the ayatollahs. They are looking over their shoulders and feeling the nagging, heated, bitter threat of retribution. That’s a good thing.

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