Israel's response to shape aftermath of Iran's first direct attack on its territory

A new chapter in the confrontation between the two countries has begun

Watch: Iranian missiles intercepted over Jerusalem

Watch: Iranian missiles intercepted over Jerusalem
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Iran's direct attack on Israel briefly took their war from shadow to daylight, but any further escalation now depends on the extent of the Israeli retaliation, sources and experts told The National on Sunday.

The hundreds of missiles and drones that Iran launched from its territory mark the start of a new chapter in the confrontation between the two countries as it is the first known direct attack by Tehran against its regional foe.

"This is not Iran's savoir-faire", a regional security source said.

"Tehran's response to the shocking Damascus strike is calculated. It does not want to look weak but also does not want to be dragged into open war. It has its proxies, so why would it fight if someone else can do it on its behalf?"

It does not want to look weak - but also does not want to be dragged into open war
Security source

More than 300 drones and missiles were fired from Iran at Israel overnight, 99 per cent of which were shot down, the Israeli military said on Sunday. Its armed forces remained fully functional and were discussing follow-up options, it added. Earlier this week Israel said it would retaliate with an attack on Iranian territory if it was attacked by Iran.

Tehran said the attack was in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, on April 1, which killed two commanders and other members of its elite force. Israel says Iran is arming and supporting Hamas in Gaza, where it has been waging a war that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

As Israel, the US, the UK and other nations intercepted the missiles, Iran quickly announced its retaliation had ended and that the next move was up to Israel.

"The scenes of missiles and drones and attempts to shoot them down in the skies of Israel misleadingly suggest that what is happening is random and massive targeting to inflict the greatest possible harm. But it is an exaggeration to portray it this way", a source close to Iran's regional proxies in the region said.

"It is clear, and according to Iranian announcements, that the goal was limited."

In Tehran, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisis said the "warriors" of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) taught Israel "an unforgettable lesson".

“Last night, a new page in the history of Iran’s authority was turned and it taught a lesson to the Israeli enemy,” Mr Raisi said in a statement on Sunday.

No intention of new attacks

The Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces, Maj Gen Mohammad Baqeri, confirmed his country has no intention of continuing to attack Israel.

"Our response will be much larger than last night's military action if Israel retaliates against Iran," he was quoted by state-run media as saying and warned Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.

"The operation took place because the Zionist regime had crossed Iran's red line, and it was unacceptable," he added.

Iran has engaged in indirect negotiations with the US to extend a truce in Iraq to additional areas. The most recent attack by Iraqi groups aligned with Tehran on US forces was on February 4.

During these discussions, Tehran aimed to leverage concessions from Washington that might result in the release of billions of dollars from its accounts, which are currently frozen due to sanctions linked to its nuclear programme, sources said in recent weeks.

US President Joe Biden "wants to contain the situation. Despite his involvement in shooting down the Iranian missiles and drones, it is not in his domestic political interest to admit that his policy of containing the Gaza War has failed and that the United States has been dragged into a new and more dangerous regional quagmire", a source with knowledge of the talks told The National.

"At the same time, Biden will not want to show that he understands the Iranian position. Showing cracks in his relationship with Israel at such a moment would cause harm to him. This is why we are unlikely to see conciliatory or friendly initiatives towards Tehran now. He will reaffirm his support for Israel and its defence," added the source.

"The danger is that if Israel resorts to a military operation harmful to Iran, despite any US objection, Biden will naturally side with Israel, which is an inevitable choice that Benjamin Netanyahu is aware of and may exploit to his advantage."

The role of Iran's regional allies in the attack on Israel was limited.

Yemen's Houthi rebels reportedly launched drones at Israel, according to security agency Ambrey, and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militia announced it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights at about the same time, as well as a second barrage hours later.

"If Iran is exposed to harm, such as attacking sites on its territory, the factions of the Axis of Resistance will automatically find themselves in the battle. This means the complete collapse of the Iraqi truce", the source close to Iran's proxies said.

"The groups seemed almost calm yesterday. This is not a coincidence. This relative silence is a confirmation of the Iranian message itself, that the response was limited."

For Mohanad Hage-Ali, deputy director for research at the Malcolm H Kerr Carnegie Middle East Centre, a line was crossed and "Israel now has an alibi to respond on Iranian soil".

But a retaliation "will need a US green light, and there might be a pushback", he said.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 12:26 AM