Israeli Attack Signals It Will Never Appease Iran

As of noon Eastern Time today, it appears that Israel fired drones at a military target—possibly an air base—near Isfahan, Iran, as part of a limited, precision retaliation to last week’s missile and drone attack on Israel by Iran.

By taking this action, Israel ignored strong pressure from many nations, especially the U.S. and Europe, to not retaliate to Iran’s missile/drone attack because this could further escalate tensions. Israel rejected this pressure and instead sent a message that it will not tolerate attacks on its territory by Iran and that it will never appease Iran.

An attack on Isfahan is significant because it is the location of Iran’s largest nuclear research complex, which employs about 3,000 scientists. According to the BBC, the Isfahan region also has major military infrastructure, including a large airbase, a major missile production complex, and several nuclear facilities.

This appeared to be a limited Israeli attack to demonstrate its ability to strike deep inside Iran. Isfahan was probably chosen because it has important and vulnerable nuclear facilities that Israel could destroy if it wanted to. Israel conducted this attack as a show of force that might not lead to further escalation and avoided civilian casualties.  We may know later today exactly what Israel attacked.

Israel’s decision to attack Iran reflected how seriously it took the April 13 missile/drone attack.

After 99% of approximately 350 drones and missiles fired by Iran on April 13 against Israel were shot down or malfunctioned, the Biden administration and other world leaders urged Israel to “exercise restraint” and not retaliate. These leaders argued that the Iranian attack was not a serious threat and Israeli leaders should therefore not risk a major war by striking back against Iran.

Iran threatened “a severe, extensive, and painful response” using “weapons that we have not used before” if Israel retaliated.

“Take the win,” President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu during a phone conversation that the White House leaked to the press. Biden reportedly also told Netanyahu that the U.S. did not support Israel retaliating against Iran and would not support such action. The Biden Administration also attempted to dissuade Israel from retaliating against Iran by announcing new sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Defense Ministry.

New York Times opinion writer Thomas Friedman had similar advice for Prime Minister Netanyahu, writing in an April 14 op-ed that Israel had “made its point” by shooting down Iran’s missiles and drones and should not repeat Iran’s “big mistake.”

Israeli officials saw this situation differently. They believe the Iranian attack on Israel crossed a red line and required a military response. Israel reportedly called off two attacks on Iran this week. It deceived Iran about the timing of last night’s attack by leaking to the press that any attack would occur after Passover, which begins on April 22.

Israeli officials also probably believed that not taking action against Iran because of its threats to respond by attacking Israel again would amount to appeasement.

Also influencing the Israeli decision to attack Iran was the purpose of the April 13 missile/drone attack. Many experts believe this attack was not intended to do significant damage and was conducted to send a message to Israel or as a public relations ploy for domestic consumption.

Israeli officials could not risk downplaying the danger of the Iranian missile/drone attack or ignoring the dangerous precedent of Iran directly attacking Israeli territory. The size of this attack may have been intended to overwhelm Israeli air defenses. Such a large number of drones and missiles could have resulted in substantial damage to Israel and loss of life. Iran could not be sure how many of these projectiles would be shot down.

In addition, reports that 50% of the 115-130 missiles fired by Iran failed to launch or crashed before reaching their target were inconsistent with tests of new, advanced Iranian missile designs over the past few years that reportedly are far more accurate and have better guidance systems.

It was also strange to see such a high failure rate when Iran reportedly fired three of its most advanced missiles—the Kheibar Shekan, Emad, and Ghadr-1 medium-range ballistic missiles—which have been successfully tested and have some ability to evade missile defenses. Five of these missiles got through Israel’s air defense; four hit Israel’s Nevatim Air Base but did no serious damage. This may indicate Iran launched these missiles to test them in battle and see how they would do against Israeli missile defenses. It is certain that Iranian rocket scientists will use the lessons from the April 13 missile attack to make improvements to these missiles.

Israeli officials were not convinced to not retaliate by the Biden Administration’s new sanctions against Iran because they know U.S. sanctions during the Biden presidency have had little effect on changing the behavior of America’s adversaries. U.S. sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine have been spectacularly ineffective.

Israeli officials probably believe the Biden administration’s sanctions against Iran will have little credibility because of the administration’s many attempts to appease Iran with concessions to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and weakening U.S. sanctions.

This included Biden officials granting Iran $10 billion in sanctions waivers in November 2023 and March 2024. The Iranian government also accrued approximately $71 billion in additional revenue as of October 2023 because the Biden administration has failed to enforce U.S. oil sanctions. Most of this oil was purchased by China.

Moreover, although enforcing U.S. oil sanctions would inflict significant pain on Iran, according to an April 16 Wall Street Journal editorial, the Biden Administration is unlikely to do this because tougher oil sanctions on Iran could cause gasoline prices to rise in the run-up to the November presidential election.

Israel therefore staged what appeared to be a limited attack against Iran to send a clear message that it will not tolerate Iranian attacks against its territory and will not capitulate to Iranian threats.

By staging this attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu also proved that he will not let Joe Biden tell Israel how to defend itself. Reflecting how much U.S.-Israel relations have frayed during the Biden presidency, Israel reportedly informed the U.S. at the last minute about last night’s strike on Iran, probably because it feared Biden officials would leak the timing of the attack to the press—and maybe to Iran.

Israel’s attack may dissuade Iran from attempting further missile and drone attacks against it because they could be followed by much more aggressive Israeli retaliation, possibly against Iran’s nuclear facilities or oil industry. There will be strong pressure on both nations to deescalate, but attacks by Iran’s proxies will likely continue.

It will be difficult to lower tensions in the Middle East when America lacks a president who is seen as a credible leader on the world stage. As a result, 2024 will likely be an increasingly dangerous year for global security, with more provocations like the April 13 Iranian missile/drone attack and Israel’s retaliation to this attack in the Middle East and around the world.

America and the world are therefore facing a U.S. presidential election in 2024 with very serious global implications.

Fred Fleitz is vice-chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst, and a House Intelligence Committee staff member.

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Photo: A truck is carrying Iranian-made missiles during a military parade marking the anniversary of Iran's Army Day at an Army military base in Tehran, Iran, on April 17, 2024. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)