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OpinionsNetanyahu has got upper hand after Iran’s failure to damage Israel

Netanyahu has got upper hand after Iran’s failure to damage Israel


Predident Biden will seek to avert further escalation before Prez Poll

By Girish Linganna

Around midnight on Saturday night, air raid sirens screamed across Israel as Iran launched a major drone and missile attack on the country, sparking fears of a larger conflict in the Middle East. Residents were advised to seek shelter as explosions were heard, even as air protocols were activated in the backdrop. However, by Sunday morning, the situation seemed much less severe.

The BBC, quoting unverified figures, said the attack was launched with the aid of 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and at least 110 ballistic missiles. When the news of Iran's attack first broke on Saturday night, a former US military officer specializing in Iran expressed his doubts to Vox. He accurately predicted that none of the drones would succeed in reaching their targets.

With help from the US, UK and neighbouring Arab countries, such as Jordan, Israel was able to shoot down 99 per cent of the more than 300 incoming drones and missiles. The few that did get through caused only minor damage to a military base and injured a child, but no one was killed. The BBC report also claimed information on at least one ballistic missile being shot down outside Earth's atmosphere.

Two weeks before the attack, Israel had intensified its ongoing campaign of targeting key Iranian security officials. Iran defended its action, stating that the attack was its response to an alleged airstrike by Israel on its embassy in Syria in which two generals with the Iranian paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed on April 1. Normally, embassies are considered off-limits, or ‘safe zones', for military actions, making this a bold move.

Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, described their attack on Israel as a form of “punishment” for the assassination. But several leaders, including US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Iran's action. However, the fact that the attack did not cause significant damage shows that Israel is quite well protected against Iran's advanced drones and missiles.

Afshon Ostovar, a specialist on the Iranian military at the Naval Post-Graduate School, told Vox media that Iran should have understood that any attack on Israel would ultimately work more in Israel's favour than Iran's. The decision to attack despite this shows that emotions often override strategic thinking. But Israel struck Iran hard and managed to avoid major repercussions.

The key issue now is whether Israel's leaders know when to stop pushing their luck. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known for his bold actions during the Gaza conflict, relies on some very hardline partners to maintain his position in power. US President Joe Biden, by urging Netanyahu to “take the win”, is trying to keep him in check, but it is uncertain if Netanyahu will listen.

The phrase “to take the win” means to accept a successful outcome or victory and not pursue further action that could provoke additional conflict or complications. It is essentially advised to be satisfied with what has already been achieved without pushing for more, which could potentially lead to negative consequences.

However, even assuming that Israel decides to be cautious for the moment, this incident could have long-term consequences, potentially increasing the chances of a broader conflict between Jerusalem and Tehran. Iran's approach was indeed unusual. For weeks, Tehran had been signalling it would target Israeli territory, allowing Israel and its allies ample time to get ready.

The initial concerns that Iran might overwhelm Israel's air defences with quick missiles were mostly proven wrong. The drones Iran used were slow and took hours to reach Israeli airspace. The shortest distance between Iran and Israel is about 1,000 kilometres and the drones had to pass over Iraq, Syria and Jordan, with the last one intercepting them.

There are two main ways to interpret Iran's intentions given the unsuccessful outcome of their attack.

First, it is possible that Iran misjudged the situation. It may have aimed to seriously harm Israel, but underestimated the defence capabilities of its adversaries. This view is supported by military experts and journalists who note the nature of Iran's attack, particularly its use of ballistic missiles and the targeting of a military base in southern Israel.

Alternatively, it is also possible that Iran may not have been trying to cause significant damage. It could have been aiming for a symbolic gesture, launching the attack to maintain its stance and avoid appearing weak after Israel's strike on its embassy. There is a historical example that relates to this situation. After the US killed Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian military leader, in 2020, Iran's retaliation was to fire missiles at a US airbase. This response was measured carefully to avoid provoking a further escalation from the US.

Similarly, Iran seemed to indicate a comparable intent recently. Even before the first drone could reach Israeli airspace, an official Iranian government account tweeted that “the matter can be deemed concluded”. In diplomatic parlance, it is almost like saying, “This is just a symbolic attack.”

If Iran's goal was, indeed, not to inflict serious damage, the attack may not have been a complete failure. However, it still appears to be a strategic loss. Iran's ineffective response suggests that Israel can target Iranian interests without much fear of a strong retaliation, showing that Iran and its military capabilities are considerably limited compared to those of Israel and its allies.

The situation could either de-escalate or escalate from here. After Iran's largely ineffective retaliation, Israel finds itself in a stronger position than before its attack on the Damascus embassy. Israel had shown it could carry out a highly risky assassination of Iranian military leaders, in an act that could have led to outright war. However, Israel came out of it not only unscathed, but also having shown that its territory was seemingly secure from any direct Iranian attacks in the near future.

Saturday's large-scale attack by Iran has also rallied support for Israel among Republican members of the Congress, who have been delaying an aid package for months due to acrimonious debates over supporting Ukraine.

However, if Israel chooses to respond strongly to Iran's attack, the situation could quickly deteriorate. A significant counter-attack by Israel would likely provoke an Iranian counterstrike, possibly starting a cycle of retribution and counter-retribution that could lead to a full-blown war. This conflict would, possibly, involve Iran's regional allies, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and could result in a high number of casualties.

Moreover, a strong response from Israel could frustrate the American government, which has played a crucial role in intercepting the Iranian missiles and is firmly against any further Israeli retaliation. Such a move by Israel could turn a strategic victory into a potential loss.

Despite this, Israel's government is still considering escalation. According to a Vox media reporter, if the public could hear the internal government discussions, millions would likely rush to Ben Gurion airport—Israel's main international airport and one of the busiest airports in the Middle East—to flee the country.

Before October 7 last year—when Hamas launched a cross-border attack against Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians—Netanyahu was known for being careful with using military force. However, following the Hamas wildcat strikes, he has aggressively pursued a widespread military campaign in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and potentially leading Israel towards significant strategic losses.

Some more prudent voices in Israel seem to understand the situation. War cabinet member Benny Gantz has stated that the conflict is not yet over, but he also mentioned building a regional coalition and holding Iran accountable at a chosen time and method. This suggests that Israel may not be planning any immediate solo actions.

Despite these efforts, there is still a possibility that Israel could avert a serious crisis. However, experts caution that this attack could have long-term negative effects on stability. Thomas Juneau, a Middle East expert from the University of Ottawa, mentioned that, even if Israel does not retaliate right now, the situation has already changed due to a major attack by Iran. Vox reported that Juneau predicts ongoing higher levels of tension and violence from now on.

Supporting this view, Hossein Salami, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, stated that Iran was setting new rules for its interactions with Israel. He declared that any Israeli action against Iranian forces anywhere would now lead directly to Iranian strikes on Israel. This is a shift from the past when Israel could target Iranian interests, such as those in Syria, without direct consequences. This change suggests a higher risk of moving towards full-scale war.

On Saturday night, people started talking about ‘World War III' on Twitter/X. However, it seems those fears were exaggerated. Still, the Middle East is very tense and, now, it is even more likely to explode than ever before.

(IPA Service)



The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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