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Q&A: So Iran Attacked Israel – What Next?

Q: Why did Iran attack Israel with 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles early on 14 April?
A: Because a few days earlier, Israel attacked a building in Damascus, Syria, that Iran claims is part of its embassy compound.

Q: So Israel is in the wrong for attacking an embassy?
A: If that is the case, then Iran has a history of being in the wrong since 1979: Iran has directly and indirectly via its proxies attacked US and Israeli embassies in Lebanon, Argentina, India, Thailand, Georgia, Greece and elsewhere.

Q: What is the legal situation regarding attacks on embassies?
A: An embassy enjoys the protection of its host country in accordance with internationally recognised diplomatic protocol. However, in purely legal terms that protection is afforded simply because it is considered civilian infrastructure, in exactly the same way as churches, schools, hospitals and residential homes are considered civilian infrastructure, and therefore seen as off-limits to attack. Iran and its various Shia and Sunni proxies have consistently disregarded this fundamental rule of law and diplomatic protocol. In 1979 the Ayatollahs seized power in Iran after invading and destroying the US embassy there, killing some US diplomats and holding all the rest hostage for more than a year in clear contravention of both diplomatic protocol and civil law.

Q: So it is hypocrisy for Iran to claim its diplomatic privilege was violated when its embassy facility was attacked?
A: Yes.

Q: But it was nonetheless an Iranian embassy facility that was attacked, surely that was wrong?
A: The moment an embassy – legally a civilian structure – is used for war purposes, it ceases to be regarded as a protected civilian space. It becomes a legitimate military target in accordance with the rules of war. The Iranians knew this and flouted agreed diplomatic protocol because this tactic of shielding its military operations behind civilians is part and parcel of Iran’s military strategy and that of its various Sunni and Shia proxies. This particular building was hosting Iranian military and Palestinian military personnel who were planning the next, imminent, steps in the Iran-financed, Hamas-led 6-month-old war against Israel’s civilian population. As such, it was a legitimate military target.

Q: Iran used more than 300 projectiles to target Israel on April 14, a combination of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. In addition, their proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen simultaneously fired a combination of short-range rockets, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles at Israel. Did Iran succeed in bursting Israel’s much-vaunted image of strength with this unprecedently massive, multi-pronged attack?
A: Not at all. More than 99 percent of the incoming missiles were knocked out of the sky before they even reached Israeli airspace. Israel and its partners – including certain Sunni Muslim states – destroyed the attack in the air. If the Iranian regime wished to project strength in their attack, they succeeded in that they fielded an impressive quantity of airborne weaponry against Israel. But they failed abysmally in that the overwhelming majority of the incoming ordinance fell to the ground long before it even reached Israel. Some of it fell in Iraq. As a projection of military prowess, it was an abject failure.

Q: So anyone looking to invest in Iranian weaponry will today be looking elsewhere for military supplies?
A: Correct. From the propaganda viewpoint, it was a stunning paper victory for the ayatollahs owing to the sheer number of missiles they fired. From the military viewpoint, if this is the best Iran can do, it was a stunning confirmation of the Iranian regime’s utter military incompetence.

Q: So that’s it now, one strike each to Israel and Iran, now we can expect a cessation of hostilities?
A: Not quite. Iran has spent 45 years working consistently and methodically to attack Israel financially, commercially, strategically, diplomatically and militarily. US President Joe Biden has unequivocally said that the US has – and has just demonstrated – an “iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security”. That commitment was amply showcased on April 14 as the US among others helped Israel track and destroy Iranian missiles targeting Israel. However, Biden has also clearly said that he absolutely will not support any Israeli military response to the unprecedented Iranian attack on the Israeli homefront.

Q: Does this mean it’s now a stalemate?
A: No. The US says that Israel should be delighted with the amazing success of its defence against the Iranian onslaught, and it was truly an amazing defensive achievement. However, the success of that defence was also in part due to the welcome but essential assistance provided to Israel by the US and other regional partners. What happens the next time Iran, now with a taste for direct confrontation with the Jewish state, decides to up the ante and attack while Israel’s partners are unavailable? Survival is not only a matter of passive defence every time aggressors choose to strike – survival also requires credible threat of, and actually implemented, offensive attacks against the serial aggressors. The hostilities may be over for today, but that won’t last.

Q: Why not? Both sides have drawn blood, so why not call it quits?
A: Because if they are smart and have learned from recent history, Israel’s political and military leaders will clearly remember the last time Israel was forced by its great friend the USA to cower and not respond as ballistic missiles rained down on the entire country. That was in Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1991 “Scud Assault” against the Israeli home front, when the USA promised to deal with Iraq provided Israel did not respond to the unprecedented Iraqi attack involving dozens of Scud ballistic missiles. Israel agreed to absorb the assault without responding. In the Middle East, what actually happens is less important than what appears to be happening. And what appeared to be happening thanks to this misguided US policy was that Israelis were seen as cowering in bunkers while a Sunni Muslim state with a huge Shia minority freely rained down missiles on a frightened Israel. That image has stuck. It is that image that ever since has empowered Iran and its various proxies.

Q: So what does this mean for Israel?
A: If Israel’s political and military leaders are sensible, they will understand that never again is right now, today, that they will never again be coerced into projecting the image of cowering behind the protection of others while Israel is being mercilessly attacked.
Q: Does this mean Israel will respond militarily to the massive Iranian attack?
A: Israel will undoubtedly respond. Even militarily. But not necessarily today. And not necessarily with an open attack. But the gloves are now off following Iran’s direct assault on the Israeli home front. The decades-old misguided Israeli policy of responding to Iran’s proxies for attacks carried out by those proxies will likely undergo a fundamental change. Attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis et al will now likely also elicit a response in the form of an overt or covert attack on Iranian soil.

Q: Why? Doesn’t this risk a huge regional conflagration?
A: Why? Because it is Iran that is financing, training, arming, planning and orchestrating the attacks against Israel, and often even operating the more advanced weapons systems themselves. And yes, it does risk a major regional war. But that war is coming irrespective of what Israel does or does not do. Iran’s declared aim is the destruction of the state of Israel on a timetable of its own choosing. The UN, the EU seem fine with that bearing in mind their remarkable, amoral silence on the issue. But it’s not fine with Israel. An Israel that sits and waits while Iran constantly takes the initiative is an Israel that will very soon cease to exist. An Israel that takes the initiative when it is diplomatically and strategically favourable to do so, is an Israel that will not only survive but thrive. That is what will happen – if Israel’s political and military leaders have the patience to deal with Iran methodically. Not every response has to come immediately.

Q: So for now both Iran and Israel will maintain a kind of strategic quiet?
A: No. Iran’s Hezbollah is still itching for a fight, having lost more than 250 fighters in their latest 6-month confrontation with Israel. Hezbollah has anything between 130,000 and 190,000 missiles aimed directly at Israel’s population centres and strategic infrastructure. Despite a binding UN agreement, Hezbollah has refused to pull back to north of the Litani River, which would give Israel the strategic depth it needs to detect incoming missiles. Since Hezbollah is in breach of the UN agreement, and the UN is unwilling to enforce its own binding agreement, and Israel can no longer afford to have this aggressive Iranian proxy sitting on its northern border, it is only a matter of time before war between Israel and Lebanon is a fact. Unless the UN for the first time in its history actually does what it is paid to do and has undertaken to do as per its charter: push Hezbollah north to beyond the Litani River in order to protect both Lebanese and Israeli civilian lives.

Q: Will that happen?
A: Don’t hold your breath. We are talking about the UN…

About the Author
Served as deputy chair of the West Sweden branch of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Association. Written three political thrillers about Sweden-Israel-Gaza in The Hart Trilogy: "Bridges Going Nowhere" (2014), "The Threat Beneath" (2015) and "From the Shadows" (2016), where the action switches seamlessly between Samaria, Gaza, Israel, Sweden and Iran. Work has started on a fourth book, "Picture Imperfect".
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