Iran’s Response To Israel’s Strike Was Pure Political Theater

Iran’s attack on Israel on the night of April 13-14, 2024, showed how well the two countries understand each other and recognize that they are not each other’s main threats. They do have a lingering conflict, but misleading Western media rhetoric that Shi’ite Iran is the primary sponsor of the Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood Hamas movement obscures realities.

1. Primary sponsors of Hamas, which began the war against Israel on October 7, 2023, are Turkey and Qatar, both Muslim Brotherhood states extremely hostile to Israel. Each has a delicate relationship with Iran, and they would have been happy to have Tehran bear the brunt of Israel’s anger. Having said that, Iran had no option but to respond to the Israeli bombing on April 1, 2024, of the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing senior Pasdaran (IRGC) officers.

2. Iran’s response was pure political theater: Tehran leaked to the US and Israel the nature, targeting, and timing of the proposed Iranian attack on Israel, clearly indicating that it proposed a symbolic attack designed to avoid human casualties. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced when the first salvos of several hundred unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs or loitering munitions), cruise missiles, and light ballistic missiles were fired, giving Israeli anti-missile forces (mainly Iron Dome and David’s Sling systems) and Allied (US, UK, and Jordanian) systems time to prepare. Some 300 Iranian systems (170 UCAVs and 120+ ballistic missiles) were fired, 99 percent were intercepted, and no deaths were recorded by Israel. As well, some 350 rockets were fired from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and by HizbAllah (in Lebanon). No Turkish, Qatari, or Hamas assets were used in the attacks.

3. Iran very pointedly did not use its heavier ballistic missiles, such as the 2,000km range Sajjil or Sajjil-2 MRBMs (almost certainly nuclear capable) in the strike. This would not only have been threatening in terms of imagery (because of its nuclear capability), but would have brought up the Israeli Arrow 3 ABM systems. For Iran to have its Sajjils defeated (even if they were carrying only a conventional payload) would have subjected Tehran to reduced prestige and credibility. As it is now, the Iranian retaliation signaled “honor is satisfied”, even to its regional audience. Significantly, as a result, Israel has deferred a response.

4. Russia almost certainly worked with the Iranian leadership to ensure that Tehran was not drawn in by Israel to a broader response. Moscow has only now succeeded in bringing Iran into its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which creates a riverine, rail, and oceanic transport link from the Baltic/Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and India via Iran. It cannot afford to have an Israeli war against Iran jeopardize this. Russia is clearly unhappy about Turkey’s réle in attempting to disrupt the INSTC in order to promote its own proposed link through the Persian Gulf to Iraq to Turkey and on to Europe.

5. There is some suggestion that Russian links may have been used to pass Iranian information to Israel and the US. Russia is also anxious not to re-ignite US or Israeli hostilities toward Syria, where Russia enjoys significant military basing.

6. Turkey on April 9, 2024, announced a trade war against Israel, in violation of specific bilateral agreements, to pressure it on the Gaza war, and also announced that another “Gaza flotilla” of multiple vessels would attempt in mid-April 2024 to breach the Israeli containment of Gaza, as was attempted in 2010 by six ships of the Mavi Marmara flotilla. The provocation, symbolic rather than substantive, comes as Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan attempts to recover from his worst electoral setback, showing widespread rejection of his policies at home.

By Gregory R. Copley via Defense and Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

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