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Peace and Conflict

Israel considers response to Iranian attack | Update 16th April 2024

Israel considers response to Iranian attack via BICom

What's happened: The Israeli war cabinet met yesterday to discuss Israel’s response to Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday night. (For details and initial analysis of the attack see BICOM’s briefing.)

  • Kan Radio summarises Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying at the meeting that Israel must respond, but must do so judiciously.
  • Visiting the IAF Nevatim base targeted by Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Halevi said “Iran wanted to damage the State of Israel’s strategic capabilities. This is something that has never happened before. When we look ahead, we are weighing our steps and this strike, with so many cruise missiles and UAVs on Israeli territory, will be met with a response.”
  • IDF Spokesperson Hagari said that “the range of options that the State of Israel has at its disposal is broader and bigger” than that available to Iran.
  • Israel’s western allies, including the UK, France, and Germany, continue to follow the Biden administration in urging Israel to respond cautiously. Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Sunak condemned an Iranian attack which “sought to plunge the Middle East into a new crisis… The scale of the attack,” he said, “and the fact that it was targeted directly at Israel are all without precedent.”
  • Sunak also urged Israel to show “restraint” in its response, a point echoed by Foreign Secretary Cameron, who told LBC that the UK was “saying Israel has a right to respond but we do not support a retaliatory strike. There are times where we have to be smart as well as tough, where we have to use head as well as heart.”
  • Israeli Defence Minister Gallant spoke again with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin yesterday. Austin “reiterated steadfast US support for Israel’s defence and reaffirmed the strategic goal of regional stability.” In calls to other European and Middle Eastern counterparts, Austin said that “while the United States does not seek escalation, we will continue to defend Israel and US personnel.”
  • The Chinese foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart also spoke, with official Chinese media reporting that Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Wang Yi that Iran would “handle the situation well and spare the region further turmoil”.
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Katz, meanwhile, has announced that he has written to 32 countries urging them to impose sanctions on Iran’s missile program and to declare the IRGC a terrorist organisation. Katz said on X (formerly Twitter) that he was “leading a political attack against Iran,” designed to “contain and weaken” it. Iran “must be stopped now — before it is too late.”

Context: Israel’s western allies, while strongly condemning Iran and pledging their continued support in combating Iranian attacks on Israel, have urged Israel to show restraint in its response to prevent further regional escalation.

  • In weighing its response, therefore, Israel is forced to balance the need to maintain deterrence following an unprecedented Iranian attack consisting of over 300 missiles and UAVs, and protecting the emerging anti-Iranian Israeli-western-Arab alliance which was illustrated during the attack.
  • Israeli commentators are warning that a strong Israeli response could imperil this alliance, which was demonstrated for the first time on Saturday night and included Israel, the US, UK, France, and “moderate” Arab states including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
  • Reports this morning claim that Israel has assured Arab allies, including Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states, that its response would not implicate them. This follows Iranian threats that regional allies of Israel would pay a price for cooperation with an Israeli response.
  • Iran’s official media specifically mentioned that Jordan would be the next target in the event that it aided or joined Israel in responding to the Iranian attack.
  • Reports out of the US this morning also claim that Israel will likely focus its response not on Iran directly, but on its proxies – potentially Hezbollah and/or Syria-based militias. Such a response would be calculated to provoke a less severe counter-response from Iran than a direct attack on Iranian soil would.
  • While Jordan took direct action in striking Iranian drones and missiles travelling over its airspace on Saturday night, Israeli reports claim that Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia were all also in “close contact” with Israel during the attack.
  • Two days before the attack on Israel, Iranian officials briefed their counterparts in the Gulf countries on the structure and timing of the plan for the attack, to enable them to secure the airspace. Following US pressure, Saudi Arabia and Egypt subsequently shared intelligence about those plans.
  • According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia and the UAE agreed to share information with the US and opened their airspace to fighter jets, shared radar surveillance information, and, in some cases, provided their own forces to help and intercept the attack.
  • However, pushing back on reports that Saudi Arabia had aided Israel, informed sources told Al Arabiya that Saudi Arabia did not participate in the interception of Iranian drones and missiles.
  • While Israel has enjoyed normalised relations with Egypt and Jordan for decades, this emerging alliance represents the bearing of fruit of the Abraham Accords process (which saw Israel normalise relations with Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE) and the progress made towards a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia.
  • All these regional states recognise that the threat from Iran is shared with Israel by them all.
  • Before the October attacks by Hamas, normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia was thought to be progressing. In late September 2023, Netanyahu and Biden discussed the issue when they met on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. In an extensive English language interview to Fox News, released shortly after the Netanyahu-Biden meeting, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) confirmed that “every day we get closer” to a normalisation deal.
  • The 2020 Abraham Accords, as well as seeing Israel being moved from the European theatre to the US Central Command (CENTOM) in 2021, facilitated the ability of Israel and Arab states’ militaries to share intelligence and to cooperate with one another.
  • Summarising the new alliance, Ariel Kahana writes in Israel Hayom today that “a new bloc has broken out of its shell, has spread its wings and built its muscles: Israel, the West and Arab countries, together against Iran.”

Looking ahead: Israel has reportedly agreed with the US that any response will be coordinated with Washington. This follows disquiet from US officials over the fact that it was not notified in advance prior to the assassination of IRGC commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi in Damascus two weeks ago.

via BICom