Iran’s Unprecedented But Choreographed Attack On Israel Underlines Tehran’s Limits – Analysis


By Kian Sharifi

(RFE/RL) — Iran fired over 300 missiles and drones at Israel, marking the first time Tehran directly launched an attack against its archfoe from its own territory.

But the unprecedented assault late on April 13 also appeared highly choreographed and caused limited damage and casualties.

The attack was in retaliation for the suspected Israeli air strike on the Iranian Embassy’s compound in Damascus on April 1 that killed seven Iranian commanders, including two generals.

Tehran’s response appeared to be aimed at projecting strength. But observers suggest the incident also underlined Iran’s limitations.

Tehran felt compelled to respond, experts say, but it was also keen to avoid actions that could trigger a full-blown war with Israel, a scenario that could drag in the United States and jeopardize the clerical regime’s own survival.

“The Islamic republic probably believes it has escalated — by directly and overtly targeting its adversary’s territory — to de-escalate,” said Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute.

In the past, Iran has claimed responsibility only after attacks. This time, however, it announced the start of its operation — Honest Promise — shortly after the drones were launched and hours before they reached Israel.

“The matter can be deemed concluded,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations wrote on X, formerly Twitter, even before the first wave of drones had reached Israel.

Even so, the attack was considerably larger than what many observers had anticipated.

“It was certainly not a symbolic attack and I think at the end of the day it served what they wanted to do: to rehabilitate deterrence vis-à-vis Israel,” said Raz Zimmt, a senior researcher at the Israeli-based Institute for National Security Studies.

Iran was keen to minimize damage and reduce the odds of an Israeli reprisal, experts say. But Tehran may have miscalculated, according to Zimmt, who says Israel will feel compelled to respond. “The question is what exactly Israel can do in order to respond without risking further escalation,” he said.

But more than anything, the scale of the attack appeared to be aimed at Iran’s domestic audience.

Iran’s state-run IRINN television broadcast live footage of people gathering in various Iranian cities to celebrate the attack.

The channel also aired unverified social-media footage purportedly showing the aftermath of the Iranian strikes in Israel. But at least one of the videos was actually old footage of wildfires in South America.


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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