Strategic Necessity Or Reckless Aggression? Iran’s Missile And Drone Attack On Israel – OpEd


The recent attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran on targets within Israel has further intensified the instability and tensions in the Middle East. The extensive drone and missile strike by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), though initiated and concluded, cannot be considered resolved, as the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations suggested. 

Answers to these ambiguous questions can aid in understanding the current situation and provide insight into the potential future of this crisis. In fact, there are three fundamental questions. First, was an attack absolutely necessary? Second, was the recent attack successful, and did it achieve its objectives? Lastly, the third question will focus on where the tensions after this attack are headed and what Israel’s response to the Iranian attack will be? This article attempts to answer all these questions.

Did the direct attack from Iran on Israel have a necessity? 

Most international relations experts and researchers always strive to expand peace and cooperation using available tools. However, ideals are not always realized. Sometimes, the mere existence of stability and the absence of widespread war are also considered significant achievements. Preserving the foundation of a systemic environment, which would be regional order in relation to the Middle East, though weakened by tensions among rivals, and preventing transformation and change through a widespread regional war, although not ideal, would be desirable. Hence, there are theorists who prefer stability over peace and readiness to face power dynamics, even at the cost of creating tensions over widespread war. 

For example, consider a city where thieves steal and remain unpunished. What guarantee is there that they will not repeat their actions; A situation that, if continued, might eventually force the victims to patiently endure reality and gradually lose everything, or ultimately opt for a one-time death and wail by turning to an all-out war against the thieves, if it’s not too late. 

On the other hand, a war for survival is the most intense kind of war. In this case, one might ask whether, if the thieves had been punished for their first theft, they would have committed similar acts again? If they had, would it be with the same intensity and quantity? Perhaps more protection of assets should have been considered, making it harder for thieves to act, potentially deterring them from their actions. It is likely that there is also a view among them that should not have allowed this action to become a habit for them. 

At a higher level of analysis, the field of international relations has been able to offer solutions for similar cases at international, regional, and global levels. The solution initially involves maintaining a balance of power and then deterrence. In terms of maintaining a balance of power, both sides must know that neither’s power is significantly superior to the other. In the second part, deterrence will take place. This means that neither side harbors the desire to attack the other. These two can have different tools and power-based components. 

On Israel’s side, advanced offensive and defensive weapons, nuclear ambiguity, and a security umbrella from the United States and other Western and even regional allies exist. In contrast, Tehran benefits from a doctrine of asymmetric warfare, a significant missile and drone program, and also non-state regional allies. These elements must be adjusted so that, despite the ongoing competition, they ultimately prevent the initiation of any action by either side against the other. 

Now consider if the equation suddenly changes and Israel is no longer restrained from acting differently against each other. The result of this weakness in deterrence is the attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria. Here, the deterrence formula between the two countries indicates its weakness. This way, either a new element must be added to it or the effectiveness of existing ones must be reminded as fragile; otherwise, there is no guarantee that Israel will not repeat the path it once took. 

From this point of view, the attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran on Israel can be considered a compulsion in both field and theoretical dimensions. Such tensions are like foreshocks, which some believe can reduce the intensity of the main earthquake. Therefore, by virtue of deterrence, a reciprocal and deterrent action by virtue of maintaining or reviving deterrence can ultimately prevent a widespread international war for survival, and here, under the shadow of this necessity, the viral word strategic patience will not become very significant. However, whether the attack is direct and from the soil of Iran or the principle of proportionality is observed, these are other considerable topics.

Was the attack by Iran on Israeli soil successful? 

In the field dimension, the nature of Iran’s attacks has been deterrent; however, efforts have been made to minimize the damage to Israel. As stated, the purpose of the deterrent action could be to send a message and remind the governing equations and formulas between the two not to spark an inevitable and large war. 

It is clear that the power and accuracy of Israel’s three-tier defense and the capabilities of its air forces in tracking and destroying projectiles were overlooked. The air and defensive support of Israel’s partners in the attacks also significantly enhanced the defensive capability of this country, and Iran had a tough job for its avowed punitive purpose. 

On the one hand, as mentioned, Iran also did not use all its capabilities in the field and operational dimension in the recent attack. Iran did not utilize all its drone and missile capabilities. In the drone sector, the simultaneous use of drones available in Iran’s arsenal could have increased the impact and success rate of combined operations in the drone part. On the other hand, more effective Iranian missiles like “Sejil” existed that could have been used. However, more than the choice of weapons, what is clear and evident is the tactic used by Iran in this attack, which can support the existing hypothesis regarding Iran’s reluctance to cause widespread destruction and non-observance of the principle of proportionality. Tehran either did not want or perhaps could not provide the necessary ground for the fruition of its ballistic missiles. 

The drone and cruise missile attacks by Iran, which generally aimed to create gaps in the defensive system, also could not play an effective role in the course of the attacks. This high inefficiency applies not only to direct attacks from Iran but also to attacks from the south by Yemen, the east by Iraq, and the north by Hezbollah in Lebanon. From this, it seems that the objectives were not pursued in hits and explosions, but elsewhere. 

Apart from the field dimension, the success of each side involved in this operation depended on two other essential factors. A significant part of this confrontation is psychological warfare, media warfare, and generally the war of narratives in such a way that what was most visible was the media coverage and related side issues of the attacks. The media sympathetic to Israel were trying to portray the Iranian attacks as fruitless and unsuccessful. Interception of many drones before reaching Israeli soil, destruction of 99% of them, questioning the accuracy of successful attack images, and ultimately their impact on insignificant areas are examples of these efforts. 

The situation progressed in such a way that Israel, without observing additional precautionary measures, announced the general exit from shelters and published a picture of an Israeli F35 fighter landing at an airport that was reported to have been severely damaged due to the missile and drone attacks. Also, news from gas stations, stores, and the sudden increase in the exchange rate in Iran was published. 

On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran preferred to focus on the part of its action. In fact, a broad action in terms of quantity and milder in terms of quality with a huge dose of media propaganda was preferred over a limited but more effective action. This hypothesis was strengthened when Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian formally announced the day after the attack that the regional countries had been informed of Iran’s action three days before the operation. 

From Tehran’s perspective, what will remain are eternal images of missiles flying over the Knesset, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the joy of people attached to resistance under a sky full of missiles. In addition, the publication of images of fear and terror in the occupied territories can also be a balm to the hearts of the terrified people in Gaza. 

In the end, it can be inferred that the aggressive operation “True Promise” was more a power contest to shape narratives and psychological wars between Iran and Israel than a military operation aimed at destruction and harm. An arena that has always been a part of the competition between the two countries. The action against Israel, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, was intended to restore deterrence, which has become fragile due to the action (different or perhaps unprecedented) of one of the parties, and from this perspective, success in reviving deterrence is not based solely on destruction and reciprocal action but on a reciprocal action that has not been precedented before.

Where will the tensions lead, and what will be Israel’s response to the Iranian attack? 

There is a high probability that Israel will take reactive action in response to the recent attacks on Iranian soil. However, both countries will attempt to manage tensions rather than de-escalate them. It seems that in response to the Iranian attacks, Israeli attacks will likely not be aimed at severe destruction for several reasons and will be unilateral and individual. 

The first reason is that the balance of U.S. support in relation to Israel leans heavily towards defense. The United States and other Western allies of Israel, such as the United Kingdom and France, supported this country in defending itself against the Iranian attacks. However, as President Biden also mentioned, Washington will not be part of an offensive operation by Israel against Iranian soil. Previously, the United Kingdom and France had also expressed similar views. In addition, countries in the region have announced that they will close their airspace to attacking aircraft en route to Iran.

Secondly, despite having a reason for war with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel will not be willing to sacrifice the international support it has generated for itself for reciprocal action and warmongering. This country, due to the war in Gaza and its actions in this region, faces negative reactions and severe international pressures, even from some of its Western partners. However, after these attacks, Israel can rejoin the ranks of victimized and rightful countries with Western media support. 

Moreover, Israel will try to further isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran internationally and regionally by pressuring the members of the Security Council to label the Revolutionary Guards as terrorists. In this way, just one limited attack based on international law with the goal of gaining prestige (the prestige of an attack on Iranian soil by a very small country) will be a legitimate reciprocal action and consolidate deterrence. 

Finally, news published regarding Jordan’s support in the recent attack on Israel and action to intercept Iranian drones shows that Israel in this position can more easily mend its tarnished image and approach the Arabs.

Hossein Sayahi

Hossein Sayahi is an international politics researcher and former Senior Analyst at SCFR, with experience as a Political Analyst at Donya-E-Eqtesad Daily Newspaper.

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