Was Iran’s Response A Dud Or Did It Leave Israel Dumbfounded?

Each school of thought has compelling arguments in their support so it’s possible that both are right in their own way.

Iran launched a drone and missile barrage against military targets in Israel on Saturday night in response to the self-professed Jewish State’s bombing of its consulate in Damascus earlier this month. The Islamic Republic’s Permanent Mission to the UN earlier warned on X that their country would be forced to retaliate for this blatant violation of international law after the Security Council failed to act. That same account then wrote after Saturday’s strikes that “The matter can be deemed concluded.”

Biden later claimed that American servicemen “helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles”, with reports also claiming that Jordan and the UK provided relevant assistance as well. As it presently stands on Sunday morning Moscow time, Israel has yet to respond to the prior night’s barrage, but Axios reported that Biden told Bibi that the US won’t participate in offensive operations against Iran. According to them, he told him, “You got a win. Take the win.”

It’s impossible to independently determine whether Iran inflicted serious damage on Israeli military assets or if this was just a symbolic attack intended to inflict serious psychological damage on its population. A debate is now raging on social media about whether this response was more of a dud than anything else. Adherents of this view believe that Iran only wanted to “save face” after the bombing of its consulate in Damascus and that it telegraphed its strike plans in order to prevent an escalation.

For that reason, they believe that its decision to launch this drone and missile barrage from Iranian territory was tacitly intended to give Israel and its allies enough time to intercept some of them. As for the remainder that got through, they only targeted military assets, so the fog of war could be exploited by Iran and its supporters on social media to claim that Israel is covering up serious damage. This theory is plausible, but its opponents who believe that Iran’s response wasn’t a dud have some valid points too.

After all, this is the first time that Iran ever attacked Israel from its territory, the psychological impact of which can’t be overexaggerated. The intent might therefore have been to signal what it’s capable of doing at a much larger scale in the event of another provocation so as to restore a semblance of deterrence than to inflict significant military damage this time around. If Axios’ report is accurate, then the US received this signal and understands very well that Iran could do much worse if it wanted.

Each school of thought has compelling arguments in their support so it’s possible that both are right in their own way. Therefore, it might have very well been the case that the military impact of Iran’s response was purposely meant to be a dud, but the psychological impact was significant since it left the Israeli population dumbfounded. Bibi also might not have expected that Biden would tell him to stand down, which was both admittedly pragmatic if true but also driven by his political dislike of him.

The next few days will be crucial. Israel’s possible compliance with the US’ reported demand to not conventionally retaliate inside Iran would suggest that a semblance of deterrence has indeed been restored, thus lending credence to claims that the Islamic Republic achieved a strategic victory. If Israel goes against the US’ reported demand, however, then that would suggest that deterrence either hasn’t been restored or that Bibi is escalating for personal and/or political reasons at great risk to Israel.

It’s also possible that Israel might telegraph its conventional response inside Iran for similar escalation-control purposes so as to also “save face” and then be done with the matter for now. In that event, it can’t be taken for granted that Iran would leave everything at that and not feel compelled to carry out another strike for its own “face-saving” reasons in that scenario, thus risking an uncontrollable escalation spiral. The most rational response is for Israel to stand down, but it’s premature to predict that it will.


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