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Israel’s War Cabinet Is Set to Meet After Attack by Iran: Live Updates

Iran retaliated directly against Israel after the assassination of its top generals in Damascus, Syria, by launching more than 300 drones and missiles aimed at restoring its credibility and deterrence, according to officials and analysts.

This represents a moment of great risk, with key questions still unanswered, they say. Was the attack on Iran enough to satisfy its calls for revenge? Or, given the relatively paltry results – almost all of the drones and missiles were intercepted by Israel and the United States – will it feel the need to strike again? And will Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, consider the strong performance of his country’s air defense, in cooperation with its allies, as a sufficient answer? Or will he choose to further escalate the situation by attacking Iran itself?

Now that Iran has attacked Israel as it promised, it hopes to avoid a broader war, officials and analysts say, noting that the Iranians have targeted only military sites in an apparent effort to avoid civilian casualties and announced their attack from the start. advance.

“The Iranian government appears to have concluded that the Damascus strike was a strategic inflection point, where failure to retaliate would bring more harm than benefit,” said Ali Vaez, Iran director of the International Crisis Group , in an interview. “But in doing so, the shadow war he has been waging with Israel for years now threatens to turn into a very real and very damaging conflict” that could drag on in the United States, he said.

“The Iranians have played their cards so far,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. “They made the choice to call Israel’s bluff, and they felt they had to do so, because they view the last six months as a persistent effort to push them backwards in the region. »

Iranian leaders on Sunday declared their retaliation against Israel was over, signaling they were not seeking to start a wider war, but they warned they could launch a larger military operation depending on Israel’s response. Israel.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said on social media that “at this stage, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to continue its defensive operations, but if necessary, it will not hesitate not to protect its legitimate interests against any further aggression.”

Iranians traveled to Tehran on Sunday to celebrate the Iranian attack on Israel.Credit…Arash Khamooshi for the New York Times

For years, Iran has suffered blow after blow from Israel, both on its territory and in the region: assassinations of its nuclear scientists and military commanders, explosions at its nuclear and military bases, cyberattacks, infiltration of security services. intelligence, the embarrassing theft of nuclear documents and recent attacks against his country. critical infrastructure.

But since the October 7 Hamas attack prompted Israel to go to war in Gaza, Israel has intensified its attacks on Iranian interests and commanders in Syria. In a series of strikes since December, Israel has assassinated at least 18 Iranian commanders and soldiers of the Quds Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that operates outside Iran’s borders, according to media reports Iranians.

The Iranian government has been criticized by its hard-liners for its cautious posture during the Gaza war.

With this weekend’s attacks, Ms. Vakil said: “I think Tehran saw the need to draw this red line and make Israel understand that Iran does indeed have red lines and will not continue to tolerate the slow deterioration of its position. »

Tehran felt it had to respond, even though its attack generated strong American support and broad Western diplomatic support for Israel, thereby easing some of the pressure on Israel over its war in Gaza, at least temporarily, and isolating it from Iran again.

Today, Ms. Vakil said, the two sides find themselves in an impasse in which both are preparing for escalation, knowing it would cause them enormous damage.

At the same time, the old equation has changed, with Israel and Iran attacking each other directly, on each other’s territory, not through Iranian proxies abroad.

Rescuers search through the rubble of an Iranian embassy building after an airstrike in Damascus, Syria, in April.Credit…Louaï Béchara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Israeli strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, followed by a direct Iranian strike on Israel, represents a dangerous new chapter in the long, sometimes hidden war between Israel and Iran, which has said it wants Israel be wiped off the map. Sometimes known as the “shadow war” or the “war between wars,” the conflict was fought primarily between Israel and Iran’s allies and proxies – in Gaza, southern Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

Both sides claim they are acting in national self-defense – Israel against groups bent on its destruction, with Iran as its main ally and monitor, and Iran against any potential Israeli war against it, often on behalf of the Palestinians.

Iran has increasingly referred to its rapidly expanding nuclear program, which has enriched uranium to near nuclear weapons levels, as a deterrent against Israel. , while at the same time denying any intention to build a nuclear weapon. But experts increasingly view Iran as a nuclear threshold state, capable of creating weapons-grade nuclear materials in weeks and a raw nuclear weapon in about a year, even as it insists its nuclear program is purely civil.

Iran is also going through a slow and complicated transition as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and commander in chief, is reportedly ill and faced a national uprising in 2022, led by women, that demanded an end to the Islamic Republic’s clerical rule.

Mr. Khamenei himself ordered the strikes against Israel from Iran to send a clear message that Iran was moving from “strategic patience” to more active deterrence, according to four Iranian officials, including two members of the Guardians of the revolution. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, in Tehran in March. Iran is going through a slow and complicated transition because it is said to be sick.Credit…Arash Khamooshi for the New York Times

“The Iranian operation sends a clear message to Israel and its allies: the rules of the game have changed and, from now on, if Israel strikes Iranian targets or kills Iranians, we are prepared to strike significantly and our free will. own soil,” Nasser Imani, a prominent Tehran-based analyst close to the government, said in a telephone interview. “The days of covert operations and patience are over. »

Iran also wanted to seize what it saw as a “golden opportunity” to retaliate on this scale, as Israel was widely criticized over Gaza, including by its main allies, such as the United States, Mr. .

Iran’s reach toward regional hegemony, bolstered by its proxies and nuclear capabilities, has antagonized the region’s traditional Sunni Arab governments, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf countries. The Islamic Revolution that toppled the monarchy in 1979 was initially aimed at a regional revolution, overthrowing these governments, most of which were monarchies or military dictatorships. Israel’s efforts to limit the power of Iran, a non-Arab Shiite nation, have therefore had an impact. quiet support from Arab countries, including Israel’s war against Hamas.

Today, the risks of regional escalation have increased significantly. Iran was careful during the Gaza war to restrain its proxies around Israel against major strikes and to avoid major Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in particular. Hezbollah, with its thousands of rockets aimed at Israel, is seen as a major deterrent preventing Israel from directly attacking Iran and particularly its nuclear program and missiles.

Given Iran’s new isolation after this attack, Israel should not react, said Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in France. “But a threshold has been crossed,” he said. And the threshold for a “massive Israeli attack on Iranian territory,” he continued — “always an extreme option for Israel no matter what commentators say — is now lowered.”

Mr. Netanyahu, who has warned of the Iranian threat for two decades and faces intense pressure to respond within his fragile far-right coalition, could choose to strike back more forcefully, either directly against Iran , or against Hezbollah. But Washington, having not been warned of the attack on Damascus, will probably insist on prior consultations from now on.

Israeli tanks, photographed during a tour escorted by the army, in Gaza in January. Israel has intensified its attacks on Iranian interests and commanders in Syria since October 7.Credit…Avishag Shaar-Yashuv for the New York Times

But the modest outcome of the Iranian attacks “could reinforce the Israeli perception that Tehran is on the back foot, lacking the will and capacity for deeper engagement, and that the time has come for Israel to inflict a long-sought deeper blow.” , to Iran and Iran. its regional proxies,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Israel’s challenge has always been to “thwart the bulk of the attack while leaving an opening that would allow the Iranians to say they have achieved their objective,” wrote Nahum Barnea, a commentator for Yedioth Ahronoth, a daily newspaper. Israeli. The danger comes from both extremes, he continued: “A too successful Iranian operation risks degenerating into a regional war; a failed Iranian operation will invite another Iranian operation.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations suggested in a statement posted on social media on Saturday that if Israel did not respond, Iran would withdraw.

“The case can be considered closed. However, if the Israeli regime makes another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably harsher. » the statement said. He also warned that “the United States MUST STAY AWAY!” »

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s president, said in a statement released Sunday that “any new adventure against the interests of the Iranian nation will result in a heavier and regrettable response.”

Leily Nikounazar reports contributed.

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