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Israel’s limited attack on Iran is a ‘deescalatory strike’ that allows both countries to step back while saving face, experts believe


The alleged Israeli attack on Iran this morning was so measured that it could be considered a ‘deescalatory strike’, experts have claimed, as both sides can ill-afford an all-out war. 

The city of Isfahan in central Iran was struck at 5am local time, with Israeli drones reported to have targeted an Air Force base which long has been home to Iran’s fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcats – purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Isfahan is also a known hotbed for Iran’s nuclear research and houses drone production plants – but the attack is thought to have caused little material damage, and no casualties have been reported.

Iranian officials sought to downplay any significant damage to its military facilities and outright denied any nuclear plants were destroyed, while Iranian state TV this morning released footage of an undisturbed Isfahan to cast doubt on reports the city had been hit.

Dr Andreas Krieg, an expert on Middle Eastern security and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London’s School of Security Studies, told MailOnline that such a limited strike could be seen as an effort by Tel Aviv to climb down from a major kinetic conflict.

‘If this is the extent of Israel’s retaliation it could be described as a deescalatory strike. The use of small drones such as quadcopters provides a degree of plausible deniability that could help Iran downplay the effect of the attack. 

‘We could say that this attack makes a return to the shadow war that has been ongoing for years if that is the extent of it. 

He added: ‘The Iranians would have to respond to a strike that is not deniable or involved Israeli jets over Iran – but this attack does not cross the threshold. Neither side wants an all-out war.’

Iranian officials meanwhile told Reuters that Tehran has no plan for immediate retaliation against Israel, contradicting statements made by several senior politicians earlier this week. 

‘The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more towards infiltration than attack,’ one Iranian official said on condition of anonymity.

Strikes have hit at least one target in Iran, US officials reportedly confirmed. The extent of the damage and exact location of the attack is unclear (unconfirmed image)

Strikes have hit at least one target in Iran, US officials reportedly confirmed. The extent of the damage and exact location of the attack is unclear (unconfirmed image) 

Unconfirmed footage shared on social media appeared to show anti-aircraft fire striking over the city of Isfahan in central Iran, which hosts one of the nation's nuclear facilities

Unconfirmed footage shared on social media appeared to show anti-aircraft fire striking over the city of Isfahan in central Iran, which hosts one of the nation’s nuclear facilities 

In the days following Iran’s bombardment of Israel with missiles and drones last Saturday, Israeli ministers vowed to strike back, with Tel Aviv’s hawkish National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir declaring his nation must be prepared ‘to go beserk‘ on Tehran. 

As such, the small-scale strikes were not received well by the hard-right elements of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s War Cabinet, with Ben-Gvir himself deriding this morning’s explosions in Iran as ‘feeble’.

But analysts say Netanyahu, whose popularity has plummeted in Israel with dozens of hostages still in captivity in Gaza after six months of war with Hamas, finds himself in a difficult position.

Israel can ill-afford a major conflict with Iran, particularly as the IDF is stretched to capacity amid the ongoing military operations against Hamas and intermittent skirmishes with Hezbollah at the northern border with Lebanon. 

But international vitriol over the IDF’s brutal six-month bombardment of Gaza, which has so far caused the deaths of more than 33,000 Palestinians in just six months, dissipated following Iran’s strike last weekend, with the US, UK and other allies reaffirming their support for Israel in wake of Tehran’s aggression. 

With this in mind, Dr Krieg added that Netanyahu may pursue a campaign of limited strikes on Iranian soil – or focusing attacks on Iran’s proxies in the region.

‘I think a prolonged but manageable conflict is in Netanyahu’s interest. That can be achieved by extending the conflict with Iran’s Axis of Resistance. This is a low risk conflict that keeps Israel on high alert without the risk of becoming existential.

‘Israel might decide to engage in a series of dispersed attacks over time that are individually so negligible that Iran doesn’t have to respond. 

‘Israel might resort to Iran’s strategy of ”death by a 1000 cuts” which is difficult to deter.’

Similar sentiments were expressed by Justin Crump, British army veteran and CEO of global risk analysis firm Sibylline, who earlier this week said a protracted conflict may benefit Netanyahu by reducing the political pressure over Israel‘s war in Gaza.

‘Permacrisis suits Netanyahu at this stage,’ Crump told MailOnline.

‘This situation has certainly helped Israel and its leadership, reversing the trend of pressure over Gaza and helping defuse some political tensions that were once again building. 

‘It is to be expected that Netanyahu will leverage this environment. The Israeli public stance from the War Cabinet will therefore remain belligerent, whatever goes on behind the scenes.’

Rocket trails are seen in the sky above Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as Iranian missiles are intercepted by air defences

Rocket trails are seen in the sky above Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as Iranian missiles are intercepted by air defences

Israel could seek to up the intensity of its operations against Iranian proxy forces in the region

Israel could seek to up the intensity of its operations against Iranian proxy forces in the region 

A woman walks past a banner depicting launching missiles bearing the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran in central Tehran on April 15, 2024

A woman walks past a banner depicting launching missiles bearing the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran in central Tehran on April 15, 2024

Motorists drive their vehicles past a billboard depicting named Iranian ballistic missiles in service, with text in Arabic reading "the honest [person's] promise" and in Persian "Israel is weaker than a spider's web", in Valiasr Square in central Tehran on April 15, 2024

Motorists drive their vehicles past a billboard depicting named Iranian ballistic missiles in service, with text in Arabic reading ‘the honest [person’s] promise’ and in Persian ‘Israel is weaker than a spider’s web’, in Valiasr Square in central Tehran on April 15, 2024

A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024

A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024

No official comment has been released by Israel or the US in the wake of the explosions in Iran. 

Iranian National Security Committee official Abolfazl Amoue declared earlier this week that Tehran is ‘prepared to use a weapon that we have never used’ if Israel responds further. 

And Iran’s foreign minister told CNN yesterday that Tehran’s response to an Israeli strike would be immediate. 

‘If the Israeli regime commits the great error once again our response will be decisive, definitive and regretful for them,’ Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said. 

But officials cited by Reuters this morning went against these statements, saying Iran had no immediate response planned.  

Footage circulating social media appears to show explosions overhead in Iran, though MailOnline has not been able to confirm the footage. 

Shortly after reports of strikes emerged, three drones were ‘successfully shot down by the country’s air defence’, according to Iran’s National Cyberspace Center spokesman Hossein Dalirain on X. 

Israeli officials warned the Biden administration of its intent to strike before launching in previous days, but an official told CNN that the US did not ‘green light’ any Israeli response. 

Hours before, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant on Thursday afternoon, but a senior source declined to confirm to the New York Times whether Gallant warned about the strikes following the meeting.  

Israeli military sources reportedly stressed that today’s strikes were a ‘limited response’ to Iran’s attack, appearing to target military hubs used by Iran in their onslaught on Saturday

Around four hours after reports of strikes, Iran lifted flight suspensions and opened its airports, with runways in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz closed amid the Israeli attack. 

Further explosions reportedly hit military targets in Iraq and Syria around the same time. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quoted a military statement as saying Israel carried out a missile strike targeting an air defence unit in its south, causing material damage.  

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike hit a military radar for government forces. It was not clear if there were casualties, the Observatory said.

The Observatory’s chief Rami Abdurrahman said six Israeli fighter jets entered Syria’s airspace and were flying east when they were spotted by the radar.



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