Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel has pushed the region to the edge — but not past the point of no return yet, analyst says

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Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel has pushed the region to the edge — but not past the point of no return yet, analyst says
L: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. R: Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel.LEO CORREA (Getty Images) | REUTERS
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is considering how to respond to Iranian drone strikes on Israel.
  • Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles on Saturday night.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must weigh up the implications of escalating the conflict in the Middle East as he mulls Israel's response to Iran's attack, experts say.

Israel's air defenses, with support from the US, UK, French, and Jordanian militaries, intercepted 99% of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran on Saturday night, the Israeli military said.

A small number of ballistic missiles did still reach Israeli territory.

Iran launched the attack in response to Israel's bombing of an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus earlier this month, which killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers.

Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, responded to the killings by warning that the "Zionist regime will be punished."

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But while some believed Iran may carry out a "symbolic" attack, experts say it went much further.

And depending on how Israel and Iran move forward, the countries may risk taking their yearslong shadow war into an open, regional conflict.

"I don't think that we're past the point of no return, but I think we're in a new, kind of uncharted territory, and everything now depends on how the different actors decide to operate," Mairav Zonszein, a senior Israel analyst with the International Crisis Group, told Business Insider.

"This was a very dangerous attack, that could easily have ended with us discussing the war to come, rather than whether Israel will respond or not," Michael Horowitz, a geopolitical expert and security analyst, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

In another post, he argued that the attack was not symbolic, as some had suggested, as Iran had attempted to "overwhelm Israel's air defenses."

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Zonszein agreed that the attack "wasn't symbolic" but told BI "it was calibrated in the sense that it was a larger and more powerful response" than people in Israel had anticipated.

"It's a very precarious situation," Zonszein continued. "There are conflicting views on whether Israel should respond. A lot of military analysts and former officials are saying 'Israel was able to defend itself. This is a win. And we should stop here and leverage the support that Israel has gotten.'"

Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel has pushed the region to the edge — but not past the point of no return yet, analyst says
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel April 14, 2024.Amir Cohen via Reuters

Shashank Joshi, the defense editor of The Economist, told LBC that the hope now is that because the attack was so "calibrated" and had "such little lethal effect," Netanyahu can confine himself to striking Iranian facilities or personnel without launching a full-out attack on the Iranian regime.

In spite of the minimal damage caused, the implications of Iran's actions are difficult to ignore, as it marks the first time the Islamic Republic has directly attacked the Jewish state.

"At no point previously had Iran directly struck Israel in a way that violated its sovereignty, meaning directly on Israeli soil. So, while Iran may now say that the issue is closed, it would be very surprising to see the Israelis not feel the need to respond, given the extent of the escalation," Carmiel Arbit, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, told BI.

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Iran has since warned Israel and its allies against a counterstrike, saying it would launch an even larger attack if they retaliated.

Some Sunni Arab states could unite against Iran

How Israel chooses to respond is now in the hands of Israel's war cabinet, which consists of Netanhayu, defense minister Yoav Gallant, and former army general Benny Gantz.

Gantz has already said that Israel will "exact a price" from Iran when the time is right, per the BBC.

But the cabinet runs a serious risk of both escalating the conflict in the region and jeopardizing support from its allies, particularly from the US.

Prior to the attack, President Joe Biden said the US would "do all we can to protect Israel's security" while avoiding further escalation.

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And the president has since warned Netanyahu that the US would not collaborate in any Israeli counterattacks against Iran, US officials familiar with the matter have said, per CNN.

Meanwhile, Arbit said Iran's unprecedented action could unite some Sunni Arab states against it.

"I think what was particularly interesting yesterday is that we saw Iran violate the airspace of a number of different Arab countries, including Jordan, who then participated in the response. So, on the one hand, I think you see where a coalition of moderate Sunni states find themselves, in a very tangible way, united in their interests in curbing the threat posed by Iran to the region."

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