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The US and Israeli defeat of Iranian missiles is a big boost for its strained regional alliance

Paul Iddon   

The US and Israeli defeat of Iranian missiles is a big boost for its strained regional alliance
  • The US-led operation was a decisive factor in helping Israel fend off Iran's unprecedented attack.
  • That's a boost for the regional air defense network the US wants.

The Biden administration's goal to establish a regional air defense network in the Middle East got a massive boost on Saturday night with the success of efforts by the US, Israel, Britain, France, and Jordan that intercepted nearly all of the Iranian drones and missiles targeting Israel.

"The most likely impact (of the operation) is that the Biden administration's Middle East Air Defense (MEAD) concept will convince skeptical Gulf partners — namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE — that an American concept for mutual defense in the region could benefit them as much as it did Israel," Nicholas Heras, senior director of strategy and innovation at the New Lines Institute, told Business Insider.

The US-led operation was a decisive factor in helping Israel fend off Iran's unprecedented April 13 drone and missile attack.

The enormous strike package launched by Iran on Saturday consisted of an estimated 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and over 120 ballistic missiles, the overwhelming majority of which were successfully interdicted; there are also reports that many missiles failed mid-flight from technical problems.

The United States shot down more of the incoming Iranian drones than Israel and played a central role in the "multinational air defense operation" consisting of British, French, and Jordanian air forces. Additionally, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly provided intelligence about Iran's attack plans.

The Biden administration has been pushing for the MEAD concept since its early days in office. In an early combat test of MEAD, Israeli fighter jets shot down two incoming Iranian drones outside its territory in the Middle East on Mar. 15, 2021, in cooperation with unnamed Arab partners.

The US oversaw a similar coordinated effort in the Iranian barrage that began April 13 on a vast scale, bringing together various states and their relevant surveillance and weapons systems.

"The individual weapons systems, while important, are less decisive for regional decision-making than the reassurance that the United States will be there to coordinate the use of the weapons systems," Heras said.

"Without the Americans managing the regional defense architecture, the weapons systems and reconnaissance equipment are far from a shield for Middle Eastern partners, including Israel."

While an estimated 99% of the Iranian munitions were shot down, and reports indicated others failed to launch or suffered technical failures, Tehran does not consider the operation a failure — far from it.

"Iran considers the operation a success beyond their expectations," Farzin Nadimi, a defense and security analyst and senior fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told BI.

"More than anything, the main objective of the strike was to create a new paradigm that Iran can and will strike directly on Israeli soil when necessary," Nadimi said. "They also wanted to establish technological parity with Israel and diminish its QME (qualitative military edge), and restore their credibility and deterrence vs Israel."

The analyst believes time will tell if Iran succeeded in restoring its deterrent threat, noting that another important objective for Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps paramilitary was to test its systems against Israeli and allied defenses.

"If we consider the strike as a mere message to Israel and a test of IRGC's offensive capabilities, therefore the statistics (aka how many drones and missiles were intercepted and shot down, or the extent of damage caused by those that made impacts or lack thereof) become of lesser importance, if any," Nadimi said.

How the decisive and unified response to its attack influences Iran's strategy remains to be seen. Iran has deepened its military ties with Russia since 2022. Tehran expects to receive Russian fighter jets and other advanced systems that could improve its air defenses and make any strike on Iran by Israel more difficult and dangerous.

"Russia will seek to offset the US success in backing Israel by looking to buttress Iran's defense with advanced Russian systems such as the Su-35," Heras said.

According to intelligence officials, Moscow is reportedly "advancing" agreements for supplying Tehran with Su-35 Flanker jets, an air superiority fighter that's one of the most advanced in Russia's arsenal. Iran confirmed it had finalized a deal for Su-35s and Mi-28 attack helicopters in November. There were also reports last year indicating Iran also seeks the advanced Russian S-400 air defense missile system.

"Faster delivery of Russian weapons such as Su-35 or S-400 can definitely be a Russian answer to any significant US involvement in what comes next," Nadimi said.

"We have to, however, take into account that it will take months, if not years, to train and rate combat-ready Iranian crews for those complex systems."