AS`AD AbuKHALIL: Iran’s Strategic Patience Is Spent

Direct retaliatory strikes mark a new phase of the Islamic Republic’s conflict with Israel.

An Iron Dome battery deployed Near Ashkelon in Israel. (IDF via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

By As’ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

By all accounts Iran’s retaliatory attack on Israel was unprecedented. It wasn’t U.S. ‘shock and awe’ but it was massive, sophisticated and dazzlingly theatrical.

It is too early to assess the damage caused by its combination of missiles and drones. Israel, like the U.S., does not reveal, at least not immediately, the extent of any damage it suffers at the hands of enemies. 

It was many years afterward, that we learned, for example, that the Israeli army chief-of-staff had a nervous breakdown in 1967. It was deemed then that the immediate release of such information would have been damaging to morale. 

We still don’t know the location of Iraqi missile strikes inside occupied Palestine in 1991. Israel’s military archives revealed its casualties only 30 years later. 

Commenting on the veracity of Israeli military claims at that time, Human Rights Watch, which is normally biased in favor of Israel, states:

“The official Israeli statistics should be treated with caution. Israel-based journalists told MEW that the numbers provided by the authorities changed during the course of the [1991 Iraq] war for no discernible reason. Running totals issued by different bodies — the I.D.F., the Government Press Office (G.P.O.) and the government-run Press Communications Center (P.C.C.) set up during the war — were often at variance with one another, and still cannot be fully reconciled.”

Western media rarely reminds audiences that what is being reported from Israel is strictly subject to the Israeli military censor. 

Israel’s recent ban on Al Jazeera is an example of the low regard that Israel has for the foreign press, as is a new law allowing the government to ban foreign media deemed harmful to its interest,

It may be years before we find out, not only about casualties of the Iranian attack, but also about the extent of the damage. 

Furthermore, Israel’s figure of 99 percent success in missile interception strains credulity.

The number 99 percent immediately reminds Arabs of the rate at which Baathist leaders win elections in Syria and Iraq, which smacked of a wild exaggeration.

It is to be remembered that U.S. officials, including Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander-in-chief of Allied Forces, said two weeks after the Gulf War began in January 1991 that “the Patriot’s success, of course, is known to everyone; it’s 100 percent so far.”

Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) later forced the government to revise the numbers downwards.

Later, M.I.T. Professor Theodore Postol said the success rate was less than 10 percent and probably zero percent. The G.O.A. used the figure of 9 percent.  Furthermore, Israel waited 30 years before admitting that 14 Israelis were killed and tens injured from Iraqi scud missiles in 1991, after having denied casualties at the time.

And even in the Iranian attack on the U.S. base in Iraq in the wake of the assassination of General Qasim Suleimani in 2019?, the Trump administration lied to the public. Trump first denied that any US troops were injured in the attack.  Later, “American officials admitted that eight American service members had been evacuated for injuries.

Over time, the number of injuries increased from 34, then to 50, then to 64. Defense officials finally announced on Feb. 10, 2020 that 109 U.S. troops had been wounded. 

Dampening the Impact of the Barrage

Iran launched ballistic missiles at Israel on April 14 in retaliation for its attack on its Embassy in Damascus. (Mehrnews via Creative Commons).

Israel not only routinely lies in its military declarations. The release of information regarding the military and intelligence is subject to strict military censorship that Western media rarely remind readers about.  

In this current war of genocide, Israel has been caught lying numerous times.

It is clear the U.S. and Israel want to dampen the impact of the massive barrage of drones and missiles that fell on Israel.  There was jubilation in the Arab world, particularly among the Palestinians and particularly in Gaza.

Israel feared a further damage to its military prowess and reputation.  Zionist writers cited United Arab Emirates (UAE) regime media, and pro-U.S. journalists, to falsely claim that Arabs mocked the Iranian missile attacks.

That is not to suggest missile defense systems of several countries did not work at all. It is too early to discuss figures and estimates amid the fog of war propaganda, especially when the U.S. invested billions in Israeli missile defense. There would be (hopefully) a public outcry if it was revealed that the system didn’t work as promised.

Purpose of Missile Strikes

The purpose of the Iranian missile strike was not to inflict the most damage. On the contrary, Iran made an effort to limit the damage in Israel, especially in terms of casualties.

The targets were strictly military and Iran made a point to notify Turkey, which in turn informed other allies, including presumably Israel.  It was clear that the missiles, which could carry over 500kg of explosives, were not all fully armed, or even armed at all.  Iran was showing off its military capabilities, its missile and drone reach.

Even if you believe the claim of a 99 percent interception rate by the anti-missile defense systems, some missiles made it through and landed. There were three layers of defense,  which included those systems manned by the U.S., U.K., and France. The successful hits also happened despite the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and Jordan providing military and intelligence assistance to Israel.

That was Iran’s point.

Even if a few fully loaded missiles could penetrate this defense system, enough damage could be inflicted, especially if directed at strategic locations.  After the night of the attack, Israel gradually and grudgingly admitted that at least nine missiles hit two military bases.

The installations housed fighter jets that were presumably used to attack Iran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1, killing seven high-ranking Iranian military officers. 

Nine missiles means that certainly more than one percent of the missiles and drones landed without being intercepted. Later, Israeli newspaper Maariv cited an interception success rate figure of 84 percent.   

Signal of War Risk

Hezbollah leader Nassan Nasrallah photographed during discussions with Iranian officials in September 2019.(Ali Khamenei website via Creative Commons)

Regardless of the number, Iran established that its era of “strategic patience” is over. The concept refers to Iran’s avoidance of responding to Israeli attacks. In doing so, Iran reconfigured the unspoken strategic deterrence understanding with Israel. The reconfiguration has proved in favor of Iran, especially when the Israeli response was so muted.

Iran could have easily avoided responding to the attack on its embassy in Damascus. It could have plausibly claimed that the officers who were killed were in fact in a building adjacent to the embassy and that it did not constitute an attack on the embassy per se. The building was part of the embassy complex. 

Iran used the attack to teach Israel a lesson and to send a signal to the U.S. that it is now willing to risk a war by directly responding to Israeli attacks and provocations —  and from Iranian territory itself. 

By responding from inside Iranian, Tehran was informing the world that it alone will undertake reprisals and retaliation against Israeli attacks on its interests. 

In the past, the U.S. and its allies insisted that Iranian proxies existed merely to defend Iran and to attack its enemies to avenge it.  Days before the attack, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah gave a speech in which he announced the continuation of resistance attacks on Israel in solidarity with Gaza.

But he also made it clear retaliatory actions after the Israeli attacks on the Iranian embassy was Iran’s business and not his party’s. The lines were drawn between the different parties bestowing national characteristics on each element of the resistance axis.

Iran wanted Israel to understand that, while it did not put explosive loads in the missiles and drones, it was very capable of doing that. It also could have easily and more quickly targeted Israel from bases in Syria or Lebanon, but it wanted to impress on Israel its ability to strike from its own territory. 

Arab and Iranian media also said Iran did not use its most sophisticated drones or most devastating missiles.

It was an escalation in the regional conflict between Iran and Israel. The new rules would unmistakably restrain and deter Israel. 

New Phase of Conflict

One has to place the Iranian retaliation in the context of the long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Arab governments were afraid of attacking Israel directly because they cared more about the survival of their regimes than about defeating Israel.

Media said that the last time Israel was attacked was in 1991, when Saddam Hussein hit it with 34 scud missiles. But that was not on the scale and severity of the Iranian attack. 

Even in the 1973 war – the last war between Arab armies and Israel, not counting a minor confrontation between the Syrian army and Israel in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon – Arab regimes feared attacking Israel behind the 1948 lines of its territory.

Iran doesn’t recognize Israeli occupation of any Palestinian territory and it showed that it won’t abide by any artificial division between Palestinian Territories.  

The Iranian attack has marked a new phase in Israeli-Iranian conflict, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict.  This shift won’t bode well for the Israeli defense doctrine, which relies on sheer intimidation, terrorization, and subjugation of Arab enemies.

As`ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004) and ran the popular The Angry Arab blog. He tweets as @asadabukhalil

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

8 comments for “AS`AD AbuKHALIL: Iran’s Strategic Patience Is Spent

  1. wildthange
    April 23, 2024 at 20:40

    Perhaps the patience of the rest of the world may be running out on the NATO alliance of all the old western empires banded together in the US strategic plan for full spectrum dominance of world culture. One reason is new alternatives that now are forced to match technological military with a sufficient deterrence capability without having to wage the cost of full spectrum insanity.

    The fact remains that world culture is wasting too much resources on the military protection racket of the ages for economic, cultural, and religious profit motives that threaten civilization collapse in our interdependent age. Yhe patience of our planet my run out.

  2. Valerie
    April 23, 2024 at 09:08

    That was a very concise and logically explained analysis of the inflammatory situation in the M.E. I doubt though that Israel will have learned a lesson. They are too arrogant for lessons.
    They might want to consider this expression though: “Pride comes before a fall.”

    • Bushrod Lake
      April 24, 2024 at 09:54

      Or that Netanyahu wants a war to protect/deflect criticism of his position. Very, very dangerous…his willingness to sacrifice peace for his personal benefit. Reminds me of Trump.

  3. JohnB
    April 22, 2024 at 22:41

    Attempting to make a place to belong, with violence and lies, and because the bible tells them? Such wit.

    What to do with complicits? BDS to start.

  4. WillD
    April 22, 2024 at 21:48

    It’s about time Israel was taught a painful lesson. It has got away with far too much for far too long, and needs to be put back in its box with the lid locked tight – if it wants to survive as an independent country.

    As the US continues to weaken, Israel will find itself more and more exposed, as Iran has just demonstrated.

  5. CaseyG
    April 22, 2024 at 21:10

    It was about time for I srael to be Gobsmacked.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    April 22, 2024 at 17:04

    Hubris. Israel had best learn how to ditch theirs.

  7. susan
    April 22, 2024 at 14:36

    Yep, listen to Scott Ritter here on Consortium and Norman Finkelstein talking with Glenn Greenwald on SheerPost…

Comments are closed.