​This Situation Assessment was originally published at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies

At dawn on 14 April, 2024, Iran launched its first ever direct attack from its own territory against Israel, involving some 120 ballistic missiles, 36 cruise missiles, and 170 drones, in response to and Israeli air strike on 1 April, 2024 that hit the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing seven officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, head of the Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon.

The Iranian attack targeted two airbases in southern Israel, not far from the Dimona nuclear reactor. Contrary to official Israeli claims, it emerged that nine missiles hit the targeted airbases, and five landed at the Nevatim base.[1]Initial reports indicated that the cost of the Israeli response to the Iranian attack amounted to two billion shekels,[2] while other sources said it had cost between four and five billion shekels (one US dollar equal 3.83 Israeli shekels.[3]

Strategic Confusion

The Iranian attack, which was carefully calibrated and announced ahead of time, came as Israel languishes in strategic confusion as a result of the ongoing genocidal war it has been waging against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, 2023. The disarray in its strategy has been compounded by Israel's failure to achieve its declared goals of ending the Palestinian group's rule and military capabilities in the Gaza Strip and rescuing the Israeli hostages it holds. Israel has also been engaged in a military confrontation with Hezbollah across the Lebanese border since 8 October, which promises to drag on until Israel ends its war on the Gaza Strip. Some 120,000 Israelis also remain displaced from areas near Gaza in the south and the border with Lebanon in the north.

Moreover, Israel lacks clear strategy as to how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme, as Iran approaches the status of a "threshold nuclear state," whereby it would be able to produce nuclear weapons within a short period were it to decide to do so. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had encouraged then-US president Donald Trump to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement, commonly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, hoping the US would eventually use military force against the Iranian nuclear facilities. Successive Netanyahu governments have also failed, since 2009, to secure the military capabilities necessary to carry out a successful military operation against Iranian nuclear facilities were the need to arise.[4]

Israeli society is also deeply divided over Netanyahu's endeavours to limit the judiciary powers. This battle was put on hold by the war on Gaza, but which is far from over. In addition, pressure is mounting on senior political and military officials to bear responsibility for the failures of 7 October. On 22 April 2024, the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence (Aman), Aharon Haliva, resigned over the failure to anticipate the Hamas attack, acknowledging his full responsibility for the security failure.[5] Yet, it is likely that his resignation was directly related to his agency's failure to predict Iran's reaction to the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on 1 April.[6] On the day he announced his resignation, Chief of the Israeli Army Central Command, Yehuda Fox, informed Chief of Staff Herzi Halevy that he would retire in August because he had not received the support he expected from Halevy. .[7] In the next few months, the Chief of Staff himself and other military and security officers are expected to follow suit. . This ratchets up the pressure on Netanyahu and other political leaders, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, to take responsibility as well, which could prompt the Knesset to hold early elections.

Considerations in Israel's Response

The Israeli political and military establishment was in consensus on the need to respond to the Iranian attack, despite the opposition of the US, which provided air defences that intercepted most of the Iranian missiles and aircraft that targeted Israel. On the same day of Iran's attack, Netanyahu convened the National Security Council to discuss the Israeli response, and authorized the war cabinet to make decisions on how to respond.[8] After four days of meetings, cabinet members agreed on the size and timing of Israel's response.[9]

At dawn on 19 April, Israel carried out a limited attack on Iran, striking a radar station near the city of Isfahan. Yet, it refrained from taking responsibility for the attack. Israeli media reported that the target was part of a Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile system tasked with protecting sites connected to Iran's nuclear program.[10]...

Read the full paper at The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.