Iran’s attack was just a taste of what could be to come

13 April was meant to warn Israel and the west of pursuing a strategy that might challenge that.

By Jonathan Spyer, Middle East Forum

The Iranian drone and missile attacks of 13 April brought less drama for many in Jerusalem than one might have imagined.

War brings with it the disappearance of expectations of daily continuity, or of a reasonable and logical sequence of events.

It has been wartime for six months now here in Jerusalem; in another way it has been wartime for the last 75 years.

If one insists on drawing out the camera range still further, it has been war, or a state of emergency for Jewish people for as long as history can remember.

Next week, after all, Jews worldwide will gather to read and recite a nearly 2,000 year old text which contains the assertion that ‘not only one enemy has risen up against us to destroy us, but in every generation men rise up against us to destroy us, and God delivers us from them’.

I was at a neighbour’s house when the news of the impending attack came in.

We were on his balcony, drinking whisky. His 16-year-old son casually opened the door and told us that Channel 12 was reporting that drones had been launched from Iran and would reach Israel within three hours.

We thanked him and continued our conversation.

I was mildly surprised, I told my friend, as I had thought that the Iranians would have preferred to continue their strategy of keeping out of the line of fire, and letting junior clients do the dying for them.

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But perhaps this was an attempt to set boundaries in the hope of returning to that state of affairs.

I left my friend’s house an hour or so later. Two hours to go until the alleged arrival of Iran’s drones.

The next day, it occurred to me, was going to be busy, and as any old soldier will tell you, if you have a chance to sleep, you should take it.

So I turned in. Before doing so, I retrieved my pistol from its place of storage and placed it on the bedside table.

It’s a Sig Sauer P365, and it has become my regular companion since 7 October.

Since that time, Israel’s Islamist assailants have notably failed in their efforts to foment assistance from among their fellow Arabs and Muslims in pre-1948 Israel.

This is in marked contrast to the previous round of violence in May 2021, when neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel had risen up in support of Hamas in Gaza and their efforts to protect the Al Aqsa Mosque from (non existent) attempts to harm it.

But I live in a mixed neighbourhood on Jerusalem’s seam line that separates west from east, and it doesn’t do any harm to be careful.

I awoke at about two in the morning to the sound of a series of loud booms.

After a minute or so, I could hear the voices of neighbours outside, heading down to the shelter in the building’s basement.

The less concerned or more reckless of them stayed in the corridor. This is a sort of interim precaution that people here take.

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If you don’t want to go to the shelter, at least get away from the windows, to somewhere near the centre of the building.

After a minute or so, I heard the booms again. Without wishing to recite credentials, I have lived in the Middle East for 35 years, and covered wars across and beyond it.

This might not be worth much, but one of the things it has brought is an ability to quickly detect what is happening from the different sounds made by exploding ordnance.

What I was hearing was the sound of interceptors engaging.

This, on a relative scale, meant that everything was okay. After another minute or so, the sirens began.

After the crescendo ended, I thought about it for a moment, then rolled over and went back to sleep.

Israeli, US, British and regional air power and air defences together made 13 April a less dramatic event for residents of Israel than it would otherwise have been.

All the same, it is a moment of profound strategic importance.

It was the precise point at which Iran’s forty-year strategy for the destruction of Israel as part of an effort to dominate the region went from the covert, proxy stage to that of overt challenge.

The Iranian kinetic effort largely failed to hit its targets. But what matters is what happens next.

If Iran’s move serves to deter Israel from further pursuit of senior Iranian officials responsible for managing Iran’s long war against it, then the attacks will have achieved their purpose.

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Tehran moved to overt confrontation in response to Israel’s doing so.

With the killing on 1 April in Damascus of IRGC general Mohammed Reza Zahedi, Israel appeared to signal that it would no longer be bound by the tacit rules of its confrontation with Iran, according to which Tehran operates proxy Arab forces against the Jewish state, and Jerusalem responds by hitting back against the proxies.

Rather, Israel seemed to be saying, if Tehran wanted to pursue a policy of war against Israel, then it should be ready for its own officers and officials to pay the price.

This development was not to Iran’s liking.

13 April was intended as a warning of what Iran might do if the killing of Zahedi turned out to be the opening of a new Israeli strategic approach.

As the sound of the interceptors in the Jerusalem night sky (and my subsequent uninterrupted sleep) indicated, Iran’s attack was a tactical failure.

It is not yet clear, however, if it may yet prove a strategic success.

Western admonitions to Israel to desist from further action against Iran fit the Iranian plan.

Tehran wants to get back to its slow takeover of the region by proxy, and its steady progress toward a nuclear capacity.

13 April was meant as a warning to Israel and the west of pursuing a strategy that might actually challenge that.

Over Jerusalem and Israel, our defences proved themselves. Defence alone, however, will not bring victory.