After the Attacks Between Israel and Iran: What Can We Expect Next?

“You got a win, take the win,” President Biden reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Jordan intercepted the majority of the Iranian missiles and drones launched at Israeli military installations in mid-April. Not long after, White House national security spokesman John Kirby went on CNN’s State of the Union to claim victory. “This was an incredible success, really proving Israel’s military superiority and, just as critically, their diplomatic superiority—that they have friends in the region, they have friends around the world that are willing to help them,” he said.

Yet on closer inspection, Israel’s tense escalatory exchanges with Iran were hardly a win for Israel. The details of this tit-for-tat reveal that Israel is not the newly triumphant leader of an anti-Iran alliance, but a lonely pariah in a region that is in the process of entering a new era—one that is defined by a less (not more) favorable balance for Israel. The Netanyahu government’s only success may have been in momentarily diverting the world’s attention from its brutal bombing of Gaza.

Let’s recap. On April 1, Israel provoked Iran by launching an airstrike against an Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing seven Quds Force commanders and officers—a flagrant violation of international law. Iran had absorbed several hits by Israel over the course of the years but had chosen not to respond with the same force out of fear that it would get dragged into an open war with Israel that it could not win—at least not then. The Iranian policy of strategic patience was born out of necessity. Tehran calculated that, in the ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran, time was on Iran’s side.

But on April 13, that patience ran out. Twelve days after the strike on its consulate, Iran launched its first-ever direct missile attack on Israeli territory. Of the 300 or so projectiles that Iran fired, at least nine breached Israel’s air defenses and struck two of its air bases, according to US officials. Given the very limited damage the strikes caused, Iran’s retaliation certainly appeared to have been unsuccessful. In reality, it successfully failed. It was designed not to inflict damage on Israel but to showcase Iran’s capacity to do so by penetrating Israel’s air defenses—and in a way that wouldn’t spark a larger war that Iran could not afford.