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Iran launches air strikes on Israel: Is this beginning of an Iran-Israeli war?

Mel Gurtov
(© Zerophoto – stock.adobe.com)

After Israel carried out an air strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Iran made good on its threat to retaliate. After waiting a few days, Iran launched (by Israel’s count) 185 drones and 146 missiles, the first time it has directly attacked Israel.

The Biden administration, having urged Iran to restrain its response, joined Israel in shooting down nearly all of them. Is that the end of the matter, or is the exchange of attacks the beginning of a war?

First, let’s consider the sequence of events in this latest confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Israel’s attack in Damascus killed several Iranian commanders. Iran was forced to respond. As CNN reported April 11, “Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned again that Israel ‘must be punished and will be punished.’”

The US sent the senior US commander in the Middle East to help Israel. President Biden urged restraint on Iran, but renewed his “ironclad” support of Israel.

My questions: Why did Israel, involved in war with Hamas and Hezbollah, decide to attack an Iranian target, knowing Iran would have to respond?

Was Israel’s action necessary for self-defense, or was it a deliberate provocation, designed to justify an attack on Iran—perhaps on its nuclear fuel production site at Fordow—or to entrap the US into redoubling its commitment to Israel’s defense at the precise moment when Israeli-US relations are strained?

Iran’s response was indeed restrained. It could have launched far more missiles at Israel’s population centers, causing inestimable damage and forcing Israel to respond in kind. Instead, it mainly sent drones, which gave Israel several hours to prepare. Iran’s decision may well have kept the situation from escalating to a major war.

Even if the current situation amounts to a dangerous episode but not a war, it provides another boost for Benjamin Netanyahu as he seeks to remain in power. For the US, the key task now is to ensure that Israel takes no further military action against Iran. Biden, having restrained Iran, must now restrain Israel. Netanyahu must not be allowed to drag the US into a war with Iran.

Nevertheless, this latest episode has exacted costs.

The chances of Israel and Hamas reaching an agreement on a cease-fire and exchanges of hostages for prisoners have greatly diminished. Hezbollah’s restraint in the West Bank may end. Iran may accelerate plans to produce a nuclear bomb.

Other groups supported by Iran, such as the Houthis in Yemen, may become more aggressive. And the US is now surely more deeply involved in Middle East conflicts, including direct support of Israel, than the Biden administration wants.

All this because of an Israeli attack whose motives and aims raise serious questions.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.