• | 8:44 pm

Who gains, who loses: Decoding Iran’s retaliatory strike on Israel

It was clear from Iran’s warning to Israel's allies that its intention was not to cause serious damage and provoke Tel Aviv to retaliate. We decode the other consequences of its strike.

Who gains, who loses: Decoding Iran’s retaliatory strike on Israel
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Tension between Israel and Iran has been rising for quite some time, with a definite risk of war between the two regional powers, risking to throw the whole region into a conflagration with catastrophic results. 

The latest hostility in their decades-long rivalry was sparked by Iran’s retaliation against Israel for an airstrike on the Iranian embassy in Syria. 

On 13 April at 2.2.30 am Israel time, Iran sent more than 100 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles, and over 150 kamikaze explosive drones.

Iran had given about 72 hours’ warning to “friends and neighbors” as its foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, stated, choosing his words carefully.

Tehran had also warned Washington through the Swiss embassy, which takes care of US interests in Iran, and through contacts in Oman. That warning enabled President Joe Biden to advance his return to the White House from Delaware.

Further, Israel got time to keep in a state of readiness its defense mechanism, including the famous Iron Dome and Arrow 3, a multi-layered missile defense system.

Why did Iran attack Israel?

It was clear from Iran’s warning to Israel’s allies that its intention was not to cause any serious damage and provoke Tel Aviv to retaliate. 

The most plausible reason for such an attack was Iran’s aim to project itself as capable of retaliating to the air attack Israel carried out on 1 April at the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus. The bombing killed seven Iranians, including General Mohammed Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

According to the Israeli military, Iran’s attack caused no serious damage as “almost 99%” of the missiles and drones were intercepted. Not all interceptions were by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The Pentagon claimed that its navy in the eastern Mediterranean intercepted 70 drones and three missiles. The Pentagon had  deployed bombers from the UK and the US.

After the successful defense, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on X:  “We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win.”

This was not the first time that Israel has killed Iranian military commanders in Syria. On 25 December 2023, Israel killed Sayyed Razi Mousavi, posted to the Iranian embassy in Damascus. On 20 January 2024, Israel carried out another attack in Damascus, killing five IRGC members.

Obviously, Tehran concluded that unless it hit back, Israel would continue to target its armed forces. Further, when Iran approached the UN Security Council after the bombing of its embassy in Damascus, it got no relief.  

The only thing left on the card was a show of force. 

At Biden’s initiative, the Group of Seven (G7) promptly condemned Iran. If the same G7 had publicly and privately told Israel to stop its attacks on Iran after the 1 April attack, Tehran might not have carried out its attack.

It is clear that the G7 does not want to uphold a ‘rules-based’ international order and seems to be only interested in upholding its dominance. As far as the G7 is considered, Israel can get away with blue murder.

Who gained and who lost?

Israel seems to have gained as there is increasing pressure on US Congress to pass expeditiously the bill to give more military aid to Israel. 

Jordan intercepted some missiles in its airspace and its relations with Iran have gone sour, to the advantage of Israel.

Nonetheless, Jordan, which hosts a 2.3 million-strong Palestinian population, has seen public demonstrations against the government.

On reflection, Tehran did not have a choice, and it has walked into Netanyahu’s trap.

Though Tehran has affirmed that it would retaliate if Tel Aviv struck again, Israel has a strong air defense system consisting of Arrow 3 and the Iron Dome.

Arrow 3 is the top tier of Israel’s multi-layered air defense system that is designed to intercept ballistic missiles, including nuclear-tipped ones, outside the earth’s atmosphere.

The Iron Dome is very expensive to operate. Each interception can cost $40,000-50,000, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.  

Taking the cost at $50,000, if 99% of 370 drones/misfiles have been intercepted, the total cost works out to $18.2 million.

What are the chances of an Israel-Iran war?

To answer this question, we need to examine the capabilities and motivations of three men: Netanyahu, Biden, and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

While Biden and Khamenei do not want further escalation,  Netanyahu wants precisely that.

Netanyahu has the maximum say in the matter. The Israeli cabinet has authorized the three-member war cabinet—Netanyahu, defense minister Yoah Gallant, and Benny Grantz, a former army chief. The other two will support Netanyahu if he wants to escalate.

Biden spoke to Netanyahu promptly after Iran’s attack, reiterating full support to Israel. However, Biden, who is keen to prevent further escalation, has clearly told his interlocutor that the US will not be part of any retaliation. Biden does want to prevent further escalation, mainly because it will imperil his re-election. 

We do not know whether Netanyahu will heed. 

Here, it is important to recall what Ronald Reagan did in 1982 that stopped the Israeli bombing of Beirut. (Please put a link to the previous article).

Biden’s warning to Netanyahu that the US will not support an attack on Iran should be taken with a pinch of salt. When Iran responds to the Israeli attack, the US will come to Israel’s aid without question.

India’s reaction

India has called for “immediate de-escalation”, emphasizing the importance of exercising restraint and refraining “from further violence”. 

Obviously, the last three words are directed at Israel.

We should complement the ministry of external affairs, which has stalled further recruitment of Indian workers by Israel.

What next?

There are at least three scenarios.

One possibility is that Netanyahu will heed Biden’s advice and refrain from a military retaliation against Iran proper, or elsewhere. Although this seems unlikely, it cannot be dismissed entirely.

Two, Israel might carry out a limited retaliation, prompting a smaller counterretaliation from Iran, with the exchanges ceasing after a few rounds. 

Three, if Israel retaliates directly in Iran, it could escalate into a full-scale war. This scenario, though catastrophic , is plausible as Netanyahu might see it as necessary to save his political skin as explained in a previous  article

The impact of an all-out war on the region and the rest of the world, including India, would be catastrophic. Oil prices will soar, pushing up inflation and bringing down the global gross domestic product growth rate.

There is another likely consequence. Iran might go nuclear if Israel fails to incapacitate its nuclear sites, including the Fordow fuel enrichment plant.

The plant, 80 to 90 meters under the rocks, is protected by an air defense system. Israel may not have the capability to destroy it on its own, without American support.

If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia might follow, and the Treaty on the   Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will break down.

While there has been no decision by Israel on retaliation, we should wait and watch for what happens next.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

More Top Stories: