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Paul Vallely: Consequences of Iran’s misjudgement

19 April 2024

The attack on Israel has strengthened Netanyahu’s hand, writes Paul Vallely


The Foreign Secreatry, Lord Cameron, meets the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on Wednesday

The Foreign Secreatry, Lord Cameron, meets the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on Wednesday

ALLIES of Israel were quick to point out that its highly effective defence against the missiles sent by Iran was a success in itself. Take the win, President Biden advised. Europe’s leaders concurred. Predictably enough, Benjamin Netanyahu did not agree.

Defence analysts insisted that Iran had failed. Only one per cent of the drones and rockets got through. Yet, interestingly, Tehran immediately declared, almost as soon as its missiles were in the air, that it had achieved its aim. This was more a political than a military performance.

Iran’s retaliation for Israel’s 1 April attack — in which several of Iran’s military leaders were killed — was carefully calibrated, choreographed, and telegraphed. The drones that it launched would have taken nine hours, flying like lumbering pheasants, to reach Israel. Its cruise missiles took an hour. Only its ballistic missiles got there in ten to 15 minutes. Israel and its allies were well-prepared.

For two weeks, experts had predicted that Iran would hit back through one of its proxies: Hezbollah, the Houthis, or Hamas. But Tehran was angered that Israel had killed one of its top generals in a diplomatic compound in Damascus; for a consulate is the sovereign soil of the nation whose diplomats are housed there. This was probably not a strategic decision, but typical of the tactical opportunism that characterises Mr Netanyahu’s approach to politics and war.

His was a serious misjudgement, but so was Iran’s response. Bombs falling on native soil have a far greater symbolic impact than those on a mere embassy. Iran’s barrage was the first attack on Israeli soil by a foreign state since 1991. Iran and Israeli’s proxy war is now out in the open. A Middle East in flames has long been dreaded as the harbinger of a world war.

Iran’s attack on Israel has had two other consequences. It has swung the Western world, which had at last begun seriously to question the disproportionate nature of the Israeli assault on ordinary Palestinians in Gaza, firmly behind Mr Netanyahu. In the UK, most MPs appeared to back the Prime Minister when he rebuffed the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party, Mhairi Black, when she compared the disproportionate nature of Iran’s missile barrage to the disproportionate nature of Israel’s 192-day bombardment of Gaza.

Historians take a different view from politicians. Both Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford, and James Barr, the authoritative writer on the Middle East, talked about double standards this week over the current situation in Israel. Speaking of misguided moves to promote de-escalation, they drew comparisons with the British Mandate in Palestine, the Suez Crisis, and the non-existent WMD of Saddam Hussein. Why was it OK, they asked, for the West to shoot missiles out of the sky over Israel, but to refuse to do the same over Ukraine?

The second result of Iran’s bombardment of Israel has been to allow Mr Netanyahu to steal the attention of the world away from his starvation of the people of Gaza. The Palestinians there, who have few influential friends internationally, might have hoped for support from Iran. But Tehran clearly has a bigger game to play. The danger is that the people of Gaza will now be forgotten by everyone.

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