A well-orchestrated retaliation

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 16 Apr 2024

This week’s Iranian missile attack on Israel and the coordinated Western response have changed the strategic environment in the region, writes Hussein Haridy


On 1 April, Israeli planes struck the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, killing seven members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, two of whom were among the top brass of the Al-Quds Brigades. One of them was the commanding officer of the Brigades General Muhamed Reza Zahedi.

From the standpoint of international law in general and the Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations in particular, the Israeli attack was undoubtedly a flagrant breach of the treaty and an unmistakable violation of Iranian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It was the first time that Israel had decided to launch a direct attack on Iran proper, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Iranians would retaliate. The question was when, where, and how. Concerning the last part of the question, it was most likely that they would opt to retaliate in kind – in other words, to target Israel proper.

Following the Israeli strike, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Israel would be “punished” for the attack.

The US administration, fearing a major military conflagration in the Middle East, decided that it would be in its own best interests to take the bull by the horns. On the one hand, it declared that it anticipated an Iranian retaliation, and on the other hand it sent Commander of US Central Command General Michael Kurilla to Israel to coordinate with the Israeli military the means of thwarting the expected Iranian attack.

It also conveyed an indirect message via Turkey to Tehran saying that the Iranian response to the attack on the Iranian Consulate should be “limited.”

On 13 April, the expected retaliation took place. Three hundred drones and cruise and ballistic missiles were launched by Iran targeting Israel in what was an unprecedented attack. Iran had never before attacked Israel directly and certainly, not since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

As a result of the two attacks, that of Israel on 1 April and that of Iran on 13 April, the Middle East has entered an age of mutual attacks between two regional powers that have important shares in undermining Arab national interests and security.

According to press reports, the entire Israeli Air Force was airborne during the fateful hours last Saturday during the Iranian attack, lest the incoming missiles and drones targeted Israel’s airbases. This alone cost the Israelis $1 billion.

In a readout on 13 April, the White House said that US President Joe Biden had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said that at his direction the “US military had moved aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers to the Middle East over the course of the past week.”

 “Thanks to these deployments, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles” involved in the 13 April attack, Biden said. In his phone call with Netanyahu, he also did not miss the chance to “reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”

Biden then convened the leaders of the G7 group of countries via videoconference on 14 April to show their support for Israel after condemning the Iranian strikes. In a less convincing statement, they said they “will also strengthen our cooperation to end the crisis in Gaza, including by continuing to work towards an immediate and sustainable ceasefire.”

The wording of the “crisis in Gaza” should be noted.

The West and Japan, as member countries of the G7 group, have shown themselves to be insensitive and flagrantly oblivious to the fact that the “crisis in Gaza” is in reality the Israeli destruction of no less than 50 per cent of the buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, not to speak of the deliberate targeting and destruction of most of the Strip’s hospitals and the killing and wounding of more than 100,000 innocent Palestinian civilians.

The Israeli killing machine is still going on. It is this catastrophe that the G7 irresponsibly reduces to the “crisis in Gaza,” while at the same time turning the executioner into a victim.

Unfortunately, some Arab countries took part in the US-led defence of Israel on 13 April, presaging their possible future participation in a regional anti-missile defence system whose main aim is to defend and protect Israel in case it comes under a missile attack like the one that took place last week.

In order to contain any chance of further escalation in the Middle East, the US administration and some of its Western allies, among them Britain, Germany, and France, spoke of an Israeli “victory” on 13 April and asked the Israelis through diplomatic channels and in public statements to refrain from attacking Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview on 15 April that Israel had achieved “victory.” He expressed concerns at a possible escalation in the region, while promising that France would exert all its efforts to avoid it by “trying” to persuade Israel not to attack Iran. We wish him luck with that.

Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet, vowed on 14 April that Israel would retaliate against Iran “at the time of its choosing.”

German Chancellor Olaf Schulz told reporters on 15 April while on a visit to Beijing that the way Israel had succeeded, with cooperation from its “international partners” and those in the Middle East, in beating back the Iranian attack was “really impressive.”

This “success” should not “be thrown away,” he said, which was why Germany was counselling “de-escalation.”

Similarly, US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said on 14 April that the US president had been clear that “we don’t want to see this escalate.”

“We are not looking for a wider war with Iran,” he said, concluding with the intriguing sentence that “the coming hours and days will tell us a lot.”

The strategic environment in the Middle East has changed dramatically since 13 April, as a result of the US-coordinated regional response in defence of Israel against the Iranian missile attack, a response led by US Central Command.

Egypt should not be part of such regional defence plans regardless of the pressures that could come to bear on Cairo. It is not in the strategic interests of Egypt to cooperate or to coordinate, or to lend any kind of assistance, direct or indirect, to any power, great or small, or to any coalition, at present or in the future, whose purpose is to defend Israel, the occupying power of Arab and Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem.

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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