Iran: After the attack, now what?


It is imperative to end the Iranian nuclear program because the alternative is much worse.

2024-04-17 by Rafael Bardají

Last Tuesday, while I was having breakfast with a cappuccino overlooking the sea in Tel Aviv, there was no media outlet that did not mention predictions about the Iranian reaction to the elimination of half a dozen senior officers of its Revolutionary Guard in Damascus. This included Mohamed Reza Zahedi, one of the masterminds behind the Hamas attack on October 7. The most apocalyptic media spoke of an inevitable regional war, and the most apparently informed of a replica of the attack against Saudi Arabia's oil facilities in 2019, which included a few dozen missiles. In addition to the disagreements over the intensity of the attack, there was also no consensus on whether Iran would resort to its proxies in the area or fire from its soil. And some argued that Iranian retaliation would consist of attacking Israeli interests outside Israel.


In the end, Iran cleared our doubts. Even though half the world let its leaders know that it would not consent to direct aggression against Israeli territory, Khamenei authorized the launch of a much broader cocktail of systems than the one used against Saudi Arabia (170 long-range drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles), the bulk of them from its soil, and all directed against Israel. We also already know that all the drones and cruise missiles were shot down in mid-flight before reaching Israeli airspace and that less than 10% of the ballistic missiles escaped the missile defenses and hit Israel, although causing minor damage.


A week later, now sheltered in Old Europe, experts debate what will be the Israeli response, whether or not it should be proportionate to the attack suffered or the damage sustained; whether it should be inside or outside Iran; whether or not the institutions of power of the ayatollahs, other infrastructure or their nuclear program should be attacked. Or whether or not there should be a reaction.


I don't know if Israel will react, and if it does, what that reaction will be. But I do know that some issues must be considered to anticipate the immediate future with some hope of getting it right.


First of all, regarding that defensive dome that has managed to dismantle the attacker, the success of all Israeli defense systems and the cooperation of the United Kingdom, Jordan, the United States and Saudi Arabia is undeniable. But to infer from this that Israel should not react because it is duly protected seems to me to be a severe mistake. First, because this attack was announced, and Israel has had defenses in a very high state of alert. We cannot ignore either that the drones and cruise missiles were detected from their launch (which gave three hours of notice) or that the ballistic missiles (only 12 minutes into the flight) were fired in a second wave. If Iran had reversed the sequence, the scenario would have been different. Furthermore, a surprise attack, with normal alert levels, would have been countered much less effectively, without a doubt.


Trusting that the iron dome and other metals that have protected Israel this time will work with equal success in the next direct confrontation does not seem too prudent to me, honestly. The only Maginot Line that has worked successfully is the nuclear one: once a country declares itself nuclear, it is protected under an umbrella that, until now, no one has dared to pierce.


And that is highly relevant for Iran: its atomic ambition has only been increasing and accelerating since Biden arrived at the White House, and if it is not stopped, it will be closer every day to having that nuclear arsenal, no matter how small, it makes you feel invincible. If that day comes, Israel can now prepare like the rest of the countries in the region, including the Europeans and the North Americans.


Especially when we already know that American and international deterrence has failed and has not prevented Iran from launching its attack. It must be remembered that it has also failed against Putin, who was inclined to invade Ukraine despite the price with which he was threatened.


For me, it is imperative to end the Iranian nuclear program because the alternative is much worse.


According to the UN Charter, Israel now has all the legitimacy to react against the aggressor, Iran. IMHO, it should. And it is not a problem of reconstituting deterrence; It is a problem that, as time goes by, Iran will get closer and closer to its bomb and a confrontation then would be much worse.


Will Israel do it? Will you try it now? Biden seems to have already told the Israeli prime minister not to even think about it, that he is well protected, and that he can't be bothered. This apparent limitation is part of the poor relationship between Washington and Jerusalem regarding the conduct and end of the war in Gaza. It cannot be forgotten.


Indeed, anyone who has been to Israel in recent weeks will know that the priority since last October 7 is to eliminate Hamas, free the hostages that they still refuse to hand over and prevent whoever governs the new Gaza from being a military threat against the citizens of Israel. The priority is such that even the problem represented by the almost 50,000 displaced people in the country's north takes a backseat. That is why a front has not yet been opened in the north against Hezbollah.


It must also be taken into consideration that Iran turned to its proxies in Iraq and Syria for its drone and missile launch on Saturday night but has not turned to its best military organization against Israel, Hezbollah precisely. They have preferred not to provoke an almost certain devastating Israeli reaction on that front and to be able to continue counting on a great instrument of terror against all of Israel.


I mean, taking into account the inevitability of a new clash with Hezbollah, there are possibly many voices who prefer a decisive campaign in the north before embarking on direct action against Iran.


According to the U.N. Charter, Israel now has all the legitimacy to react against the aggressor, Iran. In my humble opinion, it should. And it is not a problem of reconstituting deterrence. It is a problem that, as time goes by, Iran will get closer and closer to its bomb, and a confrontation then would be much worse.


That is something that the Western world, so given to appeasement, does not understand. Like Ukraine, whom everyone openly supports for fighting our war against Putin, Israel is fighting not only its war but also a war of all of us against jihad and a regime, that of the ayatollahs, which is at the same time Persian, messianic and revolutionary. A regime discredited in the eyes of its population and openly provocative to the rest of the nations.


However, what remains of the West is trapped in a new electoral cycle in the United States, a British prime minister in open decline and a very clueless French president. And, why not say it, from an Israel who is more concerned about the future of Netanyahu than the country itself. A poor basis for being able to make truly strategic decisions.


In any case, just as after 9/11, the entire world waited expectantly for the American reaction; now, the world anxiously awaits the Israeli response. We'll see when and how it happens. But it will take time…