Daily Telegraph

Israel's strike has exposed Iran's fatal weakness

It was essential for Israel to launch a visible aerial response to Iran's aggression as quickly as possible in order to avoid any impression of weakness in a region where strength is everything.

2024-04-20 by Col. Richard Kemp

Israel’s presumed counterstrike against Iran has proved Biden and Cameron wrong in their insistence that Israel should just “take the win”. Instead, it has fought back, and rather than retaliating Iran is pretending nothing happened. This was a profound humiliation for the ayatollahs who just days ago were saying they would deliver punishing retaliation for even the slightest Israeli strike; now they’re saying they will do nothing. So far we don’t know what happened at the target. To save face the Iranians are unlikely to admit there was any damage, and for strategic reasons Israel has not accepted responsibility and therefore has not made known its battle damage assessment.
The main target seems to have been Iran’s third city, Isfahan. The Hastam Shikari airforce base is there, and was involved in the drone and missile attack against Israel on 14th April. Iran also has drone production factories at Isfahan. Of perhaps even greater significance, the city is at the heart of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme with a research site as well as a processing facility, including stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. Although the IAEA has made clear that no damage was caused to the nuclear site, the ability of the Israeli Air Force to penetrate Iran’s most heavily defended sites will have triggered enormous concern in Tehran as it gets ever closer to achieving nuclear weapons capability. It is possible that may lead to a pause in the nuclear programme so as not to provoke further attacks until defences can be significantly enhanced. That same theory might also apply more widely, perhaps deterring Iran from launching further direct strikes against Israel as it realises the extent of its vulnerability.
Aside from the operational effects of this action, it was essential for Israel to launch a visible aerial response to Iran’s aggression as quickly as possible in order to avoid any impression of weakness in a region where strength is everything. But among Israel’s calculations on how to calibrate its response will have been the need to build on the international defensive coalition that formed so quickly last week. That is of strategic importance given the wide range of threats in the Middle East, foremost of which is an array of 150,000 or more missiles in Lebanon, pointing at Israel. Those weapons have been supplied to Hizballah by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to deter or retaliate against an Israeli attack on Iran, especially on the nuclear programme. Nor will Netanyahu have wanted to do anything to shake the international community’s emerging new resolve against Iran, with the G7 announcing new sanctions on Friday.
Another major factor in Jerusalem’s decision making was the Gaza war. The IDF is getting ready to mount a major assault in Rafah to deal with Hamas’s remaining stronghold and to rescue the hostages being held there. That is Israel’s number one priority at the moment and it does not want to have its military efforts diverted by an escalation with Iran. Yahya Sinwar, Hamas leader in Gaza, of course wants the opposite, and has been hoping for a wider conflict as well as international pressure against Israel to save his terrorist organization from destruction.
In some ways this strike can be compared with the Doolittle Raid in 1942 when the US launched an air attack against Tokyo from a carrier 800 miles off the coast of Japan. It did little damage on the ground but instilled fears in Japan about the defence of the home islands which opened the path to eventual defeat. At the time it also boosted morale in the US and among its allies. The latter is of particular importance today. It is not just a question of morale, but Israel’s Arab allies in the region need to understand that Jerusalem is able and willing to deal with their Iranian enemy even when Washington tells them not to.
In direct contrast to Iran’s failed assault a week ago, Israel struck its target without warning and with Tehran powerless to stop it. The IDF could have hit much harder and indeed this is likely to be just the first instalment of a heavier series of attacks whether from the air or using covert forces on the ground as they have previously achieved in Iran. Israel has shown its combat superiority and the ever-vacillating West might just have been taught a lesson about how to respond to aggression by despotic regimes that challenge them.