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Analysis: Iran’s Failure, Israel’s Incomplete Victory and the West’s Error

April 17, 2024

by: Joshua Spurlock ~ Middle East Update

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Iranian missiles passing over the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Wednesday, 17 April 2024 | The depth of Iran’s defeat at the deft hands of missile defense experts and fighter pilots last Saturday night runs even deeper than just a failed attempt at revenge. Yet, while the success of Israel and its allies in rebuffing Iran’s attack was impressive, that effort offers more than just lessons—it also has warnings.

Iran’s Failure

The Islamic Republic had intended Saturday night to be a miserable one for Israelis. Instead, it was the Iranians who should have been shaken up afterwards.

Operationally, Iran’s massive drone and missile attack was a failure. According to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) page on X (formerly Twitter), Israel and its allies managed to intercept approximately 99% of Iran’s 300-plus projectiles. A separate post said only a “small number of hits” were registered, including “minor damage” caused to an Israel Defense Force base. Even if Iran didn’t want to start a new war with Israel and only inflict limited harm, this was a massive defeat.

And yet as bad as it was operationally for Iran, it was even worse strategically. For while the results of a barely damaged IDF base look like Iran wasn’t trying to escalate, the attack itself sent the opposite message. A combination of more than 300 drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles was historic. As the Institute for the Study of War [ISW] noted in a report on their website, the Iranian attack was most likely looking to cause as much damage as possible without pressing Israel to do something significant in response.

The ISW report noted that the tactics used were similar to how Russia has attacked Ukraine and Iran took it even farther than Moscow. To put Iran’s attack in context, the ISW compared the number of projectiles fired by Iran versus 12 different single day salvos fired by Russia against Ukraine in a graphic designed in conjunction with the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Iran’s attack on Israel more than doubled the largest Russian attack—and Russia is in an open war invading Ukraine.

In short, Iran failed to exact revenge, managed to somehow overplay their hand anyway and now is faced with the reality that their greatest threat to Israel—drones and missiles—has been deterred.

Israel’s Almost Victory

For Israel, everything that went bad for Iran could be told in reverse to celebrate Israel’s success. Iran’s barrage didn’t only fail to cause major damage, the IDF X page also reported that none of the UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] or cruise missiles even made it to Israeli airspace.

Making the victory even more dramatic, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari reported that the US, France, the UK and “other partners in the region” participated in the defense. News reports have indicated Jordan and potentially even Saudi Arabia joined Israel to intercept Iran’s missiles. That such support came at a time when Israel is in the middle of a war with Palestinian terrorists underscores just how much those nations oppose Iran. Even if it is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Saturday night showed Israel still has friends—with guns.

However, while Saturday night was a success from Israel’s perspective, what happens next will determine if Israel truly notches a victory—or if troubling lessons are taught instead. And that’s where Israel’s allies haven’t been as helpful.

The West’s Error

After Israel’s historic night of self-defense, US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The message wasn’t “look how weak Iran appears, now is the time to win.” Instead, it was reportedly “sit back and do nothing.”

According to Axios, President Biden told Netanyahu that the US would not support any Israeli counterattack. Since then, comments from the Americans have tried to walk that back and instead indicate the US hasn’t told the Israelis “No,” just that they won’t participate in a response by the Jewish State. Other Western nations haven’t even tried that tap dance.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recapped a call with Netanyahu in a post to his page on X on Tuesday, in which he noted, “further significant escalation will only deepen instability in the region. This is a moment for calm heads to prevail.” His counterpart in France, President Emmanuel Macron, posted to X on Sunday: “France is working on de-escalation with its partners and calls for restraint.” And those were the public comments from the nations participating in Israel’s defense.

While the West has philosophical and economic reasons for wanting Israel to hold back and de-escalate, they may also be learning the wrong lesson from a similar event years ago during the Trump Administration. Like the current conflict between Iran and Israel, that event in 2020 also involved the targeted assassination of an Iranian general—Qasem Soleimani. He was extremely dangerous as the head of Iran’s international terror group known as the Quds Force and the US took him out. Iran responded with an attack on American military assets in Iraq. No Americans were killed in that attack and the sides decided to let that be the end of it.

However, this is not the same. First, the US openly attacked Soleimani. The alleged Israeli assassination of Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi was done covertly, with Israel not taking credit. Second, while the US had long-standing grievances with Soleimani and said he posed further threats, that assassination was more an act of aggression—even if justified. For Israel, Zahedi was directly involved in planning the October 7 terror massacre against Israel, according to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI], translating an Iranian announcement. That makes Israel’s attack an act of self-defense—not an act of war.

Lastly, the scale of Iran’s reprisal against the US was tiny in comparison, around one-to-two dozen missiles depending on the source. Iran’s attack against Israel was more than 20 times that in size.

The West may think Israel should step aside like the US and “take the win”, as President Biden reportedly told Netanyahu per that Axios report. But thwarting a historic attack isn’t a win if the lesson learned is Iran can shoot at will and not suffer any consequences. Israel doesn’t need to start a full-scale war with Iran to effectively respond, but doing nothing or nearly nothing risks undoing Saturday’s success.

Ironically, if the West learned from the Trump Administration to stand down after a back-and-forth volley, they learned the wrong lesson from the Trump years. Instead, then-President Donald Trump was especially tough with Iran: pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, reinstituting massive sanctions on Iran and taking out one of Iran’s top terror leaders. And what was the result? Iran caused trouble, but not near to the level they have done since the US has shifted to more of an appeasement strategy.

What happened between Iran and the US in 2020 isn’t what just happened between Iran and Israel in 2024—but what happened in 2024 could happen again if Israel isn’t able to successfully respond and re-establish deterrence. The West shouldn’t try to force Israel to “take the win”. They should support Israel going and taking a real victory.

Posted on April 17, 2024

Source: (This article was originally published the Middle East Update on April 16, 2024. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: Mehr News Agency/

Photo License: Wikimedia