May 19, 2024
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While Israel Can Retaliate Against Iran, Its Deterrence Is Already a Significant Victory

While Israel reserves the right to retaliate as a sovereign nation directly attacked by another, it has already won a significant victory by denying one to Iran.

The Iranian attack on Israel on April 14 constitutes an unprecedented event in modern warfare. After long days of tension and apprehension, the sky over the State of Israel was filled with hundreds of aerial threats, now known to have included 110 ballistic missiles, 200 drones and 30 cruise missiles. Of those, 99 % were intercepted by a coalition composed of Israel, the United States, Jordan, Great Britain, France and possibly other states. Due to the significant operational success of this defensive coalition, the comprehensive, unprecedented Iranian attack resulted only in the tragic, severe wounding of Amina, a 7-year-old girl.

Beyond some disturbing images that will probably haunt Iran for a while–such as missiles over the holy sites of Jerusalem and Iran’s complete failure to achieve what was most probably its main goal: the destruction of the Nevatim Airbase in the Negev–exemplifies why this was not just a defeat for Iran but a resounding success for Israel and its allies.

The Israeli ability to deny the efficacy of Iran’s comprehensive effort brings to mind a somewhat forgotten but highly relevant concept of defense policy: deterrence by denial. Simply put, it is the ability to deter an enemy from unwanted action by clarifying that the action is highly unlikely to succeed. This is different from the well-known concept of deterrence by punishment (strongly associated with nuclear deterrence) that relies on the threat of retaliation. It is now clear that on April 14, Iran was not sufficiently convinced that its goals in attacking Israel would be denied so bluntly, or it probably would not have attacked in that manner. Looking forward, however, both Iran and its proxies will, most likely, adjust their calculation.

So, while Israel reserves the right to retaliate as a sovereign nation directly attacked by another, it has already won a significant victory by denying one to Iran.

What Should Israel Consider Before Retaliating?

It would be wise to carefully consider what form retaliation might take, both in terms of means and timing, yet it is not definite that it will come immediately and in the form of an attack in kind. Looking at the region’s geopolitics and the internal state of the Iranian regime, it would seem that the advancement of a regional coalition to contain and counter the Islamic Republic in the face of the region’s changing landscape would constitute a painful form of retaliation for the regime, which is perturbed by the potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and what that might entail regionally.

Maintaining the US-Israeli alliance that has been quite strained and enhancing relations with other states that participated in this joint effort for the defense of Israel will also be to the detriment of Iran’s position in the region. One must also always keep in mind that Tehran is constantly and quickly moving toward the nuclear threshold, and its failure on April 14 does not mean it has lost its ability to threaten neighbors by using proxies and advancing in the nuclear realm. Israel should not stand alone in the face of these daunting challenges.

In the early hours of April 14, the sky over Israel lit up in a surreal aerial combat. It is estimated that the cost of this astounding showdown may have reached a billion dollars, resulting in what would seem to some as a stalemate. But that could not be farther from the truth: One side, the offender, achieved the severe wounding of a 7-year-old child. The other side successfully defended the lives of over 9.5 million people and completely denied the attacker’s operational goals, as the entire Middle East closely watched and took notice.


The writer is a former director for US-Israel relations at the Israel National Security Council, former director of the Council for Peace and Security, and a founding member of the Devorah Forum.

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