A troubling milestone indeed | WORLD
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A troubling milestone indeed

Iran crosses a threshold by launching a massive direct attack against Israel

The Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran. Associated Press/Photo by Tomer Neuberg

A troubling milestone indeed
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On Saturday, Iran launched a direct attack on Israel for the first time in either nation’s history. Since taking power in its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sworn itself to the destruction of the Jewish state. Yet all of Tehran’s previous aggression had been done through proxies such as Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations that waged violence against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world.

Iran’s weekend barrage was ostensibly in retaliation for an Israeli operation a couple of weeks ago that killed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) senior leader Reza Zahedi and other IRGC officials in Damascus. However, Zahedi likely helped plan Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel and had also orchestrated Hezbollah’s rocket attacks in northern Israel that have displaced some 80,000 Israelis. In short, Iran remains the aggressor.

This weekend’s assault thus marked a troubling milestone. For the first time ever, Iran launched from its own territory a barrage that included some 120 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles, and 180 explosive drones, all aimed at targets inside Israel.

In a remarkable display of technical virtuosity, Israel’s multi-layered defenses shot down 99 percent of the Iranian projectiles. Not a single Israeli was killed or target destroyed. (Considering the extensive assistance the United States has provided to Israel’s anti-missile capabilities, it provides some validation to President Ronald Reagan’s vision over four decades ago to develop a robust missile defense system. Sometimes the full fruits of presidential leadership are not realized until a generation thereafter).

A notable group of nations rallied to Israel’s defense during the Saturday attacks. As the Economist points out, this included the United States, the United Kingdom, and Jordan helping shoot down the missiles and drones, and France, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia likely providing crucial assistance as well. For all of the international opprobrium that Israel has been subject to of late over the Gaza War, this coalition remains durable in its willingness to stand with Israel against Tehran.

Israel’s success in thwarting the barrage should not lull it or its supporters into complacency. Any one projectile from the Iranian fusillade that got through could have killed dozens or hundreds of Israeli civilians. Most worrisome, Iran has now crossed a threshold into direct attacks on Israel, an unambiguous act of war. This shows a new degree of recklessness in Tehran that could well foreshadow further assaults on Israel, and escalated aggression against American targets throughout the region.

Tehran sits at the buckle of a new belt of tyranny spanning Eurasia, consisting of Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea.

Nothing with Iran is ever simple, however. Tehran tempered its new step of attacking Israel with some measures of caution. For example, the Iranians did not use manned aircraft, gave Israel ample warning by signaling for several days that an attack was coming, and indicated that (for now at least) they will not be launching a second wave.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini probably also knew that Israel’s defenses would prevent most of the Iranian missiles from hitting their targets. In balancing this escalation with de-escalation, Iran signaled that it does not seek an all-out war with Israel and the United States.

The Netanyahu government in Jerusalem is reading these Iranian signals carefully. Israel would be well-justified in taking strong retaliatory measures against Iran, especially to punish Tehran for crossing this threshold and to deter any further Iranian attacks. However, Israel also wants to avoid overstretching its military or stumbling into open war with Iran. One of Israel’s main fears since the Gaza War began over six months ago has been an escalation into region-wide war with Iran and its allies such as Syria. That concern remains acute.

Israel knows, after all, that Iran is now emboldened by its deepened partnerships with Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang. Tehran sits at the buckle of a new belt of tyranny spanning Eurasia, consisting of Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea. Each of those dictatorships supports the other through expanded military, technology, energy, and economic ties. They also support each other’s aggression, whether against Israel or Ukraine or Taiwan.

Israel and Ukraine in particular now both find themselves in dire need of further American military aid, especially to restore their missile and drone defenses so depleted from thwarting Iranian and Russian attacks. The U.S. Congress will be considering new aid packages for both, perhaps as soon as this week. (It bears noting that some of the most influential American voices opposing Ukraine aid have sadly turned against aiding Israel as well, in part by trafficking in odious anti-Semitic themes).

American Christians looking at our troubled world should consider that just as our adversaries are sticking together, so we ought to stand steadfast with our friends. Yes, supporting our friends is costly—but those costs are much less than having to confront those foes and by ourselves.

William Inboden

William Inboden is professor and director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He previously served as executive director and William Powers Jr. chair at the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House, and at the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and a special adviser in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

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