Why Iran’s Retaliatory Attack Against Israel Was Not A ‘Failure’

Inflated claims of Israel’s remarkable military success in thwarting Iran’s strikes ignores the fact that Iran was deliberately restrained to avoid regional war.

While the strikes forced Israel to give away its defensive positions.

Shortly after Iran’s retaliatory strike on Israel concluded seemingly without incident, the full-throated proclamations of Israel’s defensive feats followed. Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said that Iran’s retaliation had “failed” after 99% of the launched missiles and drones were intercepted by Israeli air defense systems. U.S. President Biden hailed Israel’s “remarkable capacity” to defend against such “unprecedented attacks,” sending a message to Iran that it “cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel.”

Israeli military analyst Amos Harel added more meat to these statements, regarding the “incredible operational capabilities” of the Israeli Air Force and its allies to have averted an ostensible disaster by preventing the targeting of key military bases. He even goes so far as to say that “one can assume that Tehran is extremely disappointed,” because the intention of the attack, according to Harel, was to showcase its capabilities by hitting military targets like Netavim Air Base:

“It appears that the Iranians planned to destroy the base and the advanced F-35 fighter jets stationed there, which are the crown jewel of American aid to Israel. Iran failed completely.”

Such assessments are mistaken on two counts: first, they confuse (or intentionally obfuscate) Iran’s intentions behind the attack, and second, they incorrectly interpret the attack’s results.

The first point is fairly uncontroversial. Virtually no one but Israeli talking heads believes that Iran launched the attack with the objective of widening the confrontation. Iran’s constant preparation of the international community by vociferously declaring its intentions a week in advance and promising the U.S. that its attack would be “under control” and conducted in a way that “avoids escalation” confirms that Iran was displaying considerable restraint in its strikes. Even Arab detractors of Iran mocked the attacks as an impotent exercise in political and military “theater.”

The second point though has been less talked about because interpreting the attack’s results has been filtered through the various propaganda prisms of different actors. It’s fairly obvious why Israelis like Harel — who for the past six months has inflected his military analysis with journalistic psy-ops directed at his fellow Israelis — would want to inflate Israeli military achievements. After declining confidence in the army’s ability to protect its citizens following October 7, Israel has made a point of projecting an image of impregnability in the face of regional aggressors.

Several activists and military and political analysts have offered a different interpretation of the results.

Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran posted on X that “the scale of Iran’s attack, the diversity of locations it targeted, and weapons it used, forced Israel to uncover the majority of anti-missile technologies the US and it have across the region.”

“The Iranians did not use any weapons Israel didn’t know it had, it just used a lot of them,” Quran added. “But the Iranians likely now have almost a full map of what Israel’s missile defence system looks like, as well as where in Jordan and the Gulf the US has installations.”

According to Quran, what this means is that Iran can now “reverse engineer” the intelligence it gathered, while Israel and the U.S. “will have to re-design away from their current model,” making the the cost of the “success” in stopping the attack very high.

“Anyone assuming this is just theatrics is missing the context of how militaries assess strategy versus tactics,” Quran elaborated, emphasizing that gathering intelligence is a key component of long wars of attrition, which is a model that Iran prefers to all-out war.

Beirut-based military analyst and Al-Mayadeen contributor Ali Jezzini offered a similar analysis of the Iranian strikes, arguing that they were “very successful” and that more missiles likely hit their target than Israel has been letting on.

This seems to have been corroborated by video evidence recorded by Palestinians in the case of the Netivim military base, showing several missiles apparently hitting their targets, although there has been no confirmation of the extent of the damage

“The cost of this night’s interceptions certainly exceeds a billion dollars between the Americans and the Israelis,” Jezzini added, a claim that seems to be echoed by Israeli sources.

Jezzini said that in the context of a full-scale war, Israel would not be able to keep up this level of air defense for more than a few days before missiles started to overwhelm Israel’s defense capabilities.

Political analyst Sari Orabi echoed this analysis on his Telegram channel, arguing that the “success” of Israel in intercepting Iranian missiles is “conditional upon the presence of regional layers of protection provided by the United States,” which exposes Israel’s reliance on its network of allies and forces it to give away its various defensive positions.

Orabi added that the Iranian intention behind the strike was “extremely cautious” and “sought to create a new deterrence stance that does not evolve into war,” which creates a new precedent for Iranian action that increases the regional cost of continuing belligerent action toward Iran.

The Biden administration has also made this cost clear to Israel, reportedly telling Netanyahu that the U.S. would not back an Israeli counterattack and that Israel should “take the win.”

In this context, Iran has consciously and delicately raised the stakes of a wider confrontation, further straining U.S.-Israeli relations and creating renewed pressure to diffuse regional tensions. Possibly, it might also lead to pressure to end the genocidal war on Gaza.

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