Iran’s leaders insist the attack against Israel was a ‘victory’

an anti-missile system
An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, April 14. (Amir Cohen/REUTERS)

ISTANBUL — From President Ebrahim Raisi on down, Iranian officials are heaping praise on the attack the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched against Israel Sunday. The widespread response comes despite Israel saying 99% of Iran’s more than 300 missiles and drones were intercepted.

Raisi said the IRGC had “taught a lesson to the Zionist entity,” using Tehran’s preferred term for Israel.

Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported that a top Iranian lawmaker, Mojtaba Zonnouri, said the IRGC’s “punitive operation” was a “victory” and “was a cause of pride for the people as it humiliated the Israeli regime.”

At the United Nations in New York, Iran’s Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani declared the operation was “completely in line with the Islamic Republic’s inherent right to self-defense” after an airstrike in Damascus killed seven IRGC members, including two generals, on April 1. Iran blames Israel for the strike, but Israel has not claimed responsibility for it.

Iravani added that Iran’s missiles exclusively targeted “military objectives” and said Iran had “no intention of engaging in conflict with the U.S.”

Iran’s English-language Press TV news site led with a story based on anonymous IRGC sources who claimed that “all hypersonic missiles in Iran’s strikes against Israel hit targets.” That claim could not immediately be confirmed.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s president, among the participants in the Quds Day ceremonies on April 5 in Tehran. The funeral of Iranian commanders killed in a strike in Syria coincided with this year’s Quds Day commemorations, held to show support for Palestinians. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Praise for the Iranian attack also spread beyond Iran itself. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and some Russian news sites quoted officials who were quick to applaud the attack too.

Worries about escalation and questions about deterrence

One unprecedented aspect of the Iranian attack on Israel is that it was not farmed out to proxy militias such as the Houthis in Yemen, various militias in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon, although those groups did carry out attacks they said were in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In the days between the April 1 strike in Damascus and Iran’s response, Israel made a point of warning Iran that any attack launched from Iran itself could provoke a retaliatory attack on Iranian soil. That in turn prompted Iranian officials to warn that any strike by Israel would be met with an “even greater” and more resolute Iranian response.

Tehran also had a warning for Washington, saying that if the U.S. used any of its assets in the region to assist with an Israeli attack, American personnel and bases would be legitimate targets for future attack. That warning was seen as possibly intended to fan fears abroad of a wider regional conflict.

Israeli media reported that the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel’s Negev Desert had been struck but no significant damage had been caused. Aside from this, any other possible damage in Israel from the attack so far is unclear.

Iran was fairly specific about what it was trying to accomplish with its attack. The head of Iran’s air force, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said the intention was to hit the Nevatim Airbase and the Israel Defense Forces intelligence center at Mt. Hermon in the northwest. But preliminary reports said the base remains operational, and there are no reports of significant damage to the intelligence center.

The attack has also raised questions both in and outside Israel about what recent events mean in terms of Israel’s ability to deter attacks against it.

What that may mean for the way Washington goes about supporting its closest Middle East ally, and for Israel’s approach to maintaining its own security, is likely to be the subject of much discussion and planning over the coming weeks and months.

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