Five days after the attack, Israel bombed targets in Iran. Tehran is probably not considering a counterattack. Does this prevent open war?

A woman looks at a banner calling on US President Joe Biden to stop Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from attacking Iran.

About half of Israelis want attacks and counterattacks to stop Photo: Eyal Warshavsky/imago

Major wars have been started for less: Tehran fired 170 drones, more than 120 ballistic missiles and more than 30 cruise missiles directly into Israeli territory almost a week ago. According to the Israeli army, they transported 60 tons of explosives. Although almost all of them were intercepted, this attack could have been the spark that set off the powder keg in the Middle East. But then nothing happened for almost a week.

On Friday night, one or more explosions occurred in the central Iranian province of Isfahan. According to several American media, it is said to be an Israeli attack. He New York Times quotes Iranian and Israeli government officials. Initially, the Israeli government and military made no official comment. Iran's state news agency Irna denied that it was an attack from outside.

According to Iranian state media, several small flying objects were fired upon over Isfahan province. Therefore, these started at the national level. Near the city of the same name, Isfahan, in the center of the country, there is an important defense industry and the largest nuclear research center in the country. The International Atomic Energy Agency gave the all clear on Friday morning: no Iranian nuclear facilities had been damaged.

On the surface, Israel has quickly returned to normal after the impact of the Iranian attack.

Cautious statements from both sides raise hopes that the spiral of escalation can be interrupted for the time being. Despite previous threats against Israel, Tehran did not want to respond directly with a retaliatory attack, the Reuters news agency reported.

Divided opinion

The Israeli government had been weighing a response to the Iranian attack for five days. On the surface, Israel has quickly returned to normal after Sunday night's shock. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, cafes are open and beaches are busy. Opinions among Israelis about the correct answer vary, according to a survey.

48 percent supported a response, despite concerns about further escalation. 52 percent wanted their country to refrain from retaliating and wanted attacks and counterattacks to end. At least 28 percent of Israelis surveyed favored a military strike that could lead to a larger war.

Also creating uncertainty was the fact that the Israeli security apparatus, made up of the army and secret services, apparently made a miscalculation in an attack on the Iranian embassy on April 1. The attack, attributed to Israel, killed two senior generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. “It cannot be overlooked that they did not see the Iranian reaction coming,” he writes. Haaretz-Journalist Amos Harel.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic has threatened to annihilate the Jewish state, but has never attacked it directly. But instead of continuing with “strategic patience,” this time Tehran decided to make a historic change in strategy.

The logic of escalation

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned Israel on Thursday against a military attack. “In the event that the Israeli regime again resorts to adventurism and acts against Iran's interests, our response will be immediate and at the highest level,” he told CNN.

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In recent days there has been speculation about Israel's possible options for a counterattack. They ranged from an unlikely and risky attack on Iran's nuclear program to attacks on pro-Russian militias in Lebanon and Syria and cyberattacks or intelligence operations. At the diplomatic level, the Israeli response has been underway for days. Foreign Minister Israel Katz is pushing for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be classified as a terrorist organization in the EU. The United States and Britain have already announced new sanctions, and other countries could join in soon.

It is unclear whether Israel's alleged military setback will be the last for the time being. The logic of the escalation is difficult to calculate. Both the current Israeli and Iranian leadership assume that their security and interests in the region must be defended primarily through military deterrence.

It remains to be hoped that Israel's calculation of a limited attack, which would allow both sides to refrain from further aggression, works this time.

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