Dhe swarm of drones and missiles that headed toward Israel from Iran that night was an unprecedented escalation of the conflict between the two countries. For the first time, the Islamic Republic attacked its regional arch-enemy directly. According to Iranian interpretation, Israel crossed a red line with an air strike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus about two weeks ago. But at the same time, the Iranian strike appeared to have been designed to limit the escalation. The major attack produced a lot of noise but caused little damage.

“On the one hand, Iran has deviated from its usual behavior patterns with a direct attack,” says a well-informed Iranian source. On the other hand, one could almost get the impression that the major attack from the air had been choreographed in coordination with the Americans.

Big cheers in Tehran

In fact, the director of the American foreign secret service CIA, William Burns, had warned friendly services in advance with very precise dates, parts of which were also leaked to the press. The Israeli defense was also well prepared. There were no fatalities and only minor damage.

At the same time, Iranian propaganda enjoyed spectacular and symbolic images such as the rocket glow over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. An Israeli air force base was also hit. The jubilation on the streets, in the state press and among pro-Iran performers on social media was correspondingly great.

Iran's parliament opened its session on Sunday morning with a patriotic song pledging allegiance to revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei. The regime in Tehran must now hope that this will be enough to restore its own credibility at a time when Israel, traumatized by the Hamas terror of October 7th, has bought the edge of the Iran-loyal “Axis of Resistance” in terms of escalation dominance and some delivered severe blows.

Iranian military: No further operation planned

The Iranian military has made it clear that it is not interested in further escalating the confrontation, which could easily escalate into a destructive regional conflagration. The matter is considered closed with Operation True Promise, said its chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri. “There is no intention to continue the operation.” However, he threatened that the Iranian response would be harsher if there was an Israeli counterattack.

The fact that the Israeli government foregoes this is likely to be in the interests of its American allies, who, like the British and Jordanians, have played an active role in eliminating a large part of the approaching threat beyond Israel's borders. Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, who frequently receives information from the American government apparatus, reported that President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “You won a victory today. Be happy with this victory.”

Biden, whose administration was said by diplomats to have been very upset by the Israeli attack on the consulate compound in Damascus, has assured Israel of unwavering American support in its defense. Behind closed doors, according to media reports, Washington made it clear that this does not have to apply to an Israeli retaliatory strike.

The question now is whether it will be possible to moderate an Israeli response to the Iranian attack. The New York Times quoted an Israeli government official as saying that Israel wanted to give this in coordination with its partners. But the ongoing dispute over Israel's conduct of the war in the Gaza Strip raises doubts that Netanyahu will be able to dissuade him from striking back hard. In fact, the Israeli head of government effectively retained the upper hand in the deterrence competition with Iran thanks to the successfully repelled attack.

The Israeli airstrike on the consulate in Damascus hit the Islamic Republic far harder than the Iranian counterattack hit Israel. But the power of the images could lead to other conclusions; the images of the Dome of the Rock in particular are likely to hurt the Israeli leadership. Israeli Foreign Minister Yisarel Katz revealed on Army Radio on Sunday morning what the reaction would be. “If Iran attacks Israel, Israel will attack Iran. This claim remains valid,” he said. Everything will be taken into account. If more comprehensive consultations were necessary with partners abroad, then they would take place. “I am confident that the right decisions will be made.”

Israel's security cabinet gave free rein to the smaller war cabinet, which planned to meet early Sunday afternoon. A decision could be made here as to whether Israel also considers the matter to be over – or whether the spiral of escalation continues.