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Smart Take | Israel Weighs Response After Withstanding Iran Attack

April 15, 20242:20

Iran's attack on Israel marks a serious escalation of the already tense war in Gaza, even though the majority of the hundreds of drones and missiles launched failed to reach their targets. The attack comes just two weeks after Israel’s strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria. David Hale, former Ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Jordan comments on the significance of Iran’s latest actions. He provides insights on Iran’s goals in launching the attack, why they pulled back after the US and Israel successfully thwarted it, and how Israel and its allies can continue to apply pressure on the Iranian regime.

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    I think the primary concern of the Iranians must have been their domestic political situation. After the attack on their facility in Damascus, they probably had to respond in some fashion. 

    What I was struck by was the fact that they immediately, as soon as the United States and Israel together had managed to stymie this barrage of missiles and drones, that the Iranians pulled back and said, "We're done." Now they may be done, but we're not done.

    I think the reason that the Iranians want to pull back is because they want to continue the conflict, at a lower level.

    They don't want to end the conflict, but they want to continue it at the proxy level where they have comparative advantages over Israel and where the cost to the Iranians themselves is much less than it is if the proxies are suffering.

    So I think we learned a valuable lesson in all of this, which is that if we do manage to extract pain and a price on the Iranians directly, it does change their behavior.

    When President Biden so publicly, advises the Israeli leadership that they should, quote, take the win, unquote.

    I personally think that's a mistake. I think that there needs to be, a level of ambiguity that the Iranians don't know what the next moves may be. That the potential for escalation remains an option, and that we need to keep the pressure on, on Iran, not just militarily. Obviously, no one wants to go into a total war scenario, but removing military options from the table may not be the smart way to keep the pressure on.

    We need to keep the options for military responses alive. But, I also would now double down on economic pressure. The energy sanctions are not really being implemented, as I understand it.

    We could be doing much more to try to interdict the supply by Iran of military material to its proxies and to Russia. And we should be also, I think, upping the political pressure. The G-7 statement was a good one. We can expand that. We should be engaging our Arab friends so that they stop their hedging strategies and that they understand that what happened this last weekend is a demonstration of America's security umbrella and our commitment to it, and therefore, they should join with us and feel confident in that.

    And a lot of this stack should be public.



David Hale

David Hale

Global Fellow;
Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Former Ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Jordan
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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more