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Smart Take | World Leaders Urge Restraint as Israeli War Cabinet Considers Response

April 16, 20242:18

Iran's "unprecedented" attack on Israel marks a significant escalation of the tensions between the two countries. Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow Robin Wright provides insights on the significance of Iran’s attack. She talks about the ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran’s proxies, the role the US has played in defending Israel, and the challenges of containing the spillover effect of this latest escalation.

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    The Iranian attack on Israel was unprecedented. It marked a turning point in longstanding tensions between Israel and the Islamic Republic, which originally date back to 1982. Over the past 42 years, they've engaged in a shadow war, Israel against Iran's proxies. But there has never been the kind of open public attacks that we've seen in the first two weeks of April 2024. 

    Beginning with Israel's strike on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus that killed three Revolutionary Guard generals and other military staff, and then the retaliation by Iran unleashing more than 300 missiles and drones. The United States has not escalated tensions with Iran, but it has played an important role in helping Israel militarily in shooting down intercepting Iranian drones and missiles. 

    President Biden has said this is an ironclad commitment to Israel's security. The question is, is that open ended? Does the United States intend to continue deploying additional aircraft and warships in the region, in case there is a second or third attack. One of the challenges is going to be trying to contain the spillover. How does this change the strategic calculations of all the players in the region? ….because it is a region divided. Many of the governments have relationships with the United States, but in countries like Lebanon and Iraq, you have major militia forces that are not controlled by the government and are major players. They have been aligned with Iran. They have facilitated weapons transfers. They have militias with thousands of fighters. They've engaged in smuggling weapons systems across the region for use against Israel. And the United States is trying hard, especially with a country like Iraq, which has close relations because of their joint campaign against ISIS, to try to get it to rein in some of the militia. That’s a real challenge.


Robin Wright image

Robin Wright

USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow;
Author and columnist for The New Yorker
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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