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Iran's attack on Israel sparks race to avert a full-blown war

Fiona MacDonald, Jennifer Jacobs and Donato Paolo Mancini, Golnar Motevalli, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The huge salvo of missiles and drones launched from the arid plains of Iran toward Israel was the kind of direct conflict between the Middle East powers that the world had long feared would mark the explosion of a full-blown regional war.

But behind the unprecedented nature of the attack was a dance of diplomatic signaling that allowed both sides to claim success, raising the risk of a broader conflict without making it a certainty.

The Israeli military said 99% of the barrage was shot down and no Israelis were killed after Iran had signaled for days it was coming. Tehran said it had made its point, seeking to put the march toward a wider conflagration on hold. Israel’s backers in the U.S. and Europe were also pressing to avoid any further escalation in calls on Sunday.

For all the steps toward the brink since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the Jewish state and its enemies have managed to stop short of the precipice, even as violence has spread to other countries in the Middle East.

What changed over the weekend is that the latest U.S.-led diplomatic efforts — until now focused on deescalating the crisis in Gaza — are being targeted at ensuring any response from Israel is measured, according to people familiar with the discussions.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said while the attack was meant to be deadly and destructive, Washington is urging Israel against retaliation. The concern, though, is that logic might not prevail, according to a person familiar with the discussions. Indeed, one wild card is the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from hard-liners in his government, though the success in defeating the Iranian strike may strengthen his hand.


The attack by Iran was “very calibrated” to limit the damage, said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East & North Africa Program at Chatham House. Still, she said, “we’re closer than ever to a broader regional war.”

Iran’s latest assault was a dramatic escalation, with the hard-line government striking directly for the first time after decades relying on proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah to fight a shadow war with its main regional rival.

It showed with the massive barrage that it was ready to challenge Israel’s superior military head on, something no other power had dared to do for decades. The U.S. moved ships and planes into position and vowed to help protect Israel. The U.K. and Jordan were also involved.

Oil markets steadied on Monday after Israel repulsed the attack but the prospect of $100 for a barrel of oil is now looming again, while Bloomberg Economics predicts a direct war between Israel and Iran would thrust the world economy into recession.


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