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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

But Iran, seeking to avoid a spiraling conflict with Israel’s superior military, preceded the operation with days of public and private warnings. Its officials described its intent to retaliate to countries in the region, according to a person with knowledge of the briefings, a move which enabled this message to reach the U.S. indirectly. American officials said there was no direct warning to the U.S.

Though the damage was limited, Iranian officials touted the operation as a successful retaliation for an April 1 attack on a diplomatic compound in Damascus that killed several of Iran’s military commanders. Iran blamed that hit on Israel, whose government hasn’t taken responsibility.

On Sunday, Israel was also celebrating having defeated the onslaught, able to demonstrate again the country’s military prowess in downing the missiles and protecting its citizens following criticism in the wake of the Hamas attack six months ago.

For Netanyahu, there’s also a renewed demonstration of support from the U.S. and its allies after months of escalating public criticism of Israel’s deadly military operation in Gaza, including from President Joe Biden. Congressional leaders scheduled a long-delayed vote on additional aid for this week.

U.S. officials who had warned in the days before the attack that the situation was extremely dangerous were relieved the defenses had worked and damage hadn’t been worse. They called on Israel in public and in private to resist the desire to retaliate against Iran, or at least to keep whatever response there is limited enough to prevent raising the stakes further.

Israel made clear to the U.S. on Sunday it’s not looking for a significant escalation with Iran, according to U.S. officials. They're looking to protect themselves and defend themselves, one official said.


“Remember, these are two parties that have a very long history with one another,” said Michael Singh, a former top White House official who is now managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Neither would like to see this erupt into a full-scale war. Does that mean a miscalculation can’t happen? Absolutely not.”

Calls in Israel for another round of retaliation, this time directly against Iran, added to the fears. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir demanded a “crushing attack.” While Netanyahu didn’t endorse that appeal, Israel’s war is still far from over.

Many in Israel aren’t clamoring for a quick flex of the muscle, partly because Iran’s attack was so unsuccessful. In the meantime, it’s distracted global attention away from the brutal war in Gaza.

That conflict has already seen some 33,000 Palestinians killed, according to Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. More than 100 hostages have yet to be freed and thousands of the militant group’s fighters are still entrenched in Rafah, a city in Gaza where hundreds of thousands of refugees are sheltering.


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