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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

Hamas rejected the latest cease-fire proposal from mediators following Iran’s assault, according to Mossad, the Israeli external-intelligence agency.

Israeli forces are planning an assault on Rafah, while violence also looms on Israel’s northern border, where tens of thousands of civilians have been evacuated on both sides amid fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

For the moment, the weekend attack seemed signal that the deterrence that’s kept Iran from widening the war into a full-on battle with Israel still holds.

Iran is trying to draw a “new line,” according to Dana Stroul, who until December was the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East.

“If Israel targets any of its officials abroad, even when those officials are engaged in terrorist activities, Iran will respond with attacks like we saw last night,” she said. Israeli leaders “will need to respond,” but in a way that will “prevent opening a new escalatory cycle that tips into full scale regional war,” she said.

Last week, even as Tehran was publicly threatening massive retaliation, it was telling Arab countries in the Persian Gulf that the response would be measured and steer clear of their territory. The Houthis, Iran’s proxies in Yemen who’ve been attacking ships in the Red Sea, would have a limited role, they said.

One diplomat in the region said Tehran appeared to discuss its intent to retaliate with nearby countries in order to demonstrate restraint behind the public shock and awe it aimed to deliver after the killings of its commanders at the embassy compound in Syria, which formally qualifies as Iranian territory. The Gulf countries, desperate to avoid a wider war, underlined the importance of caution.

Israel matched Iran’s public threats with warnings of its own, backed up by public pledges of support from its allies.


On Friday, while officials were saying the attack was imminent, the U.S. dispatched a top military commander to Israel to help coordinate the response. American and British planes and warships helped down some of the drones.

Though potentially devastating, the assault appeared designed more to demonstrate resolve than to overcome Israel’s defenses, said one western diplomat.

Still, officials in the region said they expect some kind of response by Israel, given the unprecedented nature of Iran’s direct attack. Just how severe it is will show whether the march toward the brink of broader conflict is in fact on hold.

The lack of damage and casualties means that the Israelis could limit their strike, said Mark Cancian, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Maybe they will attack a military base that launched the missiles, maybe a production factory, maybe Iranian naval assets,” he said. “Everyone is watching to see what the Israelis will do.”


(With assistance from Sylvia Westall, Ethan Bronner, Patrick Sykes, Michael Nienaber, Anthony Capaccio, Beril Akman, Peter Martin, Courtney McBride and Hadriana Lowenkron.)


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