News Analysis: A strike in an Iranian area with a long missile history
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tests a Qadr-110 (also transliterated as Ghadr-110) ballistic missile, which has a range of up to 1,200 miles, March 2016. (Photo: Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons)

Tehran appears to take the offramp to de-escalation; Israel’s campaign against Iranian targets in Syria will now be put to the test.

By Yaakov Lappin
April 19, 2024

(JNS) — Judging by initial Iranian and international media reports, the airstrike on a target near the central city of Isfahan early on Friday was likely designed to hit an important military site, while avoiding escalating already soaring tensions with the Islamic Republic.

This isn’t the first time that reports have surfaced about a mysterious strike in this location.

On Feb. 2, 2023, Iran accused Israel of launching a drone attack on a Defense Ministry facility in the city. This past January, Iran executed one of four suspects it accused of being behind that attack, after claiming they acted on behalf of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. 

Isfahan is also home to Iran’s largest missile assembly and production site, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based think tank. The facility has reportedly been used to develop a range of threats, including Shahab ballistic missiles, which can hit Israel. There are also four small nuclear research facilities in the city, according to The New York Times

In May 2021, a blast of unknown origin struck a complex north of Isfahan that was reportedly linked to Iran’s unmanned aerial program. 

While it is difficult to know at this stage what was hit at Isfahan, it is clear that Tehran is making strenuous efforts to downplay the attack. If Israel indeed attacked it on Friday, it may have given the Islamic Republic a sphere of sufficient deniability to de-escalate the situation.

It is also reasonable to assume that Israel’s War Cabinet concluded that it has more pressing priorities, such as pushing ahead with an operation to dismantle Hamas’s last battalions in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, as well as contending with the six-month-long assault by Hezbollah in the north, which has displaced more than 60,000 Israelis. 

Iran, for its part, may want to return to its long-term strategy aimed at taking over the Middle East and leading to Israel’s destruction. 

That strategy envisions Iran surrounding Israel with a ring of terror armies and breaking through to nuclear weapons capabilities to provide an umbrella for its increasingly aggressive proxies. 

Iran likely also wishes to improve its conventional missile and UAV capabilities, especially after Israeli air defenses, fighter jets and partner militaries intercepted 99% of the drones and rockets launched from Iranian territory at Israel on April 14.

The combined Iranian attack, composed of 170 UAVs, 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles—more than 300 aerial threats in total—was an attempt to ‘teach Israel a lesson’ for an April 1 airstrike on a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Damascus that killed the IRGC’s commander for Syria and Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, his deputy, and five others.

Ultimately, Iran remains fully committed to its jihadist ambition of destroying Israel by 2040, a goal openly espoused by the clerical regime’s officials. 

Tehran’s decision to directly attack Israel last weekend was a major departure from this long-term proxy strategy, and the Iranians might now prefer to go back to the drawing board to learn lessons and recalibrate their efforts.

What remains certain, however, is that the conflict between Iran and Israel will rage on, so long as the Islamic Republic continues to be obsessed with its goal of eliminating the Jewish state and pursuing this through a range of increasingly dangerous methods. 

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