Israel ‘came out far ahead,’ senior US officials say of Iran attack

A U.S. destroyer launches a standard missile 2 (SM-2) while operating in the Philippine Sea on April 5, 2024.
(Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Hannah Fry/U.S. Navy photo)

The senior officials declined to say if or how Israel should respond to the aggression but said Washington would not participate in any strike against the Islamic Republic.

By Andrew Bernard
April 14, 2024

(JNS) — Senior Biden administration officials said on Sunday that Israel “came out far ahead” in its “exchange” with Iran. The Jewish state did so after “spectacular success” in intercepting Iran’s drone and missile barrage on Saturday night, the officials said.

Speaking in a background press briefing, the senior administration, and defense and military officials, described U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phone call on Saturday night in the aftermath of the attack.

“The president told the prime minister that Israel really came out far ahead in this exchange,” the senior administration official said. “Israel took out the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps leadership in the Levant. Iran tried to respond and Israel has clearly demonstrated its military superiority, defeating this attack, particularly in coordination with partners, first and foremost the United States, and others.”

An April 1 airstrike in Damascus killed Brig. Gen. Mohammad Zahedi, a top commander in the IRGC’s Quds Force who was responsible for Syria and Lebanon, in a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Syria. Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the strike, though U.S. and other officials have attributed it to Israel.

In response, Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, launching hundreds of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles from Iranian territory towards targets within Israel on Saturday.

The Israel Defense Forces said on Sunday that Israel and its partners intercepted the attack with a 99% success rate, destroying all of the drones and cruise missiles before they entered Israeli territory. They also intercepted almost every ballistic missile.

‘It was a pretty broad engagement zone’

During Sunday’s call, the U.S. officials described America’s role in defending Israel.

“President Biden is the first American president to directly defend Israel,” the senior administration official said. “He followed and directed every detail of this response, starting nearly two weeks ago as we began to receive word and indication that Iran was preparing for a large-scale attack.”

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush noted in 1991 that U.S. troops defended Israelis directly under his administration during the Gulf War. “Just months ago, American men and women in uniform risked their lives to defend Israelis in the face of Iraqi Scud missiles,” Bush said, which seems to contradict the Biden administration official’s claim.

The senior military official said on Sunday that U.S. guided missile destroyers intercepted between four and six Iranian ballistic missiles, and U.S. aircraft destroyed more than 70 Iranian one-way drones. A U.S. Patriot missile battery also shot down a ballistic missile over Erbil, Iraq.

The military official said that Israel intercepted the majority of Iran’s ballistic missiles using its Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile systems.

“The intercepts themselves took place not only over Israeli airspace but over neighboring countries as well,” the official said. “It was a pretty broad engagement zone.”

While the official could not say how many U.S. planes took part in the defensive operation, the planes took off from both U.S. “land bases and the sea,” the official said.

Asked whether the United States wants Israel to not respond to Saturday’s attack and “take the defensive success as the win,” the senior administration official declined to say how Israel should respond.

“I think it’s a calculation the Israelis have to make,” the official said. “This was an unprecedented attack from Iran against Israel. At the same time, we think in the overall exchange here, the Israelis came out clearly very much on top and demonstrated their ability to defend their country in coordination with us and others. It speaks for itself.”

“I think that the big question is not only whether but what Israel might choose to do, and so this is a decision for them,” the official added. “I’m not going to answer it that specifically.”

Whatever Israel opts to do, the Biden administration will not take part.

“We are committed to defending Israel. We would not be a part of any of any response they do,” the official said. “That’s very consistent policy.”

The senior officials also described the Biden administration’s direct communications with Iran via the Swiss diplomatic channel in the days before the attack. They denied that Iran gave Washington any useful forewarning about the strikes.

“They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of, you know, ‘These will be the targets, so evacuate them,’” the official said. “They were clearly intending to destroy and to cause casualties.”

“The fact that they didn’t, I think they might want to now say, ‘Well, we didn’t mean to.’ But launching 100 ballistic missiles, targeting certain locations, that was clearly their intent. They just didn’t succeed,” the official added. “So no, there was no such forewarning or anything like that.”

The senior administration official said that the extent of the success fending off the Iranian attack was only truly revealed on Sunday morning.

“I think the kind of spectacular success, I don’t use that word lightly, really became known only in the light of day,” the official said. “When you can really see that there was almost no damage at all — took down almost all of these things. It’s extraordinary.”

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