Iran’s Strike Against Israel: Crisis that Would Transform the Middle East? [Commentary]

Photo. Pixabay

Iran attacked Israel directly. This statement is a key summary of the events that unfolded at night between 13th and 14th April 2024. Regardless of the military results, the key takeaway is that a qualitative change unfolded in the power balance in the Middle East. Therefore, we may be facing a crisis implicating a broader regional transformation, even if the Israeli Defence Forces do not launch a full-scale response.


Iran, at night between 13th and 14th April, attacked Israel using unmanned systems, and cruise and ballistic missiles. Cahal (IDF), supported by the allies were capable of protecting the country from the potential impact of a strike against the civil targets. However, this does not necessarily mean that there were no losses when it comes to injuries or property destruction. In the present conditions, assessment of the impact the Iranian aggression had would be challenging, or even impossible. Simply speaking, Israel is under threat, and thus information released to the public would be limited to protect the state’s political and military interests. This is especially pronounced, in circumstances in which the military infrastructure has been potentially damaged.


On one hand, we are dealing with military censorship that - in Israel - pertains to numerous aspects of defence and security. On the other hand, it needs to be taken into account that both Israel, as well as IDF, are taking steps aimed at limiting the options available to the Iranian analysts. Those would be engaged in an effort aimed at assessment of the impact that strikes had, to issue recommendations regarding proprietary military technologies, and how they are employed (operational and doctrinal aspects). The Iranian analysts (armed forces, intelligence, Revolutionary Guard) would be driven to obtain a complete picture of the capabilities of the Israeli IADS, civil defence, decision-making chain, and so on. The above also refers, to a less significant extent, to the actions undertaken by Israel’s partner nations and allies. Thus, one should expect numerous protective activities to be undertaken, along with a certain degree of disinformation activities targeting Iran. This means that one needs to be highly careful, when approaching any information disseminated by the Parties involved, and (or) other states. This is especially applicable in the social media sphere. Even if we are considering „sources close to the military/authorities/intelligence”, or „leaks”.

The latter were used in the infosphere by Israel during Israel’s „Guardians of the Wall” operation, in a very interesting manner. Thus, given the greater significance of the threat to Israel’s security, in the present circumstances (attack launched by a state actor), one needs to take into consideration the possible boost in information warfare and PSYOPS. Frankly speaking, this should not be a surprise for us, especially in Europe. As of 2022, we have been witnessing similar practices being put into use by Ukraine, facing Russian aggression.


Breakthrough Nature of the Iranian Strike

Coming back to the assessment of events that unfolded between the 13th and 14th of April 2024, it cannot go unnoticed, that the circumstances were extraordinary. For the first time in history, the Iranian regime launched an open kinetic strike against targets located within the Israeli territory. The openness refers to the military sphere, and it is related to the strike itself, and to the matter of communications related to that strike. The Tehran regime did not hide the fact that the strike happened in any way, even though one should still remember that the decision-making process in that theocracy, with power scattered among different parties, may seem convoluted, with diminished homogeneity of power processes. Iran was using its means of propaganda to spread the news broadly, on a global scale. Here one could note that the Iranians considered a mass airstrike against Israel to be an exercise of the right to self-defence (Article 51 of the UN Charter). According to the Iranian government entities, it was tied to the elimination of highly-ranked Iranian officers from the Revolutionary Guards in Syria.

The Iranians themselves stress that the recent strike has fulfilled the plans made by the state in the realm of armed response. Obviously, these actions may be interpreted in two different manners. First, the undertaken activity may constitute an attempt to signal the will to negotiate de-escalation behind the scenes, without the strikes between Iran and Israel continuing. This may also be a planned protective action in the international narrative theme, with the armed activities odium being placed on Israel. The Tehran authorities do realize that a mass missile/drone strike targeting Israel inflicted pressure on the Israeli authorities when it comes to a potential military response. The Iranian „hit and run” may constitute an attempt at justifying and securing further military action. Either way, here one should recall the fact that Israel has conducted a controversial strike targeting an Iranian diplomatic facility in Syria. This violation of a diplomatic facility has been the key factor here. The strike alone was nothing new. Iran is using Syria as a hub for its logistics, supporting the operations in the region, also when it comes to aiding the terrorists. IDF has been attacking logistical targets, training camps, and so on, located in Syria, with those locations having the potential of being occupied by the Iranians.

Interestingly, the Syrian airspace also needs to be given at least a slight consideration here. The airspace alone involves a complicated set of regional and international relations. Let us notice that ever since the Syrian civil war, Russia has had its air defence (and other) assets deployed in Syria. Once the so-called ISIS was formed, the area has also been penetrated by USAF or Jordanian Air Force assets as well. Turkey was also present in Syria, in the air and land domains. Not to mention Cahal who was launching numerous strikes, usually not taking responsibility of any sort. Thus, numerous hypotheses emerge, regarding convoluted relations between Israel and Russia, when it comes to the Syrian airspace.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Multi-Area Operations Undertaken by Iran

Coming back to the core of the matter, and the events happening on 13th and 14th April 2024, one needs to remember that Iran has been targeting the Israeli security system as a whole for years now. That adversity dates back to the events of the Iranian revolution, and the fall of the Shakh (when Israel and the USA became a target for the Tehran regime, given the former support granted to the fallen Iranian authorities). This is visible, once one examines the Iranian state propaganda bodies, creating an expansive strategic PSYOPS campaign. This is seen in the language used to describe the state of Israel as an illegal structure without identity, not to mention dehumanization. Some of the Iranian propaganda content has been making references to strikes targeting Israeli cities and state facilities for quite some time now.

Even though the information warfare has been direct for quite some time, in the realm of kinetics the Iranians have been making attempts to limit their responsibility. Above all, in the past, the Iranian side used to use non-state actors in missile strikes for instance (like Hezbollah). Tehran was also trying to camouflage its actions, like the deployment of ISR UAVs, by associating them with non-state actors. Hence, we were dealing with Ghods forces, or Revolutionary Guards presence, near the Israeli border in Syria for instance. However, there was no political will to launch airstrikes against Israel directly from the Iranian airbases. Above all, not to justify the highly probable armed response that could be launched by Israel. Especially in circumstances, in which the Iranians launched a broad nuclear program designed for military purposes. Furthermore, one should also remember that Iran is a strategic broker of regional lack of stability, done through the transfer of weapons to terrorist organizations. Let us note that the scale of that phenomenon affects not only Israel but also the whole international community as well. Iranian help is directed both to Hezbollah, the paramilitary structures in Iraq, or Hamas, but also to the Yemeni Houthis. One should state it directly: Iranian intelligence and terrorist operations have been a challenge for security for years, not just in the Middle East. This is clear when one observes similar activities in South America for instance.

One should also point out that although missiles/rockets/UAVs launched/taking off directly from Iran, to attack Israel, can be viewed as a novelty, in the cyber domain the operations have been quite direct for quite some time now. Both nations are developing the capability to conduct covert cyber operations, not just to obtain intelligence. The cyber-espionage comes together with attempts aimed at paralysing the critical infrastructure of both states. Whereas, the cyber domain offers a certain, relative comfort, in the realm of separation from the effect, and the lack of an automatic kinetic response pressure inflicted, with that response involving more conventional strike assets.

A Crack in the Well-Established Security Architecture

Either way, we are witnessing a systemic transformation of the Middle Eastern security landscape right now. Regardless of the future, dependent on numerous variables discussed below, the step made by Iran brings us closer to dangerous solutions that may come onto the surface during the upcoming years and months. Speaking in images - things that could be de-escalated in a Middle-Eastern style, by striking indirectly, may not be that easily manageable now. This presents a diplomatically demanding scenario, with numerous challenges presented for the military and spies - with numerous, possible developments in the future. Thus, it needs to be stated that the change is a systemic one. It shows Iran’s willingness to cross the red lines. We need to remember that this state, for years, has been engaged in a secret nuclear weapons development programme. It is also a state that, in recent years, had an active impact on the security of the NATO Eastern Flank as a whole, by openly supporting the Russian aggression against Ukraine. One should also repeatedly recall the fact that airstrike assets used by Iran against Israel have been and still are shared with the Russians.

The situation that has been provoked by the Tehran authorities had an impact on the security in the whole region, as the Iranian strike had to, for geographical reasons, violate the airspaces of other states. Furthermore, any tensions in the Middle East translate into tensions globally, given the strategic interest of all key global players plugged into the security landscape in the region. We are not speaking of tensions, we are rather referring to the redefinition of the rules of engagement in the Iran-Israeli relations during the upcoming years and months. One should stress that this is happening in circumstances, in which many factors outlining the events in 2024 play a role, including Israeli defence, security, and strategy decision-making system; US stance within the context of the regional, and internal political campaign relations; specific nature of regional relations in the era of tensions surrounding the Israeli military operations in Gaza; heterogeneous decision-making processes in the Iranian theocracy; growing political ambitions of Iran-supported non-state actors, like Hezbollah, Huti, pro-Iran movements in Iraq; the issue of strategic perception of Hamas post 7th October 2023.

Of course, more aspects can be added to that list, including the Saudi Arabian policy, or policy dictated by UAE, Turkey, or Qatar, or the matters tied to the lack of stability in Syria or Liban. The Iranian attack against Israel is processed by the aforesaid system consisting of numerous elements, also including interests of third party actors, like Russia (that has launched aggression against Ukraine and which endorses any global instabilities drawing the Western attention and diminishing the aid provided to Ukraine by the West), China (broker of regional Saudi-Iranian stability), key European nations (France, the UK), and the transnational structures like the EU. Putting it bluntly, a single social media post may inspire an emotional response and create segmented threads (military aspect, Iranian dimension, Israeli context, US impact, and so on), whereas it remains challenging to obtain a systemic picture of the complexity of the events and the factors that determine that scenario.

A segmented narrative of an emotional nature as such may be exemplified by a statement suggesting that the attack was a surprise. Above all, in the analysis of events between Israel and Iran, any solution, including confrontation (of varying scales) had some degree of actual plausibility, among the realistic scenarios that have for years been considered by the analysts. Especially after a diplomatic facility was hit in Syria, it could have been noticed that an Iranian counter-action is highly plausible. Diplomatic and intelligence-gathering efforts were involved, along with deterrence - to avoid resolution as such. Nonetheless, it lacked the necessary impact. However, the Middle East has recently been and will be saturated by numerous elements of intelligence-gathering networks. Especially when one considers the preparation of mass strikes using conventional strike assets. We shall remember that the Americans have gone through a similar scenario already when it comes to the Iranian missile strike against their airbase in Iraq. Back then, the US intelligence community reportedly recorded high levels of concerning Iranian interest in satellite-borne IMINT systems.

Suggestions were being made that the US satellite constellations, supported by relevant analytical software, could easily penetrate Iran, scanning for missile systems and beyond. A similar assumption should also be made for Israeli IMINT. Furthermore, as Iran is actively supporting Houthis in Yemen, it has also become a valid objective for other intelligence services, especially ones associated with states dependent on shipping routes and resources. The Israeli intelligence services do not need any extra mentions - they have been treating Iran as a priority in the domain of multi-source intelligence gathering efforts. Furthermore, in recent years Mossad or Unit 8200 (SIGINT) may have had many accomplishments recently when it comes to Iran. Starting from classic HUMINT (most relevant here), to technologically advanced SIGINT.

Again, placing that on the canvas of a broader understanding of armed conflicts, one needs to recall the fact that any big military buildup cannot go unnoticed. We are not considering terrorists, but the involvement of military means and assets here. Starting with the weapon systems operators, through logistics, and own defences to finish with. We shall also note that IDF’s IADS lethality (and allied support, involving the United Kingdom, US, Jordan, or potentially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) was very much dependent on the exchange of intel between the involved intelligence service agencies. One should take into account the fact that Iran (should we adopt a hypothesis on the intent to launch a limited low lethality strike that would exclude potential escalation) could have transferred certain information on the plans, using intermediaries in the region, and/or unofficial direct communication channels. On a concluding note, the fact that the public opinion, or OSINT analysts may have been surprised by the unfolding event shall be separate from the picture available to the decision-making bodies of states involved in the crisis. What is equally important is the fact that yet again, we have learned a lot within the scope of accepting analysis based on varied possible scenarios, instead of conservatively following homogeneous theses (strike will happen vs. strike will not happen).

Photo. Israeli Air Force

The Middle East Is Unpredictable

The unfolding events are hard to assess clearly, as they would also depend on the social mood and political landscape in Israel as well. Including the internal security, intelligence, and IDF-driven analysis whether without an armed response, Tel Aviv would be able to effectively deter the potential adversaries. Analytical studies as such may also include questions on the use of the fact that the fear barrier has been broken by Iran, to neutralize the Iranian arms industry effort or Iran’s secret military nuclear programme.

The stance adopted by the USA may also be a determining factor for this scenario, the same applies to the West, the formats that shape the Western internal relations, or that point to the regional partners and allies. US military aid for Israel may be viewed as a positive signal of de-escalation. The same applies to the strong political and diplomatic stance, and the support granted for the counter-Iranian efforts by state actors different from the US. Furthermore, the US Congress is somewhat discussing a financial aid plan for Israel (Ukraine, and Taiwan), that can be used here. One should remember the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was trying to provoke Israeli involvement, hoping the US-led coalition to collapse.

Finally, despite the broad campaign involving the Scud missiles, the Israeli allies and partners managed to avoid that scenario in the Middle East. However, reinforcement of the Israeli defence capabilities was derived from that. Before that, Tel Aviv had been guaranteed a direct military aid package within the scope of the air defences (Scud vs. Patriot). Non-state aspects are detrimental to the de-escalation scenario. The terrorist organizations may pursue interests of their own, in the wake of the current crisis. Let us notice, however, that the hostilities on the 13th and 14th of April reportedly also involved the pro-Iranian structures in the region. Not all of these are fully controlled by the Tehran government. Not to mention the matter of heterogeneous power structure in Iran itself, which is emphasized above - also in the realm of political and ideological interest. We shall also bust the myth that the crisis, with the current scale of airstrikes, would be easy to contain. Wars were breaking out with fewer hostilities, and fewer forces and assets involved in the first strikes, compared to what could have been observed at night last weekend.

Hence, large-scale armed conflict should still be a part of analytical efforts, regardless of emotions or personal beliefs. At the same time, one should avoid automatically created narratives concerning the Middle East, attacking our comprehension of the situation in the region. Especially when the narrative source tries to simplify the story, to make it possible for a mass audience to grasp it, especially in the specific format of modern communications. One thing is certain: as shots were fired by Iran, targeting Israel, we have started to deal with a crisis, an event that would permanently change the system (in a manner which is detrimental in this case). The unfolding events place a major emphasis on the volatility of international relations we have been recently experiencing in the wake of numerous, unresolved conflicts, and also on the acceptance of military assets as an option of influencing the international relations, used by the strongest of state actors as well. Finally, one should state it directly: IAMD plugged into a state systemic framework (intelligence, civil defence, armed forces) is a matter that calls for urgent investments. Ukraine, and Israel, are prime examples of that. But they may not be the final ones, during the coming months and years.