War within wars — out of shadows

The situation in Gaza is badly damaging the moral standing of West Plus, alongside a morally battered Israel

Inam Ul Haque April 18, 2024
The writer is a retired major general and has an interest in International Relations and Political Sociology. He can be reached at tayyarinam@hotmail.com and tweets @20_Inam


So finally, Iran’s patience with Israel’s constant provocation ran out; and on 14 April it launched Operation True Promise (va’de-ye sādeq), firing a missile and drone barrage at Israel proper from Iran proper. Israel’s attack on Iran’s diplomatic building in Damascus on 1 April was the most recent provocation, as it was violation of diplomatic immunity under international law, hence an act of war. Iran’s response was imminent, publicised, calibrated, and mostly meant for domestic optics rather than greater destruction. In many firsts; it was the biggest drone strike in history; the first time Israel itself was attacked by another state since 1991; and the first time Iran retaliated against Israel from its soil.

The Iranian attack comprised more than 350 munitions including 170 drones carrying approximately 20 kg explosives each; more than 30 cruise missiles (low level flying missiles powered all the way, mostly sub-sonic) and more than 120 ballistic missiles (missiles launched through an arched path in stratosphere, flying mostly supersonic); and lasted about five-hour, across 1,770 km from Iranian launch pads. However, some of these munitions were also fired from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, to stretch the Israeli air defence (AD) systems.

To appease a berserk Netanyahu, hell bent on dragging the US/West Plus and Iran directly into the raging conflict, President Joe Biden highlighted Israeli victory, as Iran didn’t hit any valuable target, and 99% incoming munitions were intercepted and destroyed. US CENTCOM claimed intercepting over 80 drones and some six ballistic missiles, launched from Iran and Yemen. US Navy ships, mostly used Aegis missile defense systems from two guided-missiles destroyers, deployed in the eastern Mediterranean. CENTCOM also claimed destroying one ballistic missile along launch-vehicle and seven drones on ground in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled areas. Besides, American jets, the British military aircraft and Jordanian Air Force also participated, whereas France blocked the attack.

A wide array of Israeli AD systems was used. Some 10 ‘Iron Dome’ batteries constituted the bottom layer of Israeli missile defense, firing its own missiles to intercept and destroy the incoming threat objects. ‘David’s Sling’ constitutes the next rung in short and medium-range AD. David’s Sling, jointly developed by Israel and the US, fires Stunner and SkyCeptor hit-to-kill interceptors up to 300 km. Above David’s Sling, Israel fields Arrow systems. Arrow-2 (American Patriot’s upgrade) fires fragmentation warheads up to 90 km at incoming ballistic missiles during terminal phase, as missiles dive toward their targets. Whereas Arrow-3 destroys the incoming missiles in space before re-entry into the atmosphere. US-supplied Israeli fighter aircraft, like F-35I stealth jets contributed to destroy low flying drones and cruise missiles.

Contesting the 99% interception success, some seven ballistic missiles hit the Netavim Airbase in southern Israel’s Negev Desert. The airbase, Iran claims, was used in the Damascus attack, cited above. Other targets included the Ramon Airbase in the south. Iran published videos of the strikes. Israel later acknowledged five Iranian ballistic missiles striking Netavim Airbase; and four ballistic missiles hitting Ramon Airbase. Iran also claimed hitting an intelligence base in Golan Heights.

The strike debunks the effectiveness of Israeli AD against fast-moving ballistic missiles, especially when there was no surprise, and most of the barrage was slow moving. It also exposes IDF’s historic intelligence myth about Iran not having good means to retaliate. Iran claims informing its neighbours and the US well in advance, and that enabled Israeli/European turkey shoots. Iran deliberately employed limited hypersonic missiles (like Kheibar Shikan and Fateh) and all such missiles penetrated and hit their targets. Compared to Iran, the cost of interception etc to Israel and its Western allies is huge.

In ballistic missiles, Iran could have used any combination of its short and medium range categories. In medium range, Emad (range 1700 km), Khorramshahr (range 1,000 and 2000 km) or Sejil and Shahab Series (up to 2400 km) etc; and in short-range category, different variants of Zulfiqar, Shahab, and Fateh Series, etc effectively cover the whole of Israel from Iran proper, or from forward deployment in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The barrage overflew Jordan and Iraq, both hosting US military bases

In cruise missile category, Iran can field Soumar Series, Paveh, Ya-Ali, and Quds Series. Its drone arsenal includes the Shahed Series. Operationally, Iran attempted to saturate the Iron Dome and David’s Sling using the first wave of hundreds of HESA Shahed 136 kamikaze drones. These cleared the way for dozens of ballistic and cruise missiles in the second wave.

The early warning and avoidance of human and material losses points to Iran’s measured response and desire not to escalate. Response was Iranian regime’s political compulsion and de-escalation a necessity. Iran cannot afford war after tit-for-tat exchange with Pakistan, and missile strikes in Syria and Iraq in January. This attack, suggestively, was designed to amplify spectacle. However, it demonstrated Iran’s readiness and willingness to use force, in addition to its proxies. Iranian retaliation also demonstrated the collective failure of US-Israeli deterrence vis-à-vis Iran.

This largest drone/missile barrage has enhanced Iran’s soft power among the wider Muslim world and further exposed the Sunni Arab crescent for its presumably meek response to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza.

From Israeli point of view, badly needing to expand the conflict with Iran for political survival, the Netanyahu-led right wing Israeli coalition has so far failed to lure the US in, despite the assurance of ‘iron-clad’ support from President Biden. The world Jewry — at least its saner heads — also realise that Netanyahu is taking them down with him. And the evolving situation, especially its antisemite overtones, and Israel’s isolation except for the few in West Plus, is not sustainable and to their liking.

The situation in Gaza is badly damaging the moral standing of West Plus, alongside a morally battered Israel. America’s recent abstention in the UNSC’s Gaza vote, and declaration of not becoming involved in conflict with Iran may also be deliberate attempts at weakening Netanyahu’s right wing politically. There are dissenting voices within the US Congress, calling to implement aid-conditionality clauses on military aid to Israel. And there are visible strains in US-Israeli relationship. Israeli Establishment realises, more than ever, their acute and limited self-sufficiency in security matters, and over-reliance on the US support and cover, in particular.

The attack that Iran deems concluded has changed the Middle Eastern security calculus. For now, escalation is not likely, but Netanyahu will strike back. He uses excessive violence as a political steroid.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2024.

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