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The aftermath: Winners and losers in Iran retaliation against Israel

April 16, 2024 at 8:15 pm

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari (R) poses next to an Iranian ballistic missile which fell in Israel on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base near the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi on April 16, 2024 [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images]

On 13 April, Iran responded to Israel’s 1 April bombardment of its Consulate in Damascus in which seven senior Revolutionary Guard members, including two generals, lost their lives. Iran’s retaliation, launched from its territory, involved dozens of UAVs and cruise missiles. Even though the ordnance was impressive numerically speaking, almost all were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome and allied air defence systems, resulting in no casualties.

Tehran’s advocates in the region highlight that this is the first time Iran has targeted Israel directly without resorting to its regional proxies. Irrespective of the impact of such a decision on Tehran’s modus operandi, this episode uncovered many winners and losers.

2 winners

The biggest winner of this move is Israel, especially Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has irritated many of his usual supporters in Western political circles. Netanyahu used the opportunity presented by Iran’s retaliation to refresh the Western pledge to continue backing Israel militarily and politically.

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Through this message to the United States and key European countries, which have been unwaveringly supporting Israel since the beginning of the war, Netanyahu successfully deflected discussions of his political fate and his genocidal undertaking in Gaza which, last month, drew harsh criticism from US Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer.

Iran emerged as the other winner by salvaging its tarnished reputation in the eyes of its domestic public and sympathisers across the Middle East. Had Iran not retaliated against Israel’s attack or merely brushed it off with a few highly symbolic Hezbollah strikes in northern Israel, its credibility would have been severely questioned, and its classical pretext of “avoiding regional escalation” would not have worked. For Iran, this face-saving measure seemed to solve the problem. Moreover, Iran reiterated that its retaliation was in response to the Consulate attack, referencing Article 51 of the UN Charter in its statement, thereby maintaining its commitment to avoid the war in Gaza, as promised to the US in the weeks following 7 October. So it positioned this move as outside the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict and stressed that retaliation should be perceived as such.

Who lost?

The civilians who face Israel’s genocidal undertaking in Gaza are on the losing side, as this episode shifted the world’s attention and redirected the role of villain to Iran.

Questions and speculations arise about potential Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear sites and how Iran might respond to such attacks or how it will keep its regional weight on the ground alive through its proxies in Syria and Iraq. Such discussions move the spotlight from Gaza to another subject and risk reducing the Western media’s attention to and awareness of civilian casualties and various other war crimes. Tehran was, thus, played by Tel Aviv, providing the latter a much-needed escape valve in the war of narratives that Israel was losing. Furthermore, Israel, buoyed by the reassurance of Western pro-Israel bias, may feel unleashed to commit new war crimes.

Inseparable trio

While Iran’s retaliation may not have been a complete response to Israel’s Consulate attack, it did earn a reputational advantage among sympathisers in the region, especially within the so-called Axis of Resistance. Tehran reinforced its image as an actor capable of directly striking Israel, a feat only accomplished by Saddam Hussein during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

By the same token, Tehran’s emboldened status allows Israel to secure ongoing political and military support from the West, ensuring continued US presence.

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This tripartite liaison reveals much about regional geopolitics, highlighting how the inseparable trio, represented by the US, Iran and Israel, are detrimental to the Palestinian cause.

Despite Iran’s claims that its retaliation was partially a response to the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, in fact it played into Israel’s desired narrative. Furthermore, this situation also provides pretexts for the US to maintain its military footprint in the region despite its withdrawal narrative, which is popular among many American constituencies.

Iran’s response is akin to a plot from a Western film, characterised by intricate manoeuvres. One actor conjures a sense of danger towards another without inflicting actual damage. Subsequently, the actor under perceived threat calls on a third party to assume the role of the sheriff, offering protection and restoring balance.

Meanwhile, Tehran emerged with an enhanced reputation among its target audience in the region even when Iran’s objectives, communicated through its proxies, namely a US withdrawal from the Middle East and an end to Israeli oppression against Palestine, remain unfulfilled.

In the Middle East, nothing is what it seems. What appears to the laymen as staunch enemies could be, in fact, a situation where these protagonists are aligned with their interests even if their declared goals appear conflicting.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.