April 15, 2024

3 Ways Israel Could Respond to Iran

Source: Foreign Policy

Journalist: Jack Detsch

But even as Netanyahu’s war cabinet calls for a rapid response, experts are urging the Israelis not to rush into the decision.

“There’s the people who are playing chess, the people who are playing checkers, and the people who are eating the pieces off the board,” said Jonathan Lord, a former U.S. defense official and congressional aide who is now the director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based think tank. “Israel likely has to respond, but there is no impetus to respond immediately. They don’t need to rush.”


“You could miss,” Lord said. “You could fail. The only thing worse than Iran being where it potentially is with its nuclear program is if Israel took a shot to take it out and it didn’t succeed.”

A direct attack on Iran’s nuclear program would probably mean the end of the ad hoc coalition of Arab states that supported the Israeli missile defense effort against Iran this weekend. It might also further draw Iranian proxies, such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah, into even fiercer direct confrontation with Israel, experts said. And with the United States already signaling that it won’t support a direct attack on Iran, the Israelis have to be careful not to go too far to anger their biggest weapons patron—during an election year for Biden, no less.


Israel could strike targets on Iranian soil that are not directly associated with the country’s nuclear program. For instance, it could target a high-value military leader such as Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) aerospace forces, who masterminded this weekend’s drone and missile attack.

“You will then be going after the guy who orchestrated this massive fireworks show,” Lord said. “He’s always on their minds as a target.”


However, as this weekend’s retaliatory attacks—as well as the Iranian ballistic missile strikes against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in January 2020, launched in response to the U.S. killing of then-IRGC leader Qassem Suleimani—shows that there is notable escalation risk in Israel going after Iranian military leaders, whether inside or outside Iran proper.

But killing a high-value target might also allow Israel to bide its time, Lord said, perhaps for weeks or months. And although Netanyahu might not have the support of the Biden administration for such an attack, it could be enough to send a deterrent signal to Iran without tipping over the apple cart with Washington.


Still, after the Iranians took a historic step by striking Israel directly from their soil—something that Tehran has never done before—Netanyahu may be facing considerable pressure from hard-liners in his war cabinet for a stronger response.

“If you do that right now and it is deemed to be insufficient, that could be perceived as weakness,” said Lord, the CNAS expert.


Israel also has the benefit of being far away—its borders are more than 1,100 miles away from some of the missile launch points used by Iran this weekend. “There isn’t an imminent threat of Iran going back and doing this again on Wednesday,” Lord said.

Read the full story and more from Foreign Policy.


  • Jonathan Lord

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Jonathan Lord is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security program at CNAS. Prior to joining CNAS, Lord served as a professional staff member for the House Arme...