Analysis & Opinions - Brookings Institution

The impact of Iran’s attack on Israel

| Apr. 15, 2024

This weekend, Iran directly attacked Israel for the first time in history, in retaliation for Israel’s strike on Iranian generals in Damascus on April 1. Despite its unprecedented nature, Iran’s attack was seemingly intended more as a show of force, similar to its reaction after the assassination of General Qassim Soleimani. Its slow-moving drones and missiles gave Israel and its allies hours to prepare and caused minimal damage. Nonetheless, Iran’s attack has produced symbolic gains, improving its image among certain Arab publics and putting Jordan in the uncomfortable position of helping to defend Israel.

Keen to not be dragged into a regional war, President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to retaliate and warned that the United States will not take part in any offensive operations against Iran. But Israel has snubbed U.S. presidents before: in recent years, undermining the Iran nuclear deal, seizing land in the West Bank, and restricting humanitarian aid into Gaza. Indeed, Israel’s incentives today may very well be to escalate: a tit-for-tat with Iran could distract international attention away from its potential war crimes in Gaza, reframe the narrative of Israel again as a victim, and rekindle its international support. While Israel cannot afford to devote its full attention to Iran while it remains mired in Gaza, it has incentives to gradually escalate the conflict with Tehran.

In the short term, Israel may be able to drag Biden into begrudgingly supporting an escalation. But in the long-term, doing so could also accelerate the generational shift viewing Israel as a strategic liability for the United States.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:The impact of Iran’s attack on Israel.” Brookings Institution, April 15, 2024.