April 16, 2024 | Insight

What We Can Learn From Iran’s Attack on Israel

April 16, 2024 | Insight

What We Can Learn From Iran’s Attack on Israel

Iran launched an unprecedented direct attack against Israel this weekend consisting of approximately 350 missiles and drones with a combined payload of around 60 tons of explosives, yet only a handful of missiles landed in Israel. The limited success of Iran’s attack was due largely to Israel’s impressive integrated air and missile defense system, the air defense support Israel received from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Jordan, and intelligence reportedly passed on by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, demonstrating the promise of a potential American-Arab-Israeli regional security architecture.

Following weeks of threats, Iran launched an attack of approximately 170 drones, over 30 cruise missiles, and over 120 ballistic missiles at Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Reports suggest that Iran intended for the barrage to arrive all at once to overwhelm Israel’s defenses. The drones, which took several hours to reach Israel from Iran, were fired first. The drones were followed by cruise missiles and then by ballistic missiles, which take only minutes to arrive. The IDF stated that additional attacks came from Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, with U.S. President Joe Biden separately confirming that Iranian proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen participated in the attack.

Iran’s attack followed an April 1 Israeli strike on a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, that killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force leaders. Quds Force commander General Mohammed Reza Zahedi and his deputy, General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, were responsible for IRGC activities in Lebanon and Syria and were killed in the strike.

In the wake of Hamas’s October 7 terror attack on Israel, the United States deployed a significant amount of combat power to the region, including the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, other warships, and a number of aircraft including F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s, among other assets. The U.S. military has been particularly active in the Red Sea dealing with Houthi attacks on Israel and on commercial shipping that have taken place since late 2023. In recent days, the United States moved additional “aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers” into the region. The previous and recent deployments played an important role in helping to defeat the Iranian attack.

U.S. forces, along with those of the United Kingdom, France, and Jordan, intercepted many of the projectiles as they headed towards Israel, particularly drones. U.S. Central Command and European Command forces destroyed over 80 drones and at least six ballistic missiles. Seven of these drones and one ballistic missile were struck in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen before launch. The USS Carney (DDG-64) and USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), located in the Eastern Mediterranean, shot down at least four ballistic missiles. This notably marked the combat debut of the SM-3, an interceptor capable of defeating ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere.

The United Kingdom intercepted an unspecified number of Iranian drones with RAF fighters in Syrian and Iraqi airspace. RAF Typhoons also reportedly covered planned U.S. Air Force missions over Iraq and Syria, allowing the United States greater latitude in helping Israel’s military. Jordan intercepted an unspecified number of drones that entered its airspace in “self-defense,” while France intercepted an unspecified number of Iranian drones reportedly over Jordanian airspace “at Jordan’s request,” according to President Macron. Saudi Arabia and the UAE reportedly shared radar tracks and other intelligence that helped defeat Iran’s attack.

Israel intercepted dozens of drones with fighter jets and other air defense systems, 25 cruise missiles outside Israeli air space, and an unknown number of ballistic missiles. These combined efforts, along with reports indicating that around half of Iran’s missiles failed, led to an impressive success rate by multinational forces in preventing projectiles from landing in Israel. Roughly nine ballistic missiles landed in Israel, with at least four landing at Nevatim Air Base, damaging a C-130 transport aircraft, an unused runway, and empty storage facilities. An additional ballistic missile reportedly targeting a radar site missed and landed in northern Israel.

While details are still emerging, three initial observations are possible.

First, the nature and scale of Iran’s attack demonstrate that Israel and America’s ability to deter Iran from directly attacking Israel has eroded. When asked Friday about his message to Iran regarding a potential attack on Israel, Biden responded with a one-word warning: “Don’t.” Clearly unimpressed with warnings from Washington, Iran proceeded to launch an unprecedented, complex, and direct attack against Israel.

Second, the shadow war between Iran and Israel is now fully in the spotlight, and the future of the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the State of Israel will likely never be the same. Iran will continue to use its proxies to attack Israel. But the Rubicon has been crossed. Iran has now attacked Israel directly from Iranian territory. That means Iran is more likely to do so again in the future, depending on how Israel and the United States respond. Future attacks could be much worse for Israel, and Israelis should avoid overconfidence. For its part, Israel will continue to conduct covert operations against Iran and its proxies. But Israel will likely feel even more license to conduct attacks inside Iran.

Some will welcome more attacks against Iran as a necessary correction to a strategy that focused too much on the terror puppets and not enough on the puppet master in Tehran orchestrating proxy attacks while moving toward a nuclear weapon capability.

Finally, the early details emerging underscore that efforts in recent years to move toward a combined American-Arab-Israeli regional security architecture may have paid dividends this weekend. Intelligence reportedly provided by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates almost certainly helped the United States and Israel prepare and respond more effectively. And despite tensions over Gaza, Jordan reportedly worked with Israel to facilitate the destruction of inbound Iranian drones.

Such cooperation offers a preview of what an increasingly capable combined regional security architecture could accomplish when it comes to deterring, detecting, and defeating Iranian aggression. The growing threat from Iran and the developments this weekend underscore the value in prioritizing work on the construction of a combined American-Arab-Israeli regional security architecture in the coming months, even if Arab governments prefer to work quietly, at least in the short term.

In the meantime, the United States and Israel must strengthen their clearly tattered deterrence against Iran, or things could get much worse in the future.

Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Ryan Brobst is a senior research analyst and Mike Daum is a research analyst. For more analysis from Brad and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power