Going Too Farsi? (Or, the Persian Incursion)

Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90

We — with the help of the US, UK, Jordan and other capable allies — buffly rebuffed the biggest missile and drone attack on Israel ever. But what does it tell us about the past and augur for the future?

This is a segment from The “Unsmote, but Smitten Nonetheless” Edition.


So Linda, the video I saw of missiles intercepting drones and missiles in the sky seen from the Temple Mount was a site that was hard at first to even make sense of.

What should we think about this past weekend’s attacks? – Yeah, you’re right.

You know, on the night between Saturday and Sunday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, working with the country’s popular mobilization forces and in coordination with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis of Yemen, launched the first attack on Israel by a sovereign state in 33 years since Saddam Hussein shot Scud missiles into Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

Although it only lasted a few hours, it was powerful, starting with a wave of 185 Shahid-136 suicide drones, which are remote operated, three and a half meter long and two meter wide aircraft that carry up to 50 kilograms of explosives.

According to the Revolutionary Guards Tasnim News Agency, the purpose of the drone was to occupy fully Israel’s Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense systems to allow for 30 cruise missiles and 120 odd ballistic missiles to be launched from land and sea in a second wave, each carrying a quarter ton or so of explosives.

The missiles were aimed at two Air Force bases in the South of Israel, Arad and Dimona, an army camp up north in the Golan Heights and also near Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The name the Iranians gave to the attack is Operation True Promise, presumably after the 2015 Canadian rom-com by the same name, True Promise, in which, according to IMDb, Diane wanted to tell Heather a secret that she and Jeff have discussed.

All goes according to plan, or so she thinks.

After going to the Royal Alberta Museum, a surprise ensues.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei loves a good rom-com as much as the next person, or at least I assume he does.

It’s so true. (laughs) The attack was retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on a building in the compound of the Iranian consulate in Damascus two weeks ago, killing a senior Quds Force commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi is his name, and more than a dozen other Iranian army types.

It was Zahedi, more than anyone else, who was responsible for the construction of the Hezbollah tunnel system north of Israel’s border and for strengthening and emboldening Hezbollah more generally.

The attack was seen by some at the time as a provocation.

By attacking Iran’s diplomatic compound in the Syrian capital, Israel came closer than ever before to attacking Iran on its own soil.

In the spiraling tit-for-tat of Israeli-Iranian relations, Iran chose in its response to attack Israel on its actual own soil for the first time ever.

Of course, Iran has been puppet mastering attacks on Israel for decades, attacks by proxies they support in Syria, Lebanon, and of course, in Gaza.

So it would be impossible to say within reason that Israel started this round of conflict.

It is a conflict that goes deep.

Iran’s attack on Saturday night, though, did not go so deep.

Several missiles did land at the Nivah team airbase, damaging one helicopter and several buildings, and a seven-year-old girl named Amina al-Hassani was severely wounded when missile debris fell through the roof of her house in the Negev village of al-Fura’a and struck her.

Aside from that, all of the more than 350 drones and missiles were destroyed in the air, many of them outside Israel’s airspace.

What was maybe most surprising was that the missile attack was repelled by a multinational force.

Most of the work naturally was done by Israel, first by its Iron Dome and David Sling missile defense system and then by the dozens of IAF fighter jets at Scramble that intercepted missile after missile.

Alongside these, American and British planes also shot down incoming missiles.

The French Navy provided CETA air support, taking down drones.

Jordanian fighter jets also shot down drones over its airspace before they made it to Israel.

Rumors have it that Saudi Arabia quietly lent support to this small group of allies for Israel’s defense.

Haaretz reporter Amir Tibon tweeted all of this.

“Science, technology, and alliances with the world, these are the things that sustain Israel.”

When the work was done and the millions who had spent Saturday night in shelters met the light of day, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted, “We shot down, we intercepted, we blocked, together we will win.”

The next day, Iran’s UN envoy, Amir Saeed Eravani, said his country did not intend to further attack Israel unless Israel retaliated for its retaliation strike.

Still in a meeting that day, Israel’s cabinet voted in support of striking back at Iran without stipulating when, where, or how.

Benny Gantz said that Israel should make Iran pay for what it did, but quote, “In a way and at a time that suits us.”

US President Biden spoke for 25 minutes on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu, trying to persuade him that Israel does not need to launch missiles at Iran to get back for a so weak and unsuccessful an attack by Iran.

On Twitter, New York Times and Yiddiot investigative journalist, Ronay Bergman, even hinted that Biden had orchestrated the attack in such a way as to save face for the Iranians and the Israelis and deescalate a conflict that might otherwise have become a full-scale war.

So Noah, there is a way in which all of this feels very surreal and yet we know it is in fact very, very real.

So what do you make of the unsurprisingly undeadly attack on Saturday night?

What, if anything, do we learn from it?

How, if at all, does it change our troubled lives at this troubling time? – Well, I don’t know exactly how it will change our lives, but it did change all of a sudden the way that I understood what was going on, which might just be because I lack understanding in some ways.

But Mati Friedman had an article that was really interesting to me in the Free Press where he said that now suddenly we see what this war in Gaza is about, and that what the war in Gaza is about, and also actually the war up north with Hezbollah is about, is really about this broader matter of Iran operating through proxies against Israel.

Iran was, of course, absolutely essential to Hamas’s decision to attack in the way that it attacked on October 7th, and Iran is behind attacks from the north, from Hezbollah in some way, in that they arm Hezbollah and have a great deal of influence over their decisions.

And so what Mati Friedman was saying, which makes sense to me, is that if you really wanna understand more fully why Israel is responding the way that it’s responding, then you have to understand that the threat is not just the threat of Hamas, of a terrorist organization in the south in one particular place, which would be bad enough on its own, but the threat is actually much broader than that, and that when people in Israel talk about there being an existential threat to the country, meaning that there is a threat that might ultimately lead to the destruction of the country, they’re not talking about just Palestinians in Hamas, the 30,000 soldiers in Hamas who could pour over the borders, because I think that we all know that that’s very unlikely in any scenario to itself lead to the destruction of Israel, but they’re talking about this broad, orchestrated attempt on the part of Iran, which, with all of its proxies, could possibly lead to the end of Israel.

And so this attack from Iran, this massive attack with some of those really huge, scary missiles, was a sign of that, and it was clarifying in a way.

And the other thing, I mostly want to hear what you have to say, Linda, but the other thing I’ll say is that by Sunday morning, the most impressive thing about all this was not the technology that allowed us to remain safe in the face of this really massive attack, like you described, but what was most impressive was this coalition of other nations that helped to rebuff this attack.

And that, I think, is ultimately the most important message of this, that security is not ever going to come just from having iron dome-ish sorts of defense systems in place and staying strong and operating the army and calling everyone up to the reserves and being willing to fight and die on the borders and over the borders of this country.

Security is going to come by maintaining this diplomatic thing that we saw brilliantly on Saturday night, on the night between Saturday and Sunday.

And so then that has to be taken into account when we decide how to respond to this specifically and more generally.

And there’s something that it made it seem as though what sometimes seems like Israel’s and particularly Netanyahu’s heedlessness in ignoring world opinion is putting at risk actually the thing that is maybe the most important or certainly one of the most important aspects of us maintaining security.

And so maintaining the ability to rely on the United States and on England and on France and also on Jordan and possibly Saudi Arabia is hugely important.

What do you think?

Well, I think first of all, it was like this, almost like a relief for people after the six months, now six and a half months almost in Gaza, and there’s no sign of any kind of end.

And we’ll talk about this in the next discussion, but it’s just the mood is very heavy and sad and people are just finding it very difficult.

And then you’ve got this almost like a movie, right?

All these missiles come in, they’re all shot down.

Everybody is fine.

It’s this big military success.

And there’s a poll yesterday that was reported that shows that three quarters of the Israeli public oppose a retaliatory strike on Iran if it would harm Israel security alliances.

And they said, does Israel have the right to attack Iran directly?

Hell yeah, but whether they should is something else.

Now had one of these missiles hit Tel Aviv and killed a bunch of people, obviously this would be a different discussion.

But I think that that’s one thing is that people felt good about having the win.

And secondly, maybe it shows something about eventually how we could get out of this mess in Gaza.

In other words, the United States is presenting a plan that would lead to a regional solution in which there would be some sort of international rebuilding of Gaza with a revitalized Palestinian authority, whatever that means.

Saudi Arabia would make ties with Israel, would create ties with Israel, which is a huge deal.

Saudi Arabia would get a defense pact with the United States and there would be some type of Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Now this feels all very much far away and it’s certainly not gonna happen under this government.

But maybe what happened between Saturday night and Sunday kind of shows what could happen if things were a little bit different here.

And if instead of, as Mati wrote, looking at it as not an Israeli-Palestinian question, looking at it as more of a regional question.

Now, Israel’s misconception was that you could manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s simply proven to be not true.

But the solution I think does have to be regional and not bilateral.

And so maybe that’s what we sort of saw we’re moving towards and just like the solution for the Iranian attack was regional, the solution for Gaza eventually is also going to have to be regional.

So one of the impacts of this attack on Saturday night seems to have been that it all of a sudden expanded a little bit our political imaginations in a way that really does seem to open up new opportunities or feels like that at this particular moment.

Right, and it comes when we’re kind of stuck.

I mean, Gaza just doesn’t seem to be ending and Israel’s goals in Gaza don’t seem to be being fulfilled.

And so maybe it’s a time to say, okay, it’s now six months.

Hamas has certainly suffered some very serious losses in Gaza, they haven’t been wiped out.

Whether the goal of wiping out Hamas was a proper goal to begin with.

But where do you take this situation?

And I think that Israel since its creation has always been in the Middle East, but it’s never really been of the Middle East.

It’s never really been part of the Middle East.

And there’s always been this yearning, we’re gonna eat hummus in Damascus.

Well, Israel has really good hummus, why do you have to go to Damascus?

But there’s this yearning to really be part of the Middle East.

And maybe this is sort of the first sign of what it could be like if Israel is part of the Middle East.

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