What Just Happened?

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9:27 PM: We have a complicated and, if it weren’t so dangerous, fascinating mix of developments. I will try to hit some key points.

Iran appears to have fired or launched at least two hundred drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles against Israel. The overwhelming majority of them appear to have been shot down. The impacts where they happened appear to have caused minor damage, mostly around military bases. One boy in the South was gravely injured by shrapnel falling from the sky. But that seems to be the extent of injuries in the entire country. This was a massive attack from Iranian soil directly on Israel. To the best of my knowledge Iran has never attacked Israel directly from Iranian territory. This blows through a forest of red lines. At the same time the damage appears to be extremely limited.

On its own, an attack like this would be followed by a massive counterattack. But it’s not on its own. One of the most interesting things about what just happened is that the U.S. directly intervened on Israel’s side in a war-fighting situation, albeit in a defensive capacity. The U.S. seems to have been heavily involved in shooting drones and missiles out of the sky. And not only the U.S. According to reports, the UK and Jordan and Saudi Arabia did as well. In the latter two cases it’s not entirely clear to me whether this was in the capacity of coordinating and allowing other countries to use their airspace or directly taking out missiles and drones. The Jordanian military seems to have been directly involved in shooting down Iranian drones or missiles. I think Saudi Arabia was as well, though the reports in that case seem less clear to me as to precisely how they participated. That on its own is a watershed for Israel and the whole region.

The U.S. will of course be applying a huge amount of pressure on Israel to deescalate the situation. But there are other considerations for Israel. Deterrence is critical for Israel. So just on the level of basic IDF doctrine it’s very difficult for Israel not to respond to this. But there are other considerations that don’t get enough attention. The IDF is a military designed for short wars in which it moves rapidly to move the conflict off its territory. The country has no strategic depth (no territory to fall back on) and it has a mass reserve mobilization military. So moving immediately on to the offensive to win decisive battles off its own territory is critical.

But the IDF has already been fighting for seven months. It’s lost a lot of readiness through that. Part of the short war thing is that it relies on mass mobilization which it can’t do for that long. So Israel has its own very big risks letting this evolve into a broader regional conflict. Meanwhile Hezbollah over the Lebanese border has basically kept its powerful offensive capacity in reserve.

Anyway, I don’t know what’s going to happen here. There will be a lot of pressure within Israel to take the conflict directly to Iran. What happened tonight is a bit like Barzini showing his hand in The Godfather. It’s Iran that supports this “axis of resistance” of militias that basically surround Israel. They allow Iran to surround and pressure Israel but keep just back from actual confrontation. That ended pretty resoundingly tonight. But again, Israel’s military is not designed for long, full-scale wars. So that’s got to figure in its calculations of what to do next, quite apart from what I imagine will be massive pressure from the U.S.

Final points. There’s precedent. Iraq fired SCUD missiles into Israel during the Gulf War to try to draw Israel into the conflict. Israel didn’t respond. Very different situation. But some obvious parallels. It’s quite possible that in the future the biggest thing we’ll remember from this is that at least two Arab states and quite possibly more informally essentially fought with Israel against an Iranian attack.

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