( Analysis ) Unpacking Iran’s warning shot

Munazza Siddiqui
Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Amid fears of another war in the Middle East, let’s not forget who fired the provocative shot. Iran’s Operation True Promise, a barrage of over 300 missile and drone attacks inside Israeli territory was in response to the April 1 airstrike on the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus, Syria, which killed 13 people, including two Iranian generals.

Iran’s direct retaliation, though unprecedented, was not a surprise. Tehran had repeatedly warned Israel of an appropriate response to the consulate attack. In an attempt to avoid an escalation, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the US had been informed of the planned attack 72 hours in advance, and also that strikes would be “limited and for self-defence”.

Mushahid Hussain Syed, chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, is of the view that Iran’s retaliatory attack has surprised both Israel and its Western allies. “This is quite historic. Iran is the first Muslim country in the last 50 years to attack Israeli territory for its aggression. The US and European allies are apprehensive of an escalation of conflict. There are already wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and public opinion is against any other military conflict. The US knows that Israel has politically lost the Gaza War. So Israel will be under pressure to avoid direct intervention.”

Given this is a highly polarized election year in the US, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu that the US will not participate in a counterstrike against Iran. According to US media reports, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin too asked his Israeli counterpart to “notify the US ahead of any potential response to the Iranian attack”. Western allies have also urged Netanyahu to de-escalate the situation.

Talking to Geo News, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the UN, US and UK, Maleeha Lodhi said that “An escalation of conflict in the Middle East is in no country’s interest, neither the US, nor Iran. But risk persists. Israel might want to take action to force Iran to retaliate again. Efforts are underway at the diplomatic level to contain Israel, seeing as it was a carefully calibrated response by Iran targeting only the military installations in Israel. Pakistan has always had a principled stance in this matter and a collective response by Muslim states against Israeli aggression will carry more weight.”

But the Netanyahu government is facing immense national and international pressure over its Gaza offensive, and Israel’s war cabinet doesn’t want to appear weak. It has pledged to “exact a price” from Iran, warning that the matter is far from over.

Afzal Raza, a senior Iranian journalist, believes Israel is trying to divert international attention from decades of its brutal Gaza occupation and now the Gaza war to a broader Middle East instability, and so the West should enforce the United Nations Security Council’s recent resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Iran has clearly stated that it has achieved all its goals, the retaliatory attack is the end of the road at this specific point and the matter can now “be deemed concluded” -- but that if Israel or its supporters “demonstrate reckless behavior” and choose to carry out a larger attack, they will be met with a much stronger response.

Another senior Iranian analyst Waqar Rizvi believes that Iran clearly has a much larger capability to attack Israel if it so wants in a much more direct manner using high-capability missiles but Tehran instead chose to just fire a warning shot by sending drones that allowed for several hours of warning before they even reached Israel’s territory. According to Rizvi, “using weaker weapons has been a smart tactic by Iran as it now knows more about Israel’s military capability.”

Article 51 of the UN Charter recognizes the inherent right of self-defence in the case of an armed attack by one country against the other, That is why leading political analyst from Iran Dr Fawad Ezadi told Geo News that Iranian leaders realized if they don’t retaliate, Israeli attacks will continue, “Netanyahu wants to expand the war because he knows that if the war ends his premiership will also end. He’s been wanting a war between Iran and the US since the 1990s.”

The Biden administration will, however, use the Iranian retaliation to move on with the $14.1 billion security package for Israel. In fact, House Speaker Mike Johnson said that lawmakers will try to pass additional aid for Israel this week. Per Israeli media reports, the interception of Iranian missiles and drones cost Israel around $1.35 billion.

As for the impact of this situation on Pakistan, Islamabad is looking to complete the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and expand trade with Iran. And this new round of tension and uncertainty in the Middle East can adversely impact those goals. However, interestingly, South Asia Institute Director at The Wilson Center, Michael Kugelman tweeted: “Strongly worded statement from India expressing ‘serious concern’ [regarding] Iran’s attacks on Israel and calling for ‘immediate de-escalation’. India, a close friend of Israel, has critical trade & energy interests, and a large diaspora presence, in Middle East.”