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19 April 2024

A defiant Israel strikes Iran

Despite warnings to de-escalate from Western allies, an Israeli missile hit Iran.

By Megan Gibson

Less than a week after Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile strike against Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has retaliated. Early on Friday (19 April), Israel hit Iranian soil with a missile, according to unnamed US officials

There have been early reports of explosions heard in Isfahan, a central city and home to several Iranian military sites and an airbase. It is also, notably, the centre of Iran’s nuclear programme. As former US assistant secretary of state Mark Kimmitt told the BBC early on Friday, “Isfahan really is to a great extent the centre of the Iranian nuclear programme in terms of training, research and, what some would say, the development of the Iranian nuclear capability… So it’s a likely site that Israel would hit because the greatest fear the Israelis have is not continued missiles today but a nuclear capability tomorrow.”

Iranian state media has downplayed the extent of the strike, claiming that no damage has been reported in Isfahan. Tasnim news agency published a video on Friday of an undisturbed site with the caption: “Isfahan’s nuclear site is completely safe.”

The strike comes after a week of diplomatic cajoling on the part of Western officials, as the US, UK and others attempted to convince Netanyahu and his agitated war cabinet not to escalate. During a meeting this week with David Cameron, in which the UK Foreign Secretary urged for a limited response to Iran, a defiant Netanyahu said that Israel would “make its own decisions”. Joe Biden had also warned Netanyahu that the US would not be participating in an offensive in the region and advised that Israel should “take the win” following Iran’s thwarted attack. After the strike on Friday morning, an unnamed US official told CNN, “We didn’t endorse the response.”

Yet amid the warnings from allies about avoiding all-out regional war – including from many who had come to Israel’s defence during Iran’s attack – there was a chorus within Israel agitating for a strong show of retaliatory force. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s hard-right national security minister, notably advocated for Israel to “go berserk” in response. Following the strike in Isfahan, Ben-Gvir took to Twitter, posting a one-word response in Hebrew, which roughly translates to “Feeble!”

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Friday morning’s strike on Iran might not meet the definition of berserk but it’s not yet clear if this will be the extent of Israel’s response. It’s also unclear how Iran will react having threatened a repeat of its drone and missile attack if Israel were to hit back. (So far, Iranian state media is downplaying the strike’s significance.) Then there’s the matter of Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has been firing missiles at Israel continuously since 7 October. 

Little has been resolved and the tension grows. Meanwhile, the war in Gaza continues.

[See also: The Iran attack changes everything]

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