TEHRAN: Iran’s missile and drone barrage against Israel was the first act of a tough new strategy, Tehran said on Monday, warning Israel that any future attack would spark “a direct and punishing response”.

This spells a dramatic shift from past years in which Iran and Israel have fought a shadow war of proxy fights and covert operations across the Middle East and sometimes further afield.

Israel’s military claimed it had intercepted 99 per cent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the attack caused only minor damage.

Iran said it had dealt “heavy blows” to Israel and hailed the operation as “successful”.

“Iran’s victorious... operation means that the era of strategic patience is over,” the Iranian president’s political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi, wrote on X.

“Now the equation has changed. Targeting Iranian personnel and assets by the regime will be met with a direct and punishing response.”

President Ebrahim Raisi said the operation had “opened a new page” and “taught the Zionist enemy a lesson”.

Western governments denounced Iran’s retaliation as “destabilising the region”.

Iran, however, insisted the attack was “limited” and urged Western nations to “appreciate (its) restraint” towards Israel, especially since the outbreak of the Gaza crisis on Oct 7.

‘A new equation’

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has frequently called for Israel’s destruction and made support for the Palestinian cause a centrepiece of its foreign policy.

But it had refrained from directly striking Israel until Saturday, an attack on a scale which appeared to catch many in the international community by surprise.

For decades, Iran relied on a network of allied groups to exert its influence in the region and to deter Israel and the United States, according to experts.

A 2020 report by the Washington Institute said that Tehran had adopted a policy of “strategic patience”, which had “served it well since the inception of the Islamic republic in 1979”.

Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani was a staunch defender of the strategy, especially following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal, advocating for Tehran not to take immediate countermeasures and taking a longer view.

Even after the 2020 US killing of Qasem Soleimani, an IRGC commander revered in Iran, Tehran gave prior warning to Washington, US sources said, before it launched missiles against two American bases in Iraq, and no soldiers were killed in the attack.

After Saturday’s attack on Israel, Guards chief Hossein Salami also said Iran was “creating a new equation”.

“Should the Zionist regime attack our interests, our assets, our personnel and citizens at any point, we will counterattack it from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

The attack was also hailed as a “historic” success by Iranian media, with a government-run newspaper saying the offensive “has created a new power equation in the region”.

The ultra-conservative daily Javan said the attack was “an experience Iran needed, to know how to act in future battles” and that it would make Israel “think long before (committing) any crime” against Tehran.

The reformist Ham Mihan newspaper said the attack “ended the status quo and broke the rules of the conflict that pitted the two sides against each other for 20 years and pushed the situation into another phase”.

“This is no longer a shadow war,” it said.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2024

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