Take The Win

Eight hours later, details around what, exactly, transpired in Iran early Friday remained scant, which in this case is probably a good thing: Israel’s response to last weekend’s aerial barrage appeared limited in scope and thereby unlikely to trigger another direct salvo from the IRGC.

Air defenses were activated when drones approached (or were spotted in the general vicinity of) two sites near Isfahan: A nuclear facility and an air base. Iran also downed UAVs in the country’s northwestern Tabriz region, reports suggested. On Thursday, a high-ranking IRGC commander cautioned Israel against striking Iran’s nuclear sites, which weren’t damaged on Friday, according to the IAEA, whose director general implored both sides to exercise “extreme restraint.”

Israel was coy, consistent with standard operating procedure. One Likud lawmaker alluded not-so-subtly to Israeli culpability, but the IDF was silent. In Iran, state media and local news networks were keen to downplay the incident — whatever it was. Footage depicted life as usual in Isfahan, where an IRGC official said only that the military downed “flying objects,” which he didn’t identify.

Similarly, Iranian officials who spoke to international media outlets blamed unnamed “infiltrators” for the incident and indicated no plans for reprisals against Israel. Or against anyone else. There was some indication the drones might’ve been launched from inside Iran. One official said the country wasn’t attacked “externally,” and anyway suggested the regime wasn’t prepared to place blame with any “foreign source.”

Syria placed blame, though. SANA said Friday that an Israeli strike on the country’s air defenses caused meaningful “losses.” Israel had nothing to offer on that.

Paradoxically, Israel’s ostensible escalation in Iran opened the door to deescalation. Friday’s strikes were anything but flashy. To the extent military assets in Isfahan suffered damage, it was limited, immaterial and didn’t demand a response.

Israel should, as Joe Biden suggested this week, “take the win” at this juncture. To briefly recap, the IDF incinerated the Quds’ top commander in Syria and Lebanon along with his deputy and as many as four other IRGC officials while they were inside a diplomatic facility in Damascus on April 1.

That, after a string of high-profile assassinations in Syria dating to late December, including strikes on arms trafficker Seyed Razi Mousavi and Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s de facto envoy to Hezbollah, both linchpins in Iran’s regional “resistance” network.

Iran finally hit back, but telegraphed its response such that Israel and the US were able to intercept it. As of Friday, Israel has now responded to that response, and in such a way that Iran’s likely to eschew additional direct military actions.

Bottom line: There’s no sense (none) in which Iran came out “ahead” in all of this. The losses suffered by the Quds and the IRGC in Syria since December are devastating, not so much in number (although the bodies are piling up), but certainly in terms of operational capacity sidelined — forever. Sidelined forever.

As I habitually remind readers, these men — the Mousavis, the Al-Arouris, the Sadegh Omidzades and even the IRI commanders picked off by US drones in Iraq this year — are irreplaceable. Some were immediate subordinates (i.e., direct reports) of the late Qassem Soleimani in the Iranian military-intelligence hierarchy. Others were personal associates of his, and in more than a few cases, his friends. In all cases (i.e., whether we’re talking about uniformed IRGC generals, Hezbollah commanders, Hamas go-betweens or “plainclothes” Quds affiliates), these were key figures in the regional, cross-border military network that Soleimani made his legacy. The IDF spent the last five months handing them one-way plane tickets to meet the general — free coins for the river Styx.

The notion that those losses stand “avenged” as of April 13’s drone and missile barrage launched at Israel is positively absurd. Simply put: The “score” is so lopsided at this point that Israel could quite plausibly walk away from the game tomorrow and call it a gratuitous blowout.

Between the Quds, the IRGC and Hezbollah, there are a dozen dead generals, commanders and facilitators. Obviously, no senior IDF officials nor Mossad operatives (that we know about) have been killed. Hamas is down to eight guys sharing four pairs of boots, two 9mms and one tunnel in Rafah. I jest, but you get the point: You can’t destroy the idea that is Hamas. But that’s about all that’s left at this juncture. The idea of it. The tangible reality of Hamas is holed up in Qatari luxury hotels or buried under the rubble of what used to be Gaza. And the civilian “score” in that fight is roughly 34,000 to 1,200 by now. Israel’s lead would be insurmountable even if the other side was still scoring. And it isn’t.

Antony Blinken on Friday said the US wasn’t involved in any “offensive operations.” Israel apparently notified the Pentagon of its intentions to conduct limited strikes in Iran shortly before explosions were heard over Isfahan. The US didn’t endorse Israel’s decision to strike, one American media outlet said.

The drone attacks came on Khamenei’s 85th birthday. Among the most popular videos shared online in Iran Friday showed a young girl tossing a paper plane at an apartment building. She giggles as it floats away harmlessly into the quiet, predawn still.


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