In Friday speech, Raisi makes no mention of latest blasts

Iran says no retaliation planned, as both sides seek distance from Isfahan attack

Ben Gvir tweets alleged reprisal was ‘lame,’ drawing complaints of endangering security by revealing origin of strike, even as Iran indicates it will look the other way

A handout image grab made available by Iranian state TV showing what the TV station said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024, following reports of a drone strike overnight. (Iranian state TV (IRIB) / AFP)
A handout image grab made available by Iranian state TV showing what the TV station said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024, following reports of a drone strike overnight. (Iranian state TV (IRIB) / AFP)

Iran has no plan for immediate retaliation against Israel, a senior Iranian official said Friday, as officials in Jerusalem indicated that an alleged drone attack on a city south of Tehran was meant to send a signal rather than cause damage.

The Iranian official also cast doubt on whether Israel was behind the attack in Isfahan, despite comments from some Israeli politicians practically accepting responsibility.

Together with a subdued response from official Iranian media organs, the senior official’s comments indicated that Tehran may be uninterested in risking war to make good on threats that it would attack Israel should it retaliate for a weekend missile and drone attack, and was seeking a way to avoid being held to the bellicose promises.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed,” the Iranian official said on condition of anonymity.

“We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more toward infiltration than attack.”

They added that Iran has no plan to strike back immediately over the attack.

Iranian worshippers attend an anti-Israeli gathering after Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In a speech, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi hailed Tehran’s unprecedented retaliatory attack on Israel almost a week ago, but made no mention of the latest blasts.

That operation “showed our authority, our people’s will of steel and our unity,” Raisi told hundreds of people in Semnan province, east of Tehran.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during an Army Day parade at a military base in northern Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Raisi warned that the “tiniest invasion” by Israel would bring a “massive and harsh” response. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In most official comments and news reports, there was no mention of Israel and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.” He said there had been no damage from the attack.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

In Israel, authorities were officially mum, but a number of politicians and former officials spoke out about the strike.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a hardliner who had pushed for a forceful response to Iran’s early Sunday attack, tweeted the single word “lame!”

File – National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 15, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A Channel 12 report claimed officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle slammed Ben Gvir for damaging Israel’s national security, saying the far-right minister “was and remains childish and irrelevant to any discussion.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also slammed Ben Gvir.

“Never has a cabinet minister so badly hurt the country’s security, image and international standing,” wrote Lapid on X. “In an unforgivable, one-word tweet Ben Gvir managed to make Israel into a laughing stock, disgracing it from Tehran to Washington.”

According to the Washington Post, citing an Israeli official, the strike had been intended to signal to Iran that Israel has the ability to reach Iran with its weapons.

File – Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks to reporters after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department on April 8, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

“It’s important Iran understand that when it acts against us, we have the ability to strike any point and we can do enormous damage – we have a capable air force and the US on our side,” former national security adviser Eyal Hulata told Army Radio.

The Israeli response was thought to have been tempered by international pressure to make sure that the reply did not further escalate tensions.

“Nobody wants war with Iran right now,” Netanyahu confidant Natan Eshel was quoted saying by journalist Ben Caspit. “We proved to them that we can infiltrate and strike within their borders and they weren’t able to inside ours. The messages are more important than the grandstanding. We currently have more important tasks both in Gaza and Lebanon.”

Like fellow firebrand Ben Gvir, Likud MK Tally Gotliv also appeared to spill the beans over the attack.

In a post on X, she said early Friday was “a morning to proudly hold our head up high. Israel is a strong and powerful country.” She added a prayer for the return of Israel’s “power of deterrence.”

Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Some politicians expressed annoyance at the comments, despite several unnamed Israeli and US officials telling foreign press outlets that Israel was behind the attack.

Israel has for years operated under a strategy of plausible deniability regarding its attacks on Iranian interests in Syria, declining to take responsibility or speak publicly about specific sorties and giving Iran and its proxies an out to avoid retaliation.

The strategy has limits though. Israel has not taken responsibility for a strike on Iran’s embassy in Damascus on April 1 that killed several members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, including a top officer. Nonetheless, Iran responded Sunday night by lobbing over 300 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel.

Nearly the whole barrage was shot down by Israel, with help from the US, UK, France and Jordan. A small Israeli girl who was the only victim in the attack was badly injured by falling shrapnel; the targeted Nevatim air base also suffered light damage, according to Israeli officials.

Emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of strikes on a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

“It’s good for us that the Iranians are telling this narrative, that it was drones, birds, just a field outside of Isfahan,” Zvika Haimovitch, a former commander of the IDF air defense array, told Channel 12. He said both countries were allowing each other “room for cover and denial,” which would enable the situation to de-escalate.

“It’s too early to say that it’s over,” former national security adviser Ephraim Halevy told Army Radio. “But there’s a difference between the Iranian attack and the Israeli response which is intended to send a message and not result in widespread and significant [damage].”

However, CNN quoted a regional intelligence source as saying that direct state-to-state strikes between Israel and Iran were “over,” and assessed that Iran would not respond.

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