Israel ‘badly miscalculated’ Iranian response to Damascus strike – New York Times

Outlet cites US, Israeli, and other officials as saying Jerusalem greatly underestimated possible retaliation, didn’t inform Washington of attack until last minute

An Iranian military truck carries missiles during a military parade as part of a ceremony marking the country's annual army day in Tehran on April 17, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
An Iranian military truck carries missiles during a military parade as part of a ceremony marking the country's annual army day in Tehran on April 17, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Israeli officials miscalculated the severity of Iran’s response to the April 1 strike on a building in Damascus in which several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders were killed, for which Iran fired a barrage of hundreds of missiles and drones in response, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

“The Israelis had badly miscalculated, thinking that Iran would not react strongly, according to multiple American officials who were involved in high-level discussions after the attack, a view shared by a senior Israeli official,” the outlet said.

Two generals were among those killed in the alleged Israeli strike on what Iran said was a consulate building in the Syrian capital.

The report said that US officials were angered that they had only been informed a few minutes ahead of the Damascus strike and that its significance had not been conveyed, with the communication passed on as a “low-level notification,” US officials said.

Two days after the strike, US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin telephoned Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and “complained directly” that the attack would put regional US forces at risk and had left little time to ramp up defenses, the report said.

The Times also revealed fresh details on the build-up to the strike and the flurry of diplomacy between the US and Iran, via mediators, as they worked to accommodate an Iranian response that would not set off a regional war.

Emergency personnel extinguish a fire at the site of strikes that hit a building next to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, April 1, 2024. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

Two Israeli officials told the Times that plans for the strike began two months before it was carried out.

The outlet said the war cabinet then approved the plan on March 22.

The newspaper said it viewed internal defense records that outlined potential responses by Tehran, and none of them predicted an attack on the scale seen over the weekend when Tehran fired over 300 ballistic missiles and drones at Israel. Almost all were intercepted by Israel’s air defense systems, together with US, British, French, and Jordanian forces. The handful of rockets that got through caused minor damage at an air base, and badly injured a 7-year-old girl.

According to the report, Israeli intelligence initially expected Iran to fire a maximum of 10 surface-to-surface missiles at Israel. Last week, they increased the estimate to 60 to 70 surface-to-surface missiles, the report said, noting that this also turned out to be a dramatic misjudgment.

Later in the evening on the day of the strike, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to pass a message to Washington conveying its anger and that it held the US accountable.

The US, via Oman, Turkey, and Switzerland, clarified to Iran that it was not involved in the attack and did not want war.

Iran also sent messages via diplomatic channels that it did not want a war with Israel or, worse, the United States.

Israeli air defense systems intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, April 14, 2024. (AP/Tomer Neuberg)

A diplomat familiar with the details told the Times that at a key April 7 meeting in Muscat, Oman, between the Iranian foreign minister and his Omani counterpart, Iran sent a message that it had to strike back at Israel but would keep its response contained to avoid a regional war.

At the time, senior US officials, including US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were engaged in intense communication with their counterparts in Israel, China, India, and Iraq as well as with NATO allies and others, officials said.

A US official said Washington realized it could not convince Iran to refrain from attacking, but hoped to limit the size of the assault.

However, though Iran was communicating that its strike would not force Israel to respond, it was developing its plans so that it would score at least some hits, an Israeli official said.

Blinken talked with Israeli leaders to assure them the US would help defend the country, while also urging against a hasty counterattack that lacked adequate consideration.

Meanwhile, US and Israeli intelligence agencies, assisted by Jordan and other countries in the region, strove to get a picture of Iran’s plans. They learned that Tehran intended to hit military and not civilian targets, US and Israeli officials said.

The intelligence gleaned gave Israel an idea of what weapons it would face and which sites would be targeted, Israeli officials said. Families were evacuated from some air bases and aircraft moved to safer locations.

Footage of the damage caused to the Nevatim Airbase in the Iranian missile attack, on April 15, 2024. (Screen capture/ X)

As the Iranian strike unfolded, Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which oversaw the attack, kept an open line with the Omani government as a conduit for messages between the US and Iran, Iranian officials revealed.

Early Sunday morning, as the attack was concluding, Iran again summoned the Swiss ambassador — this time to a Guards base — and asked her to pass on a message that the US should not get involved and that if Israel retaliated, Iran would hit back even harder, but this time without any warning.

US efforts are now focused on convincing Israel’s leaders to see the successful defense as a victory requiring no further military action, the report said.

The US and Western allies, including the European Union, have condemned Iran for the attack and said they will impose sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.

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