Muted Iranian response to Israeli drone incursion signals no desire to escalate

Muted Iranian response to Israeli drone incursion signals no desire to escalate
Israel is yet to comment on the drone attacks over Iran's Isfahan province while Iranian officials have emphasised the lack of damage from the incursion
4 min read
19 April, 2024
Tensions with Israel and Iran have ramped up in recent months and prompted fears of a greater war [Getty]

Israel has kept quiet about the drone attack on Iran on Friday morning while Tehran has sought to downplay its significance, in an apparent de-escalatory move following weeks of heightened tensions.

While Western media has questioned whether the exchange could trigger a regional war, the muted response from the two regional foes suggests a desire to defuse.

Early on Friday, Iranian state media reported that loud explosions were heard above the northern Isfahan province as its air defence system intercepted three drones sighted in the sky, not far from a major military and nuclear base.

In conjunction, reports appeared in the US media citing Israeli officials confirming its military had launched an attack on Iran.

But despite fears that Israel would conduct an aggressive response following the hundreds of drones and missiles launched by Iran last weekend, it seems that a small scale attack marked nothing more than a warning signal.

No damage or casualties were reported and state TV broadcast footage of a seemingly calm central Isfahan on Friday morning, hours after the assault.

Iranian officials have described the incident as an "infiltration" and suggested the attack could have come from within the country. Nor have they placed blame on Israel or indicated plans to respond.

A senior commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Forces quoted by Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency said: "The objects seen last night were suspicious and our country's defence was smart."

Syria also came under attack at the same time. Syrian state media reported that a Syrian army base in the south of the country was subject to a missile attack at the same time as Iran reported the air incursion, which has been blamed on Israel.

It also emerged that the US was handed "last minute" information by Israel about the drone action in Iran. The Italian foreign minister said that the US had told G7 leaders, who are currently meeting on the Italian island of Capri, about the plan.

Israel's government has not stated anything publicly, but anonymous Israeli officials cited in the US media have confirmed that its military launched an attack on Iran.

There were a few exceptions from within the government, notably from far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who posted on X a single word: "Feeble!", apparently mocking the size of the assault.

This prompted various reposts from Iranian media, as well as Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid who said it was an "unforgivable tweet".

Tehran-based journalist and researcher Abas Aslani told CNN that what was played out on Friday morning suggests that Israel is "trying to save face" by mainly exerting a psychological operation.

Aslani said Friday's incident was incomparable to the hundreds of drones and missiles launched by Iran last weekend in which Israel's iron dome defence system - alongside US, UK and Jordanian air forces - intercepted the barrage of air attacks.

What the world saw on Friday, was a way for Israel to launch a direct attack but without responding with the same level of force.

Diplomats urge restraint

The small-scale assault comes after repeated warnings that the Middle East is on the brink of danger, and a "perilous escalation" from global powers for both parties to refrain from sparking a greater war in the region.

"One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable – a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said this week.

Iran told the UN Security Council on Thursday that Israel "must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests" and had warned that it did not seek further escalation.

The US has remained tight-lipped about the attack but affirmed they were not involved. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, speaking to reporters from the G7 summit, said they are working to "de-escalate tensions".