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Iran's unprecedented retaliatory strikes on Israel create tension world wide

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel over the weekend is an escalation that the Biden administration had hoped to avoid. For the first time, Iran launched a barrage of missiles and drones from its own soil toward Israel late Saturday in what Tehran is calling an act of self-defense. This after an airstrike on its consulate in Syria earlier this month that killed several Iranian commanders. Israel is believed to have carried out that attack, although it has not confirmed nor denied that publicly. Israel and its allies, including the U.S., intercepted almost all of Iran's projectiles before they could make impact. And there were no reported deaths, though a 7-year-old girl was hospitalized after shrapnel from an intercepted Iranian missile landed on her home.

Now the question becomes how Israel might respond. With me now is Danny Citrinowicz. He served in Israeli intelligence for decades and is now a fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies, based in Tel Aviv. Danny, thanks for being on the program.

DANNY CITRINOWICZ: Thank you, and good afternoon from sunny Tel Aviv.

FADEL: So I want to start with that big question that the international community is wondering as they push for de-escalation to avoid a wider regional war six months after Hamas attacked Israel and six months into Israel's military response in Gaza. In your view, how will Israel respond to Iran's attack?

CITRINOWICZ: Well, I think it's the million-dollar question. I think Israel is in a true dilemma. For one hand, Israel need to retaliate by kinetic strike against Iran itself. But the problem is that by doing so, Israel will - actually will open a Pandora box. That will probably lead to an escalation, escalation that is problematic to Israel, mainly because the U.S. is not backing Israel in retaliating towards Iran. I think the best possible outcome for Israel is capitalizing politically and diplomatically on the - on this issue and putting a lot of pressure, political pressure, on Iran in that regard. I think that any kinetic retaliation by Israel will just isolate Israel in its war against Iran itself.

FADEL: Now, when you say a diplomatic and political pressure, what would that look like?

CITRINOWICZ: Well, I think that what Israel is hoping for - and I think it need the U.S. in that regard - is to build an international and regional coalition that, in the end of the day, will help Israel defend itself against any future Iranian strike but also allow - increase the pressure, the economical pressure on Iran, for example, adding more sanctions on the regime itself, passing U.N. resolution against the regime, outlawing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. So I think there's a lot of options that Israel can lead with its regional, international partners that can really put the pressure on the regime in Tehran.

FADEL: Now, Iran has in the past avoided any direct confrontation with Israel, instead fighting a shadow war through its proxies. So many were really shocked that Iran chose to respond from its own soil. Why do you think it made that choice?

CITRINOWICZ: Well, I think that it's a very, very unique event, and it's actually highlighted the fact that Israel, as Iran claimed, assassinated a senior Iranian officer by the name of Hassan Mahdavi in Damascus was a breach of a red line. It's not only the fact that Israel assassinated him, as the Iranians said, but also, it was - occurred in the Iranian consulate in Damascus itself. And for Iran, it's a breach of its own territory in that regard. So I think that for Iran, it was a breach of a red line, and it had to retaliate in terms of it rebalancing the deterrence equation in Israel because I think that Iran was in fear that if it were not going to retaliate, then Israel can conduct more and more activities like that in the future. So I think for Iran, it has to change its view and its activity towards Israel in 180 degrees. And unlike its very cautious activity towards Israel in the past, it decided to retaliate directly against Israel.

FADEL: Now, both Israel and Iran have said they don't want a wider war, but the April 1 attack on an Iranian consulate, as you point out, as well as what Iran just did with these attacks, upped the ante. Can this be de-escalated at this point, or has a line been crossed with these attacks?

CITRINOWICZ: Well, it's very hard to know right now. I think that we are in uncharted territory. We need to think to see how things will develop in the future regarding this shadow war. I think that Iran is hoping that by attacking Israel, it draws some sort of a line in the sand that will prevent Israel from attacking its interest and its personnel in the future in Iran, in Syria and other places in the Middle East. But we'll know exactly how this rule of the game will be shaped after the Iran attack only when Israel will decide to strike again. And I think that's really a question that remains to be seen.

FADEL: Danny Citrinowicz is a fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies, based in Tel Aviv. Thanks for your time.

CITRINOWICZ: Thank you very much, and have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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