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Israel targets missile strikes on Iran — days after Iran attacked Israel

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Less than a week after Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel, a senior U.S. military official tells NPR that Israel launched missile strikes at Iran overnight. This morning, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to confirm reports that the U.S. was warned in advance, saying only that the U.S. was not involved in any offensive operations. These strikes appear to be the latest in a tit for tat between Israel and Iran that the world is watching with extreme concern. Could this lead to all-out regional war? To dig in on what this could mean for the region and for the U.S., we're joined by Trita Parsi. He's the executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute and an expert on the Iran, U.S. and Israel relationship. Good morning.

TRITA PARSI: Good morning.

FADEL: Trita, I think a lot of people are asking this morning, where does this tit for tat go from here? Are we about to see an all-out regional war, or was this apparent military strike from Israel on Iran, which seems to have done little damage, the end of the tit for tat?

PARSI: Well, we certainly can hope that it is the end, but we have to also be honest that this has been the closest we have ever been to a regional war involving Iran, U.S. and Israel. As we know so far, the damage seems to have been limited, but that appears to also have been as a result of the Iranians deliberately downplaying the attack, in fact dismissing it, claiming that it was not a missile attack but drone attack, and by that, apparently trying to create a way out for themselves and for the region as a whole to escape this escalatory cycle. That is, in many ways, good news, but it doesn't mean necessarily that there hasn't been a lot of damage.

FADEL: Do you expect, then, that the Iranians won't respond to this?

PARSI: If they stick with this story, then I do believe that they will have found a way to avoid doing what they had promised to do, which was to respond forcefully and quickly if the Israelis did any type of attack. Now they have essentially gone to the point of claiming that what has happened doesn't even qualify as an attack.

FADEL: Now, the U.S. officials, and a lot of the world, have urged restraint from Israel in the face of Iran's attack on Sunday, and it said - the U.S. said it wouldn't participate in a military response. And yet here we see Israel has apparently responded militarily. Is this what the U.S. wanted from its ally?

PARSI: The United States did not want to see any attack at all, and as we have seen in the last seven months, Prime Minister Netanyahu tends to defy and contradict whatever it is that Biden seeks of him, and Biden has failed to put any consequences on Israel when Biden does this. But at the same time, the Israeli attack appears to have been much smaller and much more restrained than what the Israelis themselves probably wanted to. In fact, the Israeli - one of the Israeli ministers, the national security minister, has gone on Twitter and called the attack weak...

FADEL: Ben Gvir, yeah.

PARSI: ...Which reflects a clear division inside the Israeli government about this as well.

FADEL: Right, calls from the far right to do more. So might this be the best-case scenario, then?

PARSI: Not the best-case scenario, because the best-case scenario would have been that we didn't have this war go on for this long and there would have been a cease-fire much earlier on. But given the circumstances of where we are, this could have turned out much worse. But it's not over yet, so we shouldn't draw too big of a conclusion quite yet.

FADEL: You mentioned that at every turn, the Netanyahu government has defied very publicly the Biden administration. What does this say about the U.S.' influence over Israel?

PARSI: Well, it says that the U.S. does have influence, but whether Biden is willing to use the leverage that he has in order to fully exercise American influence is a different story. As your report mentioned, most of the missiles that the Iranians shot at Israel were shot down by the United States. So Israel would not have fared at all as well in this attack recently had it not been for the support of the United States. So the U.S. has a tremendous amount of influence. The question is, is enough of it being used to put a stop to this escalation?

FADEL: That's Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute and author of "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings Of Israel, Iran And The U.S." Thank you so much for your time.

PARSI: Thank you. 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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