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“Baptism of fire” for Israel’s air defense


Malte Ian Lauterbach reports on the recent Iranian missile attacks on Israel, how it came about and what will happen next. When the Israeli Air Force attacked the Iranian embassy in Damascus earlier this month, it was already clear that this attack would not go without an Israeli response. Seven senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (including two generals) and six Syrians were killed. BSN reported here

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At around 21 p.m. German local time, the next chapter unfolded amid escalating violence in the Middle East when Jordanian, Iraqi, Iranian, Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli airspace were closed in one fell swoop. The attack on Israel announced by Iran last week had begun, and the process had long been explained in detail on Iranian state television.

Minutes later, more than 170 Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 'mopeds', known for the distinctive sound of their engines, took off from Iranian and Iraqi airspace. The Shaheds' long range allows them to hit any city in Israel. However, this swarm of drones has a different task - it is intended to overwhelm Israel's air defenses so that other missiles, such as Iranian cruise missiles or medium-range ballistic missiles, reach their target.

Shahed-136 over Iraq. Source: Screenshot X.

The 'mopeds' fly neither particularly fast nor particularly inconspicuously, so in Ukraine they are often intercepted with machine guns on jeeps. During the almost 6-hour flight time, most of them were intercepted by the American and Israeli air forces over Syria and Jordan. Notably, Jordan had allowed air forces (UK, US, Israel) to use Jordanian airspace to intercept the drones. The Jordanian Air Force also took part in air defense.

While the 'Shaheds' are still roaring over Iraq towards Israel, a series of cruise missiles are launched in Iran - presumably of the 'Paveh' or 'Hoveyzeh' type. Known for their range and extreme precision, these are used to attack precision targets. Over the airspace of Israel's neighboring states, fighter jets are fighting a mission for which they have been training for decades. Training is now getting serious. Of the 36 missiles launched from Iranian airspace, 25 are intercepted by the Israeli Air Force before they reach the airspace. The rest is intercepted by air defense and the other air forces. None of them reach their goal.

Israeli air defense fends off medium-range missiles (Source: Government Press Office)

At the same time, more than 120 medium- and long-range ballistic missiles were launched in Iranian airspace - many of them of the 'Ghadr-110' type, a medium-range ballistic missile that foregoes precise precision due to its enormous speed of more than nine times the speed of sound. Here too, the Israeli air defense system 'Arrow' intercepts the majority of the rockets, many of them over Jordanian airspace and in space. A "low single digit number" of missiles hit an Israeli air base in the Negev that was used by Israeli F-35Is to attack the embassy in Damascus.

The exact extent of the damage is still unclear, but senior Israeli military officials speak of 'minor damage to military infrastructure'. The preliminary final result – 185 drones, 36 cruise missiles, more than 110 ballistic missiles shot down. Tensions between Iran and Israel have reached a new chapter. For years both sides have been involved in a shadow war that takes place mainly on the Internet. Israel accuses Iran of being directly involved in planning the massacre on October 07.10th. to have been involved, an accusation that does not seem unrealistic, especially given the large number of Iranian weapons and documents in Hamas' possession. According to American Defense Department officials, Iran serves as a coordinator between Hamas, Hezbollah and Ansar Allah al-Houthi (the Houthi rebels).

Since October 07.10th Israel and Iran are increasingly on a collision course. Most attacks on ships in the Red Sea take place based on Iranian reconnaissance ships, carried out under Iranian supervision with Iranian sea missiles from Yemen. Iran calls the rocket attacks on Israel 'Operation True Promise' - a true promise. It is a true promise to the people of Iran - where thousands gathered in the cities to show their support for the attack on Israel.

But it is also a promise to Iran's allies - Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels and the militias in Iraq, who have been involved in a war with Israel for months and are being used as pawns by Iran, but by Iran see little support themselves. But it is also a promise to Israel that attacks on Iranian soil (such as the embassy) would be responded to quid pro quo. In addition, Iran is clearly signaling to the United Nations that they have no interest in further escalation of the situation and that the dispute is over for them - but at the same time they are threatening Israel with further massive attacks. An outbreak of conflict involving the two most powerful states in the Middle East would cause hundreds of thousands to flee and probably just as many deaths. Iran has one of the Middle East's most modern and advanced arsenals, from cruise missiles to independently homing multiple re-entry vehicle (MIRV) intercontinental ballistic missiles. It cannot be ruled out that Iran now has nuclear weapons thanks to North Korean help. The enormous distance between Israel and Iran makes an Israeli response difficult - even the Israeli F-35I can only reach Iran through multiple mid-air refueling, which is difficult to accomplish over Iraq's hostile airspace.

As is often the case in the history of the Middle East, the future depends on how Israel responds to the attacks. Israel and the Middle East are facing a crucial challenge. The question arises as to how the Israeli government should respond to the attacks without further destabilizing the region and triggering an all-out war. A symbolic attack on comparable military infrastructure in Iran, similar to the Iranian attack on the air force base in Israel, would be conceivable. Meanwhile, Washington says it will not support Israel's response to the Iranian airstrikes. It is completely unclear whether the spiral of violence will continue.