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Iran Attacked Israel. What Comes Next?

In the late hours of Saturday night 170 drones, 120 ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles barreled toward Israel. It was a direct and unprecedented strike on Israel from Iran. Extraordinarily, Israel…

In the late hours of Saturday night 170 drones, 120 ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles barreled toward Israel. It was a direct and unprecedented strike on Israel from Iran.

Extraordinarily, Israel—with the help of the Americans, the British, the French, and even the Jordanians and the Saudis—were able to intercept 99 percent of the missiles. 

Iran said the attack was a response to Israel’s hit on a consular building in Syria earlier this month that killed high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders. Many analysts and journalists have also framed the attack the way Iran had: as a “retaliatory strike.”

But it’s a strange way to describe the historic onslaught considering Iran’s war of aggression since October 7. After all, it was Iran that trained and armed Hamas to come and butcher 1,200 Israelis. It was Iran that trained and armed Hezbollah, whose attacks on northern Israeli communities have kept tens of thousands from their homes. 

Free Press columnist Matti Friedman nailed it when he wrote that this weekend’s attack was Iran coming out of the shadows for the first time: “like a flash going off in a dark room, the attack has finally given the world something valuable: a glimpse of the real war in the Middle East.” 

Walter Russell Mead wrote on Twitter Saturday night: “By any reasonable standard, a state of war now exists between the State of Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The questions now are how fast and how far does it escalate, who will be drawn in, and who will win.”

Today, Michael Moynihan speaks with Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States about these questions—and what comes next in this unprecedented moment in history.

While the U.S. was instrumental in helping Israel defend itself over the weekend, Biden has been clear with Israel: he does not want Israel to respond. He is reported to have said to Netanyahu, “You got a win. Take the win.” But if Israel doesn’t respond, will that only embolden Iran further? Isn’t that the sort of appeasement that got us here in the first place? And if Israel is compelled to respond for the sake of its country, can it do so without American support?

As Michael Oren wrote for The Free Press: “The story of America can end only one of two ways: either it stands up boldly against Iran and joins Israel in deterring it, or Iran emerges from this conflict once again unpunished, undiminished, and ready to inflict yet more devastating damage.”

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