How Israel foiled Iran’s attack (2024)

Israel’s multilayered air defenses and close cooperation with allies kept the impact to a minimum.

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How Israel foiled Iran’s attack (1)

April 14, 20241:28 pm CET

By Jamie Dettmer

How Israel foiled Iran’s attack (2)

Iran tried to overwhelm Israel’s air defenses with five hours of missile and drone strikes overnight — but the offensive failed spectacularly.

Tehran targeted Israel with multiple waves of ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as explosives-laden drones, in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on Iran’s Damascus consulate earlier this month.

Despite the Iranian army claiming its blitz “achieved all its objectives,” the impact was small — minor damage was incurred at the Nevatim Air Base in the south of the country and a 7-year-old Bedouingirl was injured by fragments from an intercepted missile.


The limited impact was thanks to two factors — the resilience and efficiency of Israel’s advanced multilayered air defenses, which include the anti-ballistic Arrow system and the Iron Dome system, and the extraordinary close cooperation between Israel and its Western allies — the United States, Britain and France.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who condemned the “unprecedented” assault, said that American aircraft and two U.S. destroyers, one of which was moved to the region in the wake of the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate, had helped intercept the barrage. Britain and France also helped fend off the attack.

American warships shot down at least three ballistic missiles in the eastern Mediterranean, a U.S. official told CNN. U.S. forces also reportedly intercepted 70 attack drones.

Washington had feared an attack was likely after Israel's targeting of the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital and rushed warships into position last week, including redeploying the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and three other warships to the northern Red Sea and nearer to Israel.

Onslaught of missiles and drones

Israel said 185 drones, 110 surface-to-surface missiles, and 36 cruise missiles were fired at the country in what Tehran dubbed Operation Honest Promise. Most of the weapons were launched from Iran and a small proportion from Iraq and Yemen.

Social media reports showed footage of Shahed drones flying exceptionally low across Iran in an effort to evade radar detection as they made their way to Israel. But that didn’t work. According to Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), “99 percent” of the drones and missiles were intercepted.


Virtually any other country in the world would have been incapable of coping with such an onslaught. Ukraine, armed with Patriot missiles, has been unable to protect its energy infrastructure from much smaller Russian missile and drone attacks in recent weeks.

“Over the past 15 years, Israel appropriately upgraded its air defenses in preparation for such attacks as today, adding new systems for interceptions of ballistic missiles fired from as far away as 2,400 kilometers,” according to R. Clarke Cooper, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. “That interception range includes reaching Iran and where militant proxy groups allied with Iran — such as Yemen, Syria and Iraq — are based,” he added.

Israel’s Arrow system sits at the top of the country’s air-defense system, with David’s Sling, a mid-range anti-missile system, with Iron Dome the next in line and designed to intercept shorter-range missiles. David’s Sling was successfully deployed for the first time in May 2023 during cross-border fighting with Gaza-based Hamas militants.

How Israel foiled Iran’s attack (3)

The director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, Moshe Patel, said the country’s “Star Wars” program paid off Saturday night after nearly 40 years of investment in anti-missile defenses.

“All of the defense systems proved themselves well," Patel said. "All of their actions were coordinated after significant preparation and development of the systems, simulations and integration with actual battle units.”

The multilayered defensive system has been financially underwritten by the United States, which since 2009 has provided $3.4 billion in funding for Israel’s missile defenses.


Biden highlighted on Saturday how important that aid was for Israel’s ability to defend itself from the Iranian barrage, saying that American assistance meant Israel was able to intercept “nearly all” of the drones and missiles fired by Iran. But he also stressed the significant role of U.S. military assets.

“Thanks to the deployments and extraordinary skill of our service members, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles,” Biden said.

Allied assistance

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, also pointed to these two factors for foiling the Iranian barrage, citing “impressive operations” by the IDF and Israel’s allies. That included British jets shooting down drones near the Syria-Iraq border, which reportedly had been launched by Iran’s proxy militias.

The IDF said that thanks to “the Arrow system and, together with the strategic partner countries, most of the launches were intercepted” before they crossed into Israel. U.S. and French airborne early-warning and control surveillance systems helped give warplanes plenty of time to scramble for interceptions, an Israeli military official told POLITICO.

“In the past few days, we have been closely coordinating with Washington, London and Paris in readiness for the expected barrage — and that’s paid off,” said the official, granted anonymity to be able to speak freely.

British pilots shot down “a number” of Iran’s drones, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed on Sunday. Sunak said he chaired an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers on Friday to “agree a plan of action” for the expected Iranian attack on Israel. Additional pilots had been sent to the region, he said.


“Thanks to an international coordinated effort, which the U.K. participated in, almost all of these missiles were intercepted, saving lives not just in Israel but in neighbouring countries like Jordan as well,” Sunak said in a video posted on X on Sunday.

On Friday, just the day before Iran’s blitz, Gallant and senior military officers huddled with the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at an airbase in Israel to review plans to defend Israel. “We discussed the close cooperation between the United States and Israel, between our defense establishments and our militaries,” Gallant said after the meeting.

Seeking to counter the idea the Iranian attack was an embarrassing failure, officials in Tehran insisted they had been making a calibrated response to the Damascus attack and that their message had been successfully delivered, playing up the damage to the Nevatim base.

Saying the drone and missile barrage had "achieved it goals," General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, declared the operation was over "in our opinion."

Alive to the danger of an Israeli response, however, he insisted: "We are totally ready to defend our land."

That begs the most important question of how Israel will respond, potentially raising the prospect of a massive conflagration in the region. According to Axios, Biden signaled to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the U.S. will not join in on any retaliation by Israel for the first-ever direct attack on it by Iran.


The Iranian strikes have taken place “against the backdrop of waning global sympathy for Israel and growing strain in the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu,” said Carmiel Arbit, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, a think tank. “As has been the case with Gaza, further escalation may deplete that public support.”

How Israel foiled Iran’s attack (4)

Despite the strained relations between Biden and Netanyahu, “the shared commitment to addressing the threat posed by Iran also runs far deeper than any divergences the two countries may have regarding the future of the Palestinian Territories,” Arbit said.

Still the U.S. is likely” to encourage Israel to respond with restraint in a continued effort to try to prevent spiraling of a regional war. This will undoubtedly run afoul of Israel’s desire to restore deterrence and assert itself in what it sees as a war against terror that has infringed on its sovereign borders in an unprecedented way,” Arbit added.

In a statement Saturday, the Israeli leader appeared to signal a military response is likely, saying : “We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat.”

Netanyahu added that any action he orders will be level-headed. That may not reassure Israel’s Western allies, who fear a regional escalation above anything else — and have not seen eye-to-eye with Netanyahu when it comes to Israel’s military actions in the wake of last October's attack by Hamas on Israel.

This article has been updated to show the correct age of the girl injured in the attack.


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