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So, Iran, what was all that about really?

A suggestion I have heard, made almost in jest but it might be true, was that Iran launching more than three hundred drones and missiles at Israel might have been intended as some weird form of de-escalation. The reasoning behind this theory is Iran knew perfectly well that the main effect of its attack would be to demonstrate just how good Israel’s air defences are, but that the expensive gesture would satisfy their own hawks without giving Israel any emotional reason to strike back.

I read somewhere that in nineteenth-century France most professional men could expect to be challenged to a duel at some time in their career. To refuse meant dishonour. To accept meant the prospect of death or serious injury, or the lesser but still significant unpleasantness of inflicting it on someone else. To deal with this problem the custom arose that by silent mutual agreement the splendid-looking duelling pistols used would have been made in very small calibres and taking only a tiny amount of black powder. When fired they produced a reasonable bang which carried with it enough prospect of doing harm to satisfy the honour of the duellists – but in practice wearing a thick woollen overcoat was usually enough to deflect the slow-moving ball.

Perhaps Iran was, or thought it was, acting like one of those duellists. If so, we shall have to see whether Israel is on board with the “silent mutual agreement” part of the analogy.

What do you think?

34 comments to So, Iran, what was all that about really?

  • feral lunch lady

    No, actually I think the mullahs are mentally ill and believe their fantasies. The people who run Iran aren’t anything like 19th century French gentlemen.

  • bobby b

    Your analogy to the dueling example is perfect, I think. Iran couldn’t refrain from reaction. So, they did Something, and can now go back to plotting world domination on the more abstract levels.

    It would be sort of satisfying in a short-term warrior-mode to see Biden or Bibi do something big in reaction, but I suspect – I hope – that cooler heads now tell everyone to stifle their impulses.

  • Steven R

    I think it’s far more likely that the attack yesterday was intended to deplete Israel’s stock of air-defense countermeasures. The next attack can do the same. Eventually the Israeli’s will run out of missiles for their systems, especially since the West is in no position to rearm Israel thanks to supporting Ukraine.

    That said, Israel missed to perfect opportunity to take out the Al-Aqsa Mosque and blame it on an Iranian missile. Maybe during the next attack…

  • feral lunch lady

    Iran and other enemies should be shaking in their boots at the prospect of Israel running out of conventional defensive and other weapons. There is always the Samson Option. I don’t think non-Jews understand the Jewish culture and personality. I myself am an elderly agnostic Jewish cat lady, have never served in the military or been to Israel, but mentally I’m never far away from wanting to push the button. Maybe the people who test us all the time think we’re a bunch of effete people in cafes, but it’s like that song, “You don’t know me.”

  • Lee Moore

    I agree with Steven R. I imagine that whatever was used to shoot down the Iranian drones cost fifty times what the drones themselves cost.

  • Gene

    Steven R, a good point, but my guess is that Israel has wargamed every conceivable situation–including this one–and has laid in a larger stockpile of those countermeasures than anyone realizes.

  • feral lunch lady

    It’s important to remember the context. Iran funds all the other mischief in the area, including the Houthis, Oct. 7, etc. So their statement that the latest drone and missile attack ends the hostilities, is passive aggressive b.s., and it should not be taken at face value, except by antisemites and other enablers.

  • Y. Knott

    For explanation, I suspect we need look no further than Communism – Lenin said, “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop; if you meet mush, keep pushing.” The mullahs wanted to see for themselves whether their home-grown (i.e., not the export-models they smuggle to Hezbollah and the Houthis) could overmatch Israeli air defenses – and if they had, Iran would be throwing everything it had as fast as they could get ’em in the air. Either that or the mullahs believed their own cant and their oft-preached “divine right of victory”, and were trying to show Hezbollah that a mass missile attack from two directions would work – in which case it would’ve been launched by now, although I suspect Hezbollah knows better.

    In either case, it was a deadly miscalculation – the ball is in Israel’s court now. If ’twere me, I’d target everywhere the mullahs and the IRGC high command could be hiding, while minimizing (or avoiding entirely) civilian casualties and blasting-out the propaganda to Iran that “The MULLAHS are our enemy, we were long friends with the Iranian people and wish to be so again, once the mullahs are permanently dissuaded from waging war on Israel!” The Iranian people know perfectly what “permanently dissuaded” involves, and have tried it several times already – a clearing-out of Iranian air defenses followed by several Hercules-loads of airdropped AK’s (which they’ve already acquired by capturing Hamas weapons) should do the trick.

  • Paul Marks

    Firing 300 missiles in a few hours is not de-escalation.

    Nor are the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran insane – if (if) one accepts their Islamic starting assumptions – first principles (as many highly intelligent and learned people have for over a thousand years) then their reasoning is sound.

    As for the question of whether the Iranian people believe in Islam and, if not, whether they are prepared to fight to overthrow the Islamic government – well the Iranian people were betrayed by President Barack Obama (who backed the regime against those Iranians who were trying to overthrow it – backed the regime because 12er Shia Islam is, supposedly, big on “Social Justice” which Barak Obama strongly supports), and by Mr Joseph “Joe the Big Guy” Biden – who approved sending about 100 Billion Dollars to the regime, although, given his mental condition, he may not have known what he was approving.

  • Paul Marks

    The father of “Kim” Philby was, like “Kim”, a socialist – working against the United Kingdom and the “capitalist West” generally (Philby ended up in Beirut hatching various plots, his son was on good terms with him – which the service did not seem to regard as a red-danger-signal – which shows the nature of the service even back then) – anyway….

    Philby senior was first sent to Arabia (back in the 1930s) with the mission of preventing the radical House of Saud taking – he “reinterpreted” his mission to help put the House of Saud in power – thus betraying the people he was sent to help.

    Why did he do this? Well you see the House of Saud was, according to him, very much in favour of “Social Justice” and would not be the puppets of “capitalists”.

    The House of Saud rewarded him by giving him at least one slave – slavery was openly practiced in Arabia (both the part of Arabia the House of Saud took over – and other lands) till the 1960s. According to Philby senior slavery was a rejection of the cash nexus of paid labour under “capitalism”.

    The House of Saud has, we are told, over the years started to reject its support of strict Sunni Islam around the world (sometimes called Wahabism – an alliance the House of Saud had since the 1700s) and helped shoot down missiles last night.

    A rivalry between Sunni and Shia Islam? Or, as Philby senior, a corruption of the House of Saud by “capitalist” money?

    I do not know.

  • NickM

    Iran’s actions were aimed (metaphorically) at the Arab Street. They wanna show they are the true guardians of Islam and not the likes of the Saudis with their Abraham Accords and whatnot. They hate Saudi more than Israel. This was aimed to rouse the rabble who will believe Iranian propaganda. They want Black September II. If they can destabilise Jordan, Syria and Iraq (the latter two being in a hell of a state and Iraq has a lot of Shias) The ayatollah’s thinking is they can then march through from the Persian Gulf to the Med. And if they take Jerusalem then their thinking is it merely confirms their status as the true flame of Muhammed.

    It is deranged but it might just work. This war is as much about controling the narrative as airspace or sea-lanes.

    Also. Think Falklands. The Argentine Junta was on it’s arse. Their solution was to stoke patriotic fervour with a successful war. The Iranian regime is deeply unpopular at home. It’s much the same thing except it’s more religious than nationalistic.

  • Phil B

    The firing of missiles is a direct act and declaration of war. Iran could have deniable plausibility by arming Hizbullah and/or Hamas at one removed from Iran itself (compare with Ireland’s turning a blind eye and ignoring the IRA operating on and from its territory and the Irish Air Force overflying the UK and bombing a UK city).

    In such circumstances, any country has the right to defend itself and retaliate in kind.

    Why would Israel NOT take the kid gloves off and retaliate?

    I recommend buying shares in popcorn and defence industry companies.

  • SteveD

    What do I think?

    I don’t think the leaders of Iran are anywhere close to being that smart. They’re Muslims for heaven’s sake.

  • SteveD

    ‘Nor are the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran insane.’

    No, but they are enslaved by their prebiblical and preconscious ideology.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think that the rumor Natalie mentions in the OP does seem to ring true. It seems to be Iran’s intention that this is one and done. There wasn’t really much damage (though I believe one young Israeli girl was badly injured by one rocket strike.) Something else that I think is very significant is that it seems that several Arab states seemed to step up to protect Israel. From what I read 99% of the missiles and drones didn’t even reach Israeli territory, being shot down to the east of their border. The Arab politics is very complicated and I doubt few westerners really understand it, but it does seem to be that Iran is willing to leave it at that. Their people can celebrate in the streets, honking horns and waving flags even though the assault was a complete disaster militarily.

    Although this sort of assault is a terrible thing, I think the best thing for Israel to do is absolutely nothing. If that is the total Arab response to the Gaza war then, I’d say, it doesn’t get much better than that, and retaliation will only make for an escalation. Clean up in Gaza, put something in place to manage Gaza better, and this war, which could have easily spiraled out of control is done and wrapped. That is nothing short of a miracle.

    And if Trump gets back in in November, their administration can continue that already miraculous work started with the Abraham Accords. Trump could actually do something that every president since Ford have tried and failed — bring a real and lasting peace to the Middle East.

    I hope Israel is wise, and does nothing in response to this.

  • John

    I am interested in what the White House handlers do now that his firm and statesmanlike “don’t” has been laughed out of court by a regime where he has defied logic and bent over backwards to support their nuclear programme.

    Less than seven months from an election the optics for the democrats could hardly be worse plus all that grovelling to the Muslims in Michigan has now been wasted. Obama had the chutzpah to shrug it off when his red lines were crossed but I’m damned if I can see Biden talking his way out of this. A few more weeks in the basement or on vacation beckon.

    As Fraser says Arab politics are complex and it will be fascinating how the region reacts to Jordan openly providing active military support to Israel. If, as I hope, Egypt and Saudi are pretty much of a similar mind the potential for greatly expanded Abraham Accords are yet another reason to pray for a Trump victory.

  • Spot on – comparing apples and oranges isn’t even it, at least they are both still fruit!

  • ’Their people can celebrate in the streets, honking horns and waving flags even though the assault was a complete disaster militarily.’

    The problem for us is the ones celebrating in OUR streets. With, it would seem, impunity.

  • decnine

    Iran has been attacking Israel through its proxies in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank, for many years. Israel needs to clean up its neighbourhood. Permanently. From the River to the Sea delenda est Iran.

  • jgh

    Interesting, I’d never thought of slavery abolitionism through the lense of working class employment protectionism. It makes sense – eliminate the cheaper opposition and the boss class are forced to use your labour.

  • Barbarus

    @Steven R, I’d suspect you were right if it was just drones. However there were apparently 120 ballistic and cruise missiles in the mix, and those are probably a lot more expensive and harder to replace than defensive missiles. Besides, Israel is used to shooting down cheap projectiles – Hamas rockets – occasionally in much larger numbers than the Iranians used, and presumably has production facilities accordingly. Possibly the ballistic missiles were all obsolete types they are replacing in service, but even so this looks like a serious attack that probably made a serious dent in Iran’s own ammunition stocks.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fraser: suggesting that Israel doesn’t retaliate avoids confronting what’s likely to happen if Iran got a viable nuclear weapon. That would alter the stakes massively.

    Israel has done what it can to destroy and sabotage nuclear programmes before, such as when its Air Force hit Osirak in 1981. Iranian nuclear facilities have been hacked. In my view a major failing of the Obama administration was in going light on all this, but then I remember that Mr Obama is hostile to Israel and imbibed a lot of toxic hard Left ideology in his youth.

  • Fraser Orr

    Johnathan Pearce
    Fraser: suggesting that Israel doesn’t retaliate avoids confronting what’s likely to happen if Iran got a viable nuclear weapon. That would alter the stakes massively.

    I agree with at least part of what you say here. Iran getting a nuclear weapon would dramatically alter the situation. I don’t doubt it would quickly lead to the Saudis getting one and maybe some other countries too. That would be a complete disaster and it is hard to see how it would not lead to a nuclear war in the Middle East. If such a thing were to happen or get close to happening Israel would have no choice but to intervene.

    However, with this I don’t doubt there is a lot going on. It is a real shame that Stuxnet was revealed, but I don’t doubt it is but one of many covert attempts to destroy this program.
    And for sure, if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it’ll be firmly at the feet of Biden and Obama. Obama himself said of Biden “never underestimate Joe’s ability to f things up.”

  • but I suspect – I hope – that cooler heads now tell everyone to stifle their impulses.

    Why? If I was running the Israeli government, I’d be going down the target list of strategic assets in Iran and putting a big tick with a sharpy next to all the highest value ones. If another nation shooting 300 missiles isn’t casus belli, I don’t know what is. Drone factories, nuclear R&D facilities, oil terminals, power & transformer stations, C3 of every kind: fuck ’em up.

    It’s cheaper to destroy factories than shoot down the missiles they produce.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    What Perry said. Now is not the time to “go wobbly”, to quote Mrs Thatcher.

    All the usual suspects, such as David “call me Dave” Cameron are urging Israel to “show restraint”. To be “restrained” towards monsters who carried out Oct 7’s pogrom, and to “show restraint” to the zealots bankrolling this shit.

    Words fail how angry I am about the mindset of people such as DC.

  • Alex

    I don’t see why UK politicians should say anything at all about the situation in the middle east. It’s nothing to do with us. It’s up to Israel how they respond to attacks on their nation. “Lord” Cameron should STFU.

  • bobby b

    Perry de Havilland (Wiltshire)
    April 15, 2024 at 3:02 pm


    Timing, mostly.

    We (the US) are currently fighting internal battles to even send less-than-adequate help to Ukraine. If Israel commences active warfare against Iran right now, we’re obviously going to be helping them heavily with the financing and equipping and supplying.

    What do you think happens to Ukraine aid if we’re suddenly involved in Israel’s war against Iran? Who, historically, do we “like” the most?

    In a less-imperfect world, our war against Iran starts after the Ukraine war has ended. Maybe we CAN financially handle both simultaneously, but I think that the politics here won’t allow for that.

  • Kevin Jaeger

    “What was all that about, really?”

    Iran has been chanting Death to Israel, Death to the Jews and building an arsenal to carry out their plan since 1979. This has involved not just their own missiles and a nuclear program, but also extensive support for Hamas, H?ezbollah and other regional proxies armed to bring death to Israel.

    So I think firing hundreds of missiles at Israel was another attempt to bring death to Israel, as they and their proxies chant at every opportunity. It was also likely an opportunity to test their missiles against Israel’s air defences to understand what they need to do to ensure a successful delivery of their nukes as soon as they are ready. When people simply do what they’ve been consistently promising to do for decades we should take them at their word that they mean what they say.

  • SteveD

    Like I said, they are not conscious like we are. They do not introspect. That’s why their actions seem so alien.

  • Paul Marks

    If the missiles had got though the “Dome of the Rock” mosque would now be rubble – so much for the Islamic Republic of Iran caring about alleged Islamic holy places in Jerusalem.

    As for a counter attack – we shall have to see what is targeted and what success a counter attack has.

    As for the killing of the Revolutionary Guard General a couple of weeks ago – he was behind the October 7th attack (which killed over a thousand Jews – and quite a lot of non Jews as well), and he was not in the actual consulate building when he died, he was in a building that joined on to it.

  • Mary Contrary

    A related point is Biden’s typically disgusting “take the win” comment, saying that the Israeli’s should be satisfied that Iran’s attack failed, and not assert any right to retaliate.

    That said, while retaliation would be entirely morally justified and appropriate, it might actually be smart to do as Biden says, for now. The main priority right now must be the destruction of Hamas and the occupation of Gaza to de-Nazify the Palestinians. Biden has already demanded that Israel refrain from attacking Raffah and, effectively, that it leave Hamas’ last four brigades intact. This demand must be refused. However necessary, though that’s risky, given Israeli reliance on American support and Biden’s evident lack of goodwill.

    By declining to attack Tehran they could tell Biden to “take the win” on achieving some “restraint”, and so he should not “overreact” (ie utterly betray Israel) when they invade Raffah and finish the job.

  • Jacob

    What happened is absolutely normal. The Iran military overestimated their capabilities. All armies do that, always. Take Russia in Ukraine. Take the US army in all conflicts since WW2.
    As to the reaction of Israel? My opinion is that Israel must first solve it’s acute problems. There are maybe some 120,000 displaced Israelis that can’t return to their homes near the Gaza border and Lebanon. Solve this one first.
    An attack on Iran now is a distraction from the more urgent needs. And it is in danger of suffering from the same malady: overestimating one’s military capabilities. My advice: be cautious.
    In general it is good military practice not to open a new front of war before you are done with the ones you are already engaged in.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Thanks for the historical background. I now understand Mark Twain’s humor piece “The Great French Duel” much better.

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