Iran has claimed that its drone-and-missile strikes against Israel this weekend were a justified response to “the Zionist regime’s crimes”—in particular, Israel’s attack on Iran’s embassy complex in Damascus, which it claims as sovereign soil. On April 1, an Israeli air strike had killed several senior members of the Quds Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps unit that oversees covert operations in the Middle East, and General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a top commander. While diplomatic facilities are generally viewed as sovereign and off-limits to attack, Israel claims that the complex did not have diplomatic status and was a legitimate target.

While the context is disputed, Iran’s assault was extraordinary for several reasons. First, despite decades of tension and rhetorical hostility between Iran and Israel, Saturday was the first time that Iran directly attacked Israel from Iranian soil. According to an Israeli Defense Force spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, Tehran launched some 120 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles, and 170 explosive drones against Israel, after days of warnings to Washington and its allies that such retaliation was imminent.

Second, Saturday was the first time Israel’s air defenses successfully protected the country from an attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles. Israel can now argue that it has restored the deterrence that was shattered by Hamas’s savage attack on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 were taken hostage.

Third, in response to the Iranian barrage, American officials referred to the Biden administration’s “ironclad” support for Israel’s security. This dispels the notion, at least for now, that President Biden’s disagreements with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the prosecution of the Gaza war would weaken official American support and prompt Washington to reduce or place conditions on America’s military and economic aid to the Jewish state.

Fourth, and perhaps most significant in the long run, Israel this weekend saw direct military assistance not only from its traditional Western allies—the United States, Britain, and France—but possibly from Saudi Arabia and definitely from Jordan, the latter of which had publicly condemned Israel’s retaliatory war in Gaza in which more than 33,000 Palestinians have died, according to the UN. While Jordan publicly described its assistance to Israel, Riyadh has been notably silent, undoubtedly because, unlike Jordan, it has not made peace with the Jewish state.

But Jordan’s assistance suggests that what Israelis and Americans are calling the Middle East’s “new security architecture”—the strategic alliance of moderate Arab states and Israel against Iran and other members of the so-called “Axis of Resistance”—may continue to expand. After all, it was Hamas’s desire to derail the prospect of Saudi recognition of Israel following the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, and Sudan, that inspired the timing of Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Hamas had to be pleased that Iran was finally drawn into a conflict Tehran seemed eager to avoid, while encouraging its proxies—particularly the Houthis in Yemen—to strike Israeli ships and shipping more broadly in the Red Sea, putting pressure on international trade. While Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that controls Lebanon, has previously exchanged rocket fire with Israel on its border, forcing Israel to evacuate some 75,000 people near the Lebanese border, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has not directly entered the Gaza conflict to help Hamas. Hezbollah’s reluctance to open a full-scale war with Israel has disappointed Hamas leadership, given that the Iranian proxy is estimated to have over 150,000 rockets and missiles and many well-trained fighters.

Perhaps the most unexpected and, to Israel, welcome development Saturday was neighboring Jordan’s ordering its fighter jets to shoot down dozens of Iranian drones and missiles in its airspace. Jordan fought four wars with Israel between 1948 and 1973, and in 1994 became the second Arab state to make peace with the Jewish state. Because most of its citizens are of Palestinian origin, including many whom Israel barred from returning to their homes after the 1948 war, the Hashemite kingdom’s rulers—the late King Hussein made peace with Israel, and his son, King Abdullah II, now sits on the throne—have always tread carefully in their dealings with Israel, mixing cooperation with criticism. For example, Queen Rania, Abdullah’s wife, has accused Israel of deliberately starving Palestinians to death in Gaza, calling the country’s alleged conduct “shameful” and “outrageous.”

Despite Jordan’s historically tenuous relationship with Israel, this weekend, its fighter jets took to the air against Iran’s missiles and drones. Initially silent about its military posture, Amman issued a statement on Sunday characterizing its actions as self-defense not undertaken to help Israel. The government said that it had downed drones and missiles “that entered our airspace last night” and would continue to take action against “any party” that did so. In interviews even before the Iranian attack, King Abdullah said he was disturbed that Iran’s IRGC was using Iraqi militias, another of its proxies, against Jordan.

Like Jordan, Washington has felt the need to temper its public support for Israel. President Biden reportedly warned Netanyahu in a telephone call Saturday night that while the United States support for Israel’s defense was “ironclad,” Washington would not participate in any Israeli counterstrike against Iran. The administration fears that the Israeli-Hamas conflict could spiral out of control and escalate into a broader regional conflict that could interfere with the American presidential campaign.

Administration officials reportedly urged Netanyahu to think “carefully and strategically” about how best to respond to the Iranian missile attack. Israeli news sources reported late Sunday that the nation’s emergency war cabinet ended a meeting inconclusively. Publicly, however, Israeli leaders are standing firm. “We don’t want war,” Israeli president Isaac Herzog, told CNN in an interview Sunday. “We’re acting clear-headedly and lucidly.” But Israeli hardliners continue pushing for retaliation, arguing that because Iran attacked Israel from its own soil, a red line has been crossed that cannot be ignored.

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Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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