Israel’s Strike on Iran: A Limited Attack but a Potentially Big Signal

For more than a decade, Israel has rehearsed, time and again, bombing and missile campaigns that would take out Iran’s nuclear production capability, much of it based around the city of Isfahan and the Natanz nuclear enrichment complex 75 miles to the north.

That is not what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet chose to do in the predawn hours of Friday, and in interviews, analysts and nuclear experts said the decision was telling.

So was the silence that followed. Israel said almost nothing about the limited strike, which appeared to do little damage in Iran. U.S. officials noted that the Iranian decision to downplay the explosions in Isfahan — and the suggestions by Iranian officials that Israel may not have been responsible — was a clear effort by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to avoid another round of escalation.

Inside the White House, officials asked the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies to stay quiet about the operation, hoping to ease Iran’s efforts to calm the tensions in the region.

But in interviews, officials quickly added they worried that relations between Israel and Iran were now in a very different place than they had been just a week ago. The taboo against direct strikes on each other’s territory was now gone. If there is another round — a conflict over Iran’s nuclear advances, or another strike by Israel on Iranian military officers — both sides might feel more free to launch directly at the other.

Mr. Netanyahu was under competing pressures: President Biden was urging him to “take the win” after a largely ineffective aerial barrage launched by Iran last week, while hard-liners in Israel were urging him to strike back hard to re-establish deterrence after the first direct effort to strike Israel from Iranian territory in the 45 years since the Iranian revolution.

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