Limited Strike by Israel, Muted Response from Iran

Israel struck Iran overnight on April 19, 2024, responding to Tehran’s April 13-14 largely ineffective attack of more than 330 drones and missiles. Israel’s retaliation appeared to be limited in scope and calibrated to avoid further escalation. But the targets, weapons used, and extent of damage were unclear.

A senior U.S. official told ABC News that Israeli fighters fired three missiles at a radar site linked to air defenses for the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran’s central Isfahan province. The radar was part of an advanced S-300 air defense system procured from Russia, Iranian officials told The New York Times. Satellite imagery later showed damage to an S-300 mobile radar at the Eighth Shekari Air Base in Isfahan province. Israeli media specified that Israeli jets fired "Rampage" air-to-surface missiles, domestically-produced projectiles capable of traveling at supersonic speed. Israeli attacks on Iranian interests or allies in Iraq and Syria were also reported.

Israeli officials, in compliance with a gag order, were quiet about the incidents – with a few notable exceptions. “Good morning, people of Israel. This is a morning in which the head is held high with pride,” Tally Gotliv, a lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Israel is a strong and powerful country. May we regain the power of deterrence.”

Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who had called for an overwhelming response to Iran’s missile and drone assault, released a one-word post in Hebrew on X that can be translated as “weak.”

“By opting to respond in a limited manner,” wrote Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group, “Israel has remained within the grey zone of covert operations, allowing Iran to absorb the attack without the need to retaliate and further escalate while signaling to Tehran that its much larger overt operation failed to deter it.”  


Danny Citrinowicz, a fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies who served for 25 years in Israel Defense Intelligence, concurred. Israel tried to do the “minimum necessary” by messaging about Israeli capabilities, he told The Iran Primer. The Natanz nuclear facility in Isfahan, which has long been a bête noire for Israel, is deep inside Iran and about 1,000 miles away from Israel.

But the new, unwritten rules of engagement between Israel and Iran were still opaque. Since 1982, the conflict between the two regional powers has largely played out in a shadow war across the Middle East, often involving proxies and allies. Israel’s airstrike on Iran’s diplomatic mission in Damascus on April 1, 2024 was a dramatic escalation. The attack killed three generals in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and four other officers. Iran responded with a massive drone and missile strike on Israel 12 days later on April 13-14, which in turn prompted the Israeli retaliation on April 19.

“Even if Iran won't retaliate” Citrinowicz added, “the question still remains what will happen when Israel again strikes Iranian facilities or interests in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East? We still don't know what are the new Iranian red lines.”  

A mural in Tehran commemorating Iran's April 13-14, 2024 attack on Israel (Arash Khamooshi/NYT)

Iranian officials downplayed the attack, claiming it was limited to small drones that did not cause any damage. “The Zionist regime's media supporters, in a desperate effort, tried to make victory out of their defeat, while the downed mini-drones have not caused any damage or casualties,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on April 19.

Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, the chief of Iran’s conventional military, the Artesh, told state media that anti-aircraft defense systems downed a suspicious object in central Isfahan province. Three small drones were reportedly intercepted near an air base.

Iranian media outlets and some officials attributed the attack to “infiltrators” rather than Israel. Hossein Dalirian, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian space agency, claimed that there had been “no air attack from outside” Iran’s borders. “They have only made a failed and humiliating attempt to fly quadcopters, and the quadcopters have also been shot down.” A senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran did not plan to retaliate against Jerusalem.  

Isfahan province is home to a major airbase, a missile production complex and nuclear research facilities. Local media reported that no damage was caused to any military or nuclear sites and broadcast video of citizens carrying on as usual in Isfahan city. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran’s nuclear sites were unharmed. 

Separately, air defense systems in the northwestern city of Tabriz, about 500 miles away from Isfahan, fired at a “suspicious flying object.” 

In conjunction with the strike on Iran, Israel launched missiles at an air defense unit in southern Syria, according to Syrian state media. In Baghdad, residents of the Iraqi capital reported sounds of explosions, but the source was unclear. Unconfirmed reports of an airstrike on a building in Baghdad where members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were meeting with Iraqi militia allies circulated on social media. But officials familiar with Israel's operation told NBC News that no target in Baghdad was hit but that part of a missile body fell to the ground outside the city. An official from an Iran-backed militia had claimed that a missile was shot down. 

After Iran’s unprecedented attack on April 13-14, Israel’s war cabinet had reportedly considered a range of options, including strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the most severe plans were shelved after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call with President Biden on April 14.

“You got a win. Take the win,” Biden told Netanyahu, according to a White House official. Israel, with major help from U.S, British and Jordanian forces, intercepted 99 percent of Iran’s weapons: 170 drones, at least 30 cruise missiles, and more than 120 ballistic missiles. Biden also said that the United States would not participate in or support an attack on Iran. Israel also faced pressure from other allies to avoid triggering a wider conflict.

Officially, Secretary of State Blinken declined to comment on the Israeli attack when questioned by reporters on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting on the island of Capri in Italy. The G7 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. “All I can say is that for our part and for the entire G7, our focus has been on de-escalation, on avoiding a larger conflict,” Blinken said. But Israel did inform the United States about the attack “at the last minute,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told reporters. He attributed the small scope of Israel’s reprisal to the efforts of the G7.

The following are reactions to the Israeli strike on Iran. 



Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on April 19

“The Zionist regime's media supporters, in a desperate effort, tried to make victory out of their defeat, while the downed mini-drones have not caused any damage or casualties.”


Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi on April 19

“The explosion this morning in the sky of Isfahan was related to the shooting of air defense systems at a suspicious object that did not cause any damage.”


Spokesman for Iran’s civilian space agency Hossein Dalirian on April 18

“Until this moment, there have been no air attacks from outside Iranian borders to Isfahan or other parts of the country. They have only made a failed and humiliating attempt to fly quadcopters, and the quadcopters have also been shot down.

“The news of the American media is not true.”


Member of Parliament Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini on April 19

“[Israel made] a very dangerous and strategic mistake by playing with the lion's tail…[Iran has] the most advanced military equipment and precision missiles.”



Knesset Member Tally Gotliv on April 19

“Good morning, people of Israel. This is a morning in which the head is held high with pride. Israel is a strong and powerful country. May we regain the power of deterrence.”


National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on April 19



Knesset Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in response to Ben Gvir on April 19

“Never before has a minister in the defense cabinet done such heavy damage to the country's security, its image and its international status. In an unforgivable tweet of one word, Ben Gvir managed to mock and shame Israel from Tehran to Washington.

“Any other prime minister would have thrown him out of the cabinet this morning. Even the ministers who sit next to him and are silent as sheep are not free from responsibility. They are part of an unforgivable security and value failure.”


United States

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on April 19

“The United States has not been involved in any offensive operations.  What we’re focused on, what the G7 is focused on – and again, it’s reflected in our statement and in our conversation – is our work to de-escalate tensions, to de-escalate from any potential conflict.  You saw Israel on the receiving end of an unprecedented attack, but our focus has been on, of course, making sure that Israel can effectively defend itself, but also de-escalating tensions, avoiding conflict.  And that remains our focus.”


United Nations

Secretary General of the United Nation António Guterres on April 19

“It is high time to stop the dangerous cycle of retaliation in the Middle East.

I condemn any act of retaliation & appeal to the international community to work together to prevent any further development that could lead to devastating consequences for the entire region & beyond.”

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on April 19

“IAEA can confirm that there is no damage to #Iran’s nuclear sites. DG @rafaelmgrossi continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts. IAEA is monitoring the situation very closely.”



G7 on April 19

In light of reports of strikes on April 19th, we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work to this end.

We call on all parties, both in the region and beyond, to offer their positive contribution to this collective effort.


European Union

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on April 19

“We have to do everything possible [so] that all sides restrain from the escalation in that region,” she said during a visit to Finland. “It is absolutely necessary that the region stays stable and that all sides refrain from further action.”


United Kingdom

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on April 19

“It's a developing situation, it wouldn't be right for me to speculate until the facts become clearer and we're working to confirm the details together with allies. Significant escalation is not in anyone's interest. What we want to see is calm heads prevail across the region.”



Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 19

“Yesterday, there were phone calls between the leadership of Russia and Iran. Our representatives also contacted the Israelis. There was a clear signal in our message that we conveyed to the Israelis that Iran is not seeking escalation. It cannot but respond to a blatant violation of international law such as the attack on their diplomatic mission but they are not wanting any escalation. This is how specialists can see the response of Iran. And I hope I am not wrong. This is how a response to another response should be considered.”



Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 19

Regarding the news situation on Iran: We call on everyone to continue to contribute to de-escalation in the future. De-escalation remains the order of the day. We will talk about this with all our friends and allies and work together with them in this direction.



Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani on April 19

I have just spoken with our Ambassador to Iran and I am following developments following the night-time explosions in Isfahan. We will talk about it with the Foreign Ministers at the G7 session in Capri this morning. At the moment there are no critical issues for Italians living in Iran.



Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot on April 19

"We are closely monitoring the situation in #Iran. The recent developments in the Middle East are deeply worrying. It is of paramount importance that further escalation is prevented."



Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly on April 19

"I have been briefed by Global Affairs Canada officials about the overnight explosions in Iran. We are monitoring the situation closely. We will address the situation with the Foreign Ministers at the G7 session this morning in Italy."



Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 19

"Egypt renews its deep concern over the mutual Iranian/Israeli escalation and warns of the consequences of the expanding conflict in the region.

"The Arab Republic of Egypt expresses its deep concern about the continued mutual escalation between Israel and Iran, following reports of missile strikes and marches against sites in Iran and Syria.

"Egypt calls on both parties to exercise the utmost levels of restraint and comply fully to the rules of international law and the United Nations Charter, warning of the consequences of its expansion

"Conflict and instability in the region, and its dangerous effects on the security and safety of its people.

"Egypt affirms that it will continue to intensify its contacts with all concerned and influential parties in order to contain the ongoing tension and escalation."



Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 19

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed that the Sultanate of Oman is following the continuing tension in the region and condemns the Israeli attack this morning on Isfahan in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It also condemns and denounces Israel’s repeated military attacks in the region. The spokesman added that the Sultanate of Oman once again appeals to the international community to address the causes and roots of tension and conflict through dialogue, diplomacy and political solutions, and to focus on ceasefire efforts in Gaza and resort to international law and United Nations resolutions to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue in order to restore security, stability and comprehensive peace to the whole region.



Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi on April 19

"We warn against the danger of regional escalation. We condemn all actions that threaten dragging the region into war. Israeli-Iranian retaliations must end. The inhumane war on Gaza must end now. The focus of the world must remain on ending the catastrophic aggression on Gaza."



Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 19

"In light of the latest developments, it is becoming increasingly evident that the tensions that were initially caused by Israel's illegal attack on the Iranian Embassy in Damascus risk turning into a permanent conflict.

"We are closely monitoring the events.

"We call on all parties to refrain from steps that could lead to a wider conflict.

"The priority of the international community should be to stop the massacre in Gaza and to ensure lasting peace in our region by establishing a Palestinian state."