Middle EastAnalysis

Iran may choose ‘strategic patience’ rather than strike Israel

Iran is unlikely to bomb Israeli embassies in Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain

Tensions have risen between Iran and Israel following last week’s air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus. Israel has been blamed for the attack, which killed 12 people, including seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

US and allied officials fear that Iran could launch a retaliatory strike and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Israel would be “punished”.

Israel has called up air defence reservists and its foreign minister Israel Katz warned on X: “If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran.”

Iran is in a difficult position. While failing to respond to the attack would signal weakness and undermine deterrence, commentators suggest Tehran may choose “strategic patience”.


Despite its considerable arsenal of long- and medium-range ballistic missiles, Iran would be reluctant to attempt a large strike on Israel. The Iron Dome anti-missile system used by Israel could destroy many if not most missiles before they hit targets, Israel’s retaliation would be massive, and the US could join Israel in an attack. On Wednesday night, US president Joe Biden reiterated “ironclad” commitment to Israel.

Iran is unlikely to bomb Israeli embassies in Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Tehran recently restored relations with these countries and has regained status in the region after decades of ostracism. Oman has offered to mediate.

US regional envoy Brett McGurk has asked Emirati, Saudi, Qatari and Iraqi foreign ministers to urge restraint during calls with their Iranian counterpart. They fear becoming embroiled in a regional war that could involve Iranian strikes on US bases in the Gulf.

Following the 2020 US assassination of Iran’s military commander Qassim Soleimani, Iran launched missiles at an Iraqi base hosting US troops after warning Washington to protect personnel. There was damage but no casualties. Such subterfuge would be unlikely to work with Israel. For 20 years, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has declared Iran to be Israel’s main regional adversary.

Iran could stage cyber and data-wiping attacks on Israeli military and civilian infrastructure, including power plants and security facilities, although Israeli hackers could respond in kind.

Iran’s allies fear a devastating response if they strike Israel on behalf of Iran. Lebanon’s Hizbullah would not risk its pre-eminent political position in Lebanon. Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant has repeatedly warned: “What we are doing in Gaza, we can do in Beirut.”

Iraq’s pro-Iran Shia militias and Yemen’s Houthis would not risk Israeli strikes.

Washington’s Quincy Institute think tank executive vice president Trita Parsi has cited Iranian media outlet Jadeh Iran, which reported Tehran would not strike Israel if the US secured a ceasefire in Gaza. This has not been confirmed by mainstream Iranian media and has been denied by the US, but Jadeh Iran argued that the Biden administration could curb regional tensions by achieving a breakthrough in Gaza.