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New York Times Says Israel Caught Off-Guard by Iranian Response to Embassy Strike

The New York Times published an account of the time from Israel’s April 1 attack on the Iranian consulate and the days after the Iranian response, in which it says, among other things, that Israel was caught off guard by the size of the Iranian response to the April 1 destruction of Iran’s consulate in Damascus. Notable is that one of the five co-authors of the story is Ronen Bergman, veteran of decades of reporting on Israeli national security matters. Highlights of the report include the following:

• Netanyahu’s government did not notify the U.S. of its intent to attack the Iranian consulate until just shortly before it happened, and never indicated anything about who the targets were.

• “The Israelis had badly miscalculated, thinking that Iran would not react strongly, according to multiple American officials who were involved in high-level discussions after the attack, a view shared by a senior Israeli official.”

• Internal Israeli defense records from March 22, viewed by the Times, summarized the preparations for the Damascus attack and outlined the range of responses from Iran that the Israeli government expected, among them small-scale attacks by proxies and a small-scale attack from Iran. “None of the assessments predicted the ferocity of the Iranian response that actually occurred.”

• Israeli leaders came close to ordering widespread strikes in Iran on the night Iran attacked, according to Israeli officials. Those in the war cabinet advocating an immediate response were Gantz and Eisenkot (this confirms a report in the Times of Israel a couple of days ago).

• The Times includes details of Iran’s very public diplomatic efforts and public warnings that it would have to respond to the Israeli strike on the consulate. It doesn’t mention the statement by Iran’s UN ambassador that, had the UNSC condemned the attack, Tehran wouldn’t have had to respond, but it fits in here. This includes Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s April 7 meeting with his Omani counterpart, in which the message was that Iran had to strike back but that it would keep its attack contained, and that it was not seeking a regional war.

• There was also “a whirlwind of phone calls” between Biden Administration officials and their counterparts in Israel, China, India, and Iraq; NATO allies; and others, officials said. Intermediaries and allies told the United States and Israel that Iran planned to hit military sites and not civilian targets, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

• Throughout the Iranian strike, Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards kept open a hotline to Oman’s government, to pass messages back and forth with the United States, Iranian officials said.

• While the Biden Administration described the defense of Israel as a big success, “Israeli officials described the attack in far more dire terms, in part because of its sheer scale. They emphasized that this was a sovereign nation, from its own soil, attacking Israel directly, and not through proxies abroad.”

• The Times account ends with, “The world is still waiting to see what Israel will do.”