Israel’s Strike on Iran Highlights Its Ability to Evade Tehran’s Air Defenses

An Israeli airstrike on Iran on Friday damaged an air defense system, according to Western and Iranian officials, in an attack calculated to deliver a message that Israel could bypass Iran’s defensive systems undetected and paralyze them.

The strike damaged a defensive battery near Natanz, a city in central Iran that is critical to the country’s nuclear weapons program, according to two Western officials and two Iranian officials. The attack — and the revelation on Saturday of its target — was in retaliation for Iran’s strike in Israel last week after Israel bombed its embassy compound in Damascus. But it used a fraction of the firepower Tehran deployed in launching hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel.

The strike on Friday was the latest salvo in a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the two countries this month that have heightened fears of a broader regional conflict. But the relatively limited scope of Israel’s strike and the muted response from Iranian officials seem to have eased tensions.

Iran and Israel have conducted a yearslong shadow war, but the conflict intensified on April 1, when Israeli warplanes killed seven Iranian officials, including three senior commanders, at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria, which Israel asserts was used as a military site. Iran responded last week by firing a barrage of drones and cruise and ballistic missiles at Israel, almost all of which were shot down by Israel and its allies. But the strikes nevertheless rattled Israelis.

That attack was Iran’s first-ever direct assault on Israeli soil, thrusting the countries’ clandestine warfare — long fought by land, air, sea and cyberspace — into open view. The Israeli government vowed to respond, even as world leaders and Western allies, including the United States, rushed to de-escalate the situation, urging Israel not to respond in a way that could lead to a regional war.

A protest against Israel after Friday prayers in Tehran.Credit…Arash Khamooshi for The New York Times
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