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Iranian attack creates challenges for EU and US, as well as for Israel

High Representative Josep Borrell has convened an emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. There will be only one item on the agenda, the Iranian missile and drone attack that was successfully intercepted by Israel and its allies. A spokesperson said that the EU is very clear in calling for restraint by Israel to avoid an escalation that will benefit no-one, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

The Foreign Affairs Council will meet some 24 hours after the Israeli cabinet met to decide on its as yet undisclosed response to the Iranian attack, which itself was in reply to an attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, for which Israel has not acknowledged responsibility. The European Union has condemned both attacks, amid fears of an escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict into an all-out regional war.

It is possible that EU sanctions on Iran and individual Iranian officials will be extended, though they will not be announced before they are implemented. But realistically the only effective pressure on Israel would come from the United States.

One factor that the Israeli government must weigh up is whether the welcome support of some Arab countries that intercepted missiles and drones and provided intelligence that an attack was in its way, is a sign of future cooperation that could be lost if the conflict escalates. American influence on some Arab states, notably Jordan, could have also played its part.

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Dr Jonathan Spyer, the author of studies of both the Israeli-Islamist conflict and the Syria and Iraq wars, argues that the reason the United States has been so pro-active in helping Israel since the Hamas attacks on 7 October 2023 is that has wanted to prevent harsh retaliation against a broad range of Iranian allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

In his view, Iran is not only determined to avoid a direct clash with America but would prefer to return to only waging war on Israel via proxies. Gulf states friendly to Israel, partly due to their own antipathy to the Iranian regime, understand that Israel is under pressure from the United States to show restraint and are concerned about American, not Israeli, policy towards Iran.

Dr Spyer observes that the notion of an EU common foreign policy has always been an aspiration, rather than a reality. But he does detect an incremental increase in concern about Iran by European countries, although he doesn’t expect any major change.

Beni Sabti has advised the Israeli military on how to influence Iranian decision-making and media. He was born and brought up in Tehran before escaping to Israel in 1987. He believes that the regime’s members will be pleased that a few of their missiles were briefly over Jerusalem, even if they were shot down. In their minds, their long-term vision of the destruction of Israel is a little closer.

He claims that only some 15%-20% of the Iranian population support the regime, pointing to the low turnout in parliamentary elections. Social media offers some evidence of popular support for Israel and certainty that it will retaliate against the Iranian regime. “I hope we don’t disappoint them”, he added.

Beni Sabti also suggests that a lack of response from Israel would disappoint the regime itself, leading it to draw the lesson that that Iran could have struck “sooner and harder” against Israel. Regime members would not conclude that Israel was trying to contain the conflict, he warns, they will think that Israel is weaker than they thought.

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