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Israel retaliates against Iran

Posted April 19, 2024

A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. Iran fired air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones early Friday morning, raising fears of a possible Israeli strike in retaliation for Tehran's unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country. On the missiles, a decorative sign reads: "Allah" (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Israel conducted a strike in Iran early this morning in what appears to be its first military response to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel last weekend.

Fars news agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that explosions were heard in the city of Isfahan in central Iran near an air force base. Iranian state TV also reported that several drones were shot down by air defenses in the city.

Climbing down “the escalation ladder”?

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both seem to signal a successful effort by diplomats working to avert all-out war after Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday. Tehran is playing down the incident and indicates it has no plans to respond. In fact, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators” rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

According to Israeli officials, their leaders came close to ordering widespread strikes in Iran on the night Iran attacked. However, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to American President Joe Biden, and because the damage was limited, the war cabinet postponed a decision.

Rather than launching a response that would intensify the conflict with Iran, Israel chose a limited action aimed at military targets. Its response was reportedly intended to show Iran that Israel can strike within its borders, but without provoking a larger escalation. In turn, Iranian state-run media sought to minimize the incident, airing footage of an otherwise peaceful Isfahan morning.

“As long as Iran continues to deny the attack and deflect attention from it and no further hits are seen, there is space for both sides to climb down the escalation ladder for now,” according to Sanam Vakil, the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House.

“Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies”

We can be grateful that leaders in Israel and Iran have apparently chosen the path of de-escalation, since an all-out war between their nations would affect the world in a number of dire ways:

  • Oil supplies would be threatened, sending oil prices skyward and damaging the global economy.
  • A conflict could trigger a sell-off in the global stock market, with oil-based sectors such as automobiles, transportation, and aviation taking the greatest hit.
  • Such a war would likely bring Hezbollah more fully into the conflict, threatening all of Israel with its rocket and missile systems and formidable ground forces.
  • And Iran could develop nuclear weapons, a step it has avoided thus far through fear of military escalation with Israel and the US.

However, we should not interpret the motives of Iranian and Israeli leaders so altruistically.

In his perceptive book Why Politics Fails, Oxford professor Ben Ansell writes:

The basic model underlying political economy is that everyone is selfish, or at the very least self-interested. You have a set of things that you want, and you’ll do your utmost to get them. Self-interest is everywhere. It explains why we do what we do. And why we should expect others to do that as well.

This is why, as British Prime Minister Henry John Temple stated in the mid-1800s:

“Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

His sentiment was echoed most famously by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, but it applies to all nations across all of history.

Leaders in democracies are elected to advance the interests of the people they serve. However, it is in their self-interest to do so effectively enough to be reelected. Leaders in autocracies typically act to their personal benefit. In both cases, if we can determine what is in their self-interest, we can typically predict their behavior.

It is in Israel’s self-interest not to escalate conflict directly with Iran while it confronts the existential threat of Hamas in Gaza along with Hezbollah on its northern border, militias in Syria and Iraq, jihadists in the West Bank, and the Houthis in Yemen. It is in Iran’s self-interest to wage its war with Israel through proxies rather than in ways that directly endanger its military and economy.

Thus, the long-running “shadow war” between the two nations has apparently returned to its previous status quo—at least for now.

How to discover if you are a servant

What is true of national leaders is also true of individual humans. It is in my self-interest to write an article this morning that you will find helpful to the degree that you continue to read what I write and support the ministry that enables me to do this work. It is in your self-interest to read this article to the degree that it meets your personal needs on some level.

There is only one way to escape the “will to power” by which we strive to be our own god (Genesis 3:5), and that is to experience the transformation by which God’s Spirit remakes us in the image of God’s Son so that we manifest the character of the God who “is” love (1 John 4:8). The “fruit” of this Spirit in our lives is “love,” translating the Greek agape, which refers to the unconditional, self-sacrificial commitment to put the other person first (Galatians 5:22).

When we submit our lives every day to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), he enables us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). He empowers us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). With his help, we can break the cycle of retribution by forgiving as we have been forgiven and loving as we are loved.

Today’s news highlights the binary choice I discussed yesterday: to treat people as instrumentally valuable to the degree that they are means to our ends, or to treat them as intrinsically valuable as sacred bearers of the imago Dei (Genesis 1:27).

The former perpetuates the wars between nations and conflicts between people that have blighted humanity across our history. The latter is the path to God’s best for ourselves and our world as we emulate the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

To discover if you are truly a servant, see how you respond the next time someone treats you like one.

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