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How US led Israel's defense against Iran's retaliatory attack

US reports shed light on systems used to intercept Iranian salvo, including fighter jets, missile defenses and naval assets equipped to take out ballistic missiles

13:35 - 17/04/2024 Wednesday
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File photo
File photo

Reports suggest the US took the lead among Israel's other allies in repelling Iran's April 13 retaliatory attack, which has stoked fears of a wider regional war.

Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles in its first-ever direct attack on Israel, a response to the April 1 Israeli airstrike on its diplomatic compound in Damascus that killed several Iranian officials, including senior commanders.

Almost all of the projectiles were reportedly intercepted by Israeli air defenses and a coalition of forces, led by the US and including the UK, France and Arab states such as Jordan.

According to American news outlet The Intercept, the US “did most of the heavy lifting” and “shot down more drones and missiles than Israel” last Saturday night.

A press release from the US Central Command on Monday said its forces, supported by US European Command destroyers, “successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAV) and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen.”

This was, The Intercept added, part of a “multination, regionwide defense extending from northern Iraq to the southern Persian Gulf” coordinated by the Pentagon.

Citing unnamed American officials, a report by Air & Space Forces Magazine, a monthly publication of the US non-profit Air & Space Forces Association, revealed the US also used F-16 Fighting Falcons, apart from the previously reported role of F-15E Strike Eagles, to shoot down “dozens of Iranian drones as they were heading toward targets in Israel.”

Two US F-15 squadrons are “deployed to the Middle East,” with “at least half of the planes at Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan,” The Intercept said.

Both news outlets also reported that a battery of the Patriot missile defense system in Iraq's northern Erbil region took down at least one ballistic missile.


- Naval assets

The US operation also involved warships stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean – the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Carney.

They were focused on shooting down Iranian ballistic missiles using the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMD), and various US news outlets placed their number of successful interceptions between three to six.

According to The War Zone, an outlet focused on defense and security, the US may have used SM-3 anti-missile interceptors “capable of engaging ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, outside of the Earth's atmosphere during the mid-course portion of their flight.”

It said the main interceptors currently used in the Aegis BMD system are “variants of SM-3 and SM-6.”

The SM-3s “have been in testing for decades” and this would mark their “first use … against real incoming threats,” the report said.

“Being a midcourse interceptor, the SM-3 can defend a much larger area against more advanced ballistic missiles than its SM-6 counterpart,” it said.

The SM-6 also “reportedly made its combat debut relatively recently as part of operations in and around the Red Sea,” the report added.


- ‘Paradoxical effect'

The intervention of Israel's allies during the April 13 attack, especially the US, holds particular significance, according to David Campbell, an international relations associate professor at the University of Vienna.

Israel was in a very diplomatically troublesome position following its deadly attack on a World Central Kitchen (WCK) convoy in Gaza, but the Iranian attack has given it a “window of opportunity … to break out of its isolation,” he said.

Apart from being a “gift to Israel,” the Iranian move could also have some “deescalating effects,” particularly since it was “ineffective” and did not cause any major damage, said Campbell.

“That is … almost a paradoxical effect. If the Iranian airstrike caused destruction in Israel, this would have led probably to a situation in which Israel would have had to retaliate,” he explained.

In the current situation, Israel has “a position of strength” but must also decide whether “they want to retaliate in a military sense or not,” keeping in mind the need to “rehabilitate” its ties with its Western allies, he added.

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