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Iran boasts that its weekend attack against Israel was a huge success

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

World leaders are calling on Israel to show restraint after Iran's unprecedented but largely ineffective airstrikes over the weekend. They are wary of these attacks spiraling into a broader regional conflict.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized that Iran intended to cause, quote, "significant destruction and casualties."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KIRBY: Iranian leaders launched so many missiles and other munitions because they knew that many were going to be defeated, but the aim was to get as many of them through Israel's defenses as possible.

MARTÍNEZ: And Israel's military chief of staff says a response will be coming, but didn't say when or how.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon is following developments from Istanbul. Good morning Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: So, Peter, Israel and the United States have made a point of letting the world know that their forces, along with some others, shot down 99% of Iran's missiles and drones. So what are the Iranians saying about this?

KENYON: Well, perhaps a bit surprisingly, given the failure of the Iranian attack to cause really significant damage, officials in Tehran from the president on down have been lavish with their praise for the operation. They're calling it a huge success. President Ebrahim Raisi said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, had taught a lesson to the Zionist entity - that's how Iran sometimes refers to Israel - and IRNA, the state news agency, quoted an Iranian lawmaker, Mojtaba Zul-Nuri, as saying the IRGC's punitive operation was a victory and a cause of pride for the people as it humiliated the Israeli regime.

MARTIN: OK, so we're calling this unprecedented because this was a direct attack on Israeli territory. Why did Iran feel it had to respond in such a dramatic manner?

KENYON: Well, Iran has long been committed to responding to any attacks against it, but usually it does so through its proxies in the region. After this airstrike on its consulate building in Damascus, which Iran blames on Israel, Tehran condemned what it called a major violation of international law. Iran also may have recalled the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020, perhaps seeing a need for a show of strength to try and deter future strikes. Now, Iranian officials weren't alone in protesting the Damascus strike. The U.N. secretary general, Antonio Guterres, strongly condemned the attack. He called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and added that neither the region nor the world can afford another war.

MARTIN: So let me go back to that strike. Has Israel taken credit for it, and how has Israel justified it?

KENYON: Well, Israel said the strike took out a key IRGC general who had played an important role in getting weapons to Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has been exchanging fire with Israel in the north. So that was their explanation.

MARTIN: So the U.S. and other countries are urging Israel not to respond. They're also looking at sanctions on Iran, which is already under a sanctions regime. So, Peter, do we have any sense of how effective further sanctions would actually be?

KENYON: Well, good question. Western countries have been levying sanctions on Iran for many years now. They do cause economic pain among ordinary Iranians, primarily. Whether they change Tehran's behavior is another question.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Peter, how are other countries viewing Iran after the attack?

KENYON: Well, Iran finds itself diplomatically isolated even among countries that are not necessarily friendly with Israel. Russia does still support Tehran. That's very important to Iran. Moscow has a veto at the U.N. Security Council, for one thing, and China has generally followed Russia's lead when it comes to Iran. But in the region, many of Iran's neighbors have no love for the Islamic Republic or its proxy militias, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen. Now, Jordan, for instance, helped shoot down some of the Iranian drones and missiles Iran fired at Israel Sunday. Saudi Arabia is another important U.S. ally. And we should note that Hamas was badly hurt by the Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip. So that reduces Iran's ability to cause damage.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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