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Over the weekend, Iran deployed hundreds of drones and missiles in an attack on Israel. Now, Israel weighs its response as US officials and their allies try to prevent further escalation.

On today’s Big Take podcast, Israel bureau chief Ethan Bronner and national security editor Nick Wadhams join host David Gura to discuss what happened over the weekend, and where this conflict could go from here.

Read More: Iran’s Attack on Israel Sparks Race to Avert a Full-Blown War

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Here is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation:

David Gura:  Over the weekend, Iran deployed hundreds of drones and missiles in an attack on Israel.

BTV:  World leaders have urged restraint after Iran of course fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday evening…

Gura:  It was an unprecedented escalation in a long-running conflict between the two nations, which, until recently, had played out mostly indirectly. 

That changed after April 1st, when a strike on an Iranian embassy compound in Syria, killed several Iranian officers, including a high-ranking general.

BTV: Iran has been saying for days that it has to retaliate for this attack on its diplomatic compound in Syria. It viewed that attack as really an assault on its own soil. 

Gura:  Iran blamed Israel for that strike, and vowed to retaliate, though Israel has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack. Late Saturday night, Israel-time, Iran delivered on its threat, with a series of carefully orchestrated moves.

Ethan Bronner:  The risk of a genuine war in the Middle East went up substantially on Saturday night. 

Gura:  That's Bloomberg’s Israel bureau chief Ethan Bronner. 

Bronner:  For the first time  ever, Iran shot directly at Israel from its soil using sophisticated ballistic missiles. And Israel has not yet responded, but when and if it does, that could add to the risk to oil, the risk to stability, the risk to hundreds of millions of people who live in the region is not trivial.

Gura: Allies to Israel, including the U-S, the U-K, and France stepped in to help minimize the damage the attack could cause, and now they are urging Israel not to respond in a way that would throw the region deeper into conflict. Today on The Big Take: Iran’s attack on Israel, and what it means for the region and the rest of the world. I’m David Gura.

Gura:   To understand exactly what happened this week, I spoke with Ethan Bronner. He’s our Israel bureau chief, based in Tel Aviv. We taped this conversation at 7 a.m. in New York, which was 2 p.m. in Israel. I started by asking him to describe how the attacks unfolded.

Bronner:  Saturday evening, quite late our time, or maybe around 11 o'clock, it became clear that a bunch of drones had left the dry plains of Iran to arrive at Israel, probably six to eight hours later, they were saying.

So for a while, we were waiting. And then, around two or three, suddenly a whole bunch of ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles began to work their way to Israel and basically, 350 projectiles of various kinds were sent directly from Iranian soil onto Israeli soil, an unprecedented attack by Iran from its own soil onto Israel, and the first time in history, for decades.

And they were all shot down. They were either shot down with their combination of activity by Israel, the UK, the US and France and others participated and played a role in helping them stop.

In the end, I think about six or eight ballistic missiles did get through to Israel, and one hit an air base in the Negev, in the South. The Israelis said very, very limited damage. Shrapnel did hit a seven year old girl in the south as well, and she is fighting for her life in a hospital. But other than that, it was a remarkably pain free event for Israel. 

Gura:  Ethan what have Israeli officials said since the attack?

Bronner:  You know, I'd say the initial response is one of enormous pride and defiance that you could send 350 sophisticated weapons pieces to Israel and they could all be shot down. There's also the: Look, you see, world? When we tell you that Iran is the source of all evil, what more do you need to know? There's that. 

And then of course, there's the whole question of what Israel's response is, will be, should be and so forth. And that's a very complicated conversation. First of all, the United States, which was instrumental in helping Israel has been urging it to not respond it within any kind of urgency, as have France and Britain and other and Austria and Germany, other countries that Israel has in the past been close to, but in the last, say, two or three months since the war in Gaza has been seen to be deeply problematic. So I think that for Israel to be back in the bosom of its allies was satisfying. 

So that helped sort of lead to the idea that Israel could wait and think about its response in its own time. On the other hand, the government of this country is… Prime Minister Netanyahu is the sort of far left corner of this government. Everybody else is to his right, and really rather far to his right. 

And many of those ministers have been calling very loudly for a harsh response, a crushing attack and so forth. And channel 14 in this country, which is the kind of Fox News of Israel, the main commentator, basically went on TV yesterday and said, if this government doesn't respond, it has no right to exist.

So there's plenty of pressure from the far right, but I would say that generally in the population, I don't think there's an enormous thirst for an instantaneous response. 

And then there's of course all these other things going on. As you know, the reason all this is happening is this war in Gaza. There are more than a hundred hostages being held, and Israelis want them back, and also want to eliminate the ability of Hamas, the Islamist group in Gaza, to be ever able to cross and do the kind of damage it did on October 7th. 

Gura:  What, what led to the attacks that we saw over this weekend? 

Bronner:  Israel and Iran have been engaged in what is often called a shadow war for some four decades. That is because Iran has an official ideology which is that Israel has no right to exist. And has been funding and arming militias around Israel, in Lebanon and in Syria to arm them, to train them and to encourage them with the idea that eliminating the state of Israel was an appropriate task and that they would help them.

For example, It is believed that Hezbollah, the militia in Lebanon, gets almost a billion dollars a year from Iran. So it's kind of one of its main goals. And I think that what happened on October 7th, when Hamas, the Islamist group in Gaza, caused such damage in Israel, it was an incredible blow to this country's sense of itself and security, and also a sort of a moment of recognition of that what was seen as a ragtag militia over on the other side of that fence was actually quite sophisticated… And that Israel's strategic position was more vulnerable than it had been understood.

Israel has considered the risk of a nuclear armed Iran to be an existential risk, and it has over the years sabotaged and worked to eliminate the ability of Iran to move forward as both a nuclear and generally as a power. It has, over the years, actually killed Iranian nuclear scientists and various Iranian officials on the military side.

And on April 1st of this year, a drone attack took out seven Revolutionary Guard officers — that's of Iran — in the city of Damascus, the capital of Syria, next to an Iranian diplomatic compound. Two of those were the two top commanders in Lebanon and Syria for the Revolutionary Guard, and that was a major blow to Iran.

And Iran said it was not going to take this lying down. It was going to attack Israel back. It has traditionally, historically, not done so from its own soil. It has used the proxy militias, Hezbollah, Hamas, to do those things. But this time, it said, it was going to do that. 

Gura:  Ethan, the fear here is of a wider conflagration or a wider war. What are you going to be watching for in the days to come that sort of indicates the direction of this conflict?

Bronner:  The first issue would be whether Israel does respond militarily aggressively to Iran. All signs these days are that it is not planning to do that in the short term. Iran has reopened its own airspace. Israel announced the opening of its own schools and its own airspace. There's a sense of… That that is not going to happen, but there are these proxy battles that are ongoing.

So what is Israel going to do in Gaza? It has now called up two divisions of reservists. So one has the sense that it may be picking up its activity there. And then equally in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon, the battle between Hezbollah and Israel has been ongoing. So that battle is very serious as well. 

I mean, if one or two of those ballistic missiles had gotten into Israel and killed people, I think we'd be having a very different conversation today, would be in a very different position, regionally and internationally.

That said, it didn't happen, and Iran even before all the missiles arrived, said, This is it, we're done, on Saturday night.

Gura:  That was Bloomberg's Israel bureau chief, Ethan Bronner. Regardless of how Israel responds, and what Iran does next, there will be global ramifications. We’ll get to those after the break. 

Gura:  Over the weekend, we saw a broad coalition of nations coordinate to take out as many Iranian drones and missiles headed for Israel as possible. To trace how that effort came together, and why so many countries felt it was imperative to get involved, I turned to Nick Wadhams. He’s an editor in Washington, who oversees our national security team. 

Gura:  So in the run up to these attacks, and while they were taking place, what were you and your colleagues on the national security team tracking?

Nick Wadhams:  The big thing was essentially that while Iran was messaging that this attack was inevitable and would come, very soon, the administration and its allies were working furiously to stop it. So it was this fascinating dynamic that was unfolding where we were really seeing the limits of US power and its ability to exert what little leverage it has left over a country like Iran when the two countries are not speaking to each other and their economies have been so separated because of the sanctions.

The US and the UK, France, Italy, all these G7 countries that had been calling and pressing Iran not to go ahead with the attack were just totally ignored. So you had the UK Prime Minister come to the US, he had spoken with the Iranian foreign minister… He came and did a press conference with Blinken where he basically said, listen, they cannot do this. This will be a disaster if they do it. He tweeted, President Biden said don't do it, so you have this strange dynamic where the administration has put so much focus on public messaging as well as the behind the scenes stuff. I mean, I don't envy the work that these guys have to do, in a situation like that, but it was a fascinating moment.

Gura:  So Nick, we get word that these attacks are underway, and then we see this kind of coalition of many countries step up to essentially intercept a lot of these missiles and drones. What was that like, and how did it come together?

Wadhams:  This was an incredible moment where you really saw the depth of the planning from the US and the UK and also some regional allies. Jordan played a very surprising role here in shooting down some of those drones. National Security Council officials came on a call with reporters afterwards and said they had spent 10 days preparing for this. 

They had diverted two US Naval destroyers that had been in the region, but they put them even closer into proximity. And then you saw, in real time, this extraordinary cat and mouse game where we knew there were these drones and missiles coming toward Israel. And it was clear that while Israel was knocking down a lot of these drones and missiles with its own air defense systems and its jets, you also had the US and the UK sending up jets of their own, F-35s, to knock them down.

So what that showed me was that there was a very, very detailed plan to deploy as soon as they got the intelligence that Iran had launched these drones. And then in the end, you have to say it worked extremely effectively. I think 99 percent of the drones and missiles got shot down.

Gura:  How did the scale and the scope of these attacks compare to what the administration, what other governments expected would happen?

Wadhams:  I think in the end, the really interesting thing was, the number of drones and missiles and the fact that they use ballistic missiles… I mean, in total, I think they said there were about 300 drones, surface to surface missiles and ballistic missiles… Exceeded what a lot of people thought would be the response from Iran. What also exceeded expectations was Israel's ability to stop it. But it was clear that this was not the sort of nightmare scenario that folks had really feared would happen.

There was fear at some point, there were a lot of messages and reports swirling around that this was a multi pronged attack coming from numerous directions, and that Israel would simply be overwhelmed. That never happened. In the end, it turned out to be relatively limited also in terms of the targeting. So most of the targets were limited to Northern Israel, so you didn't see attacks across the breadth of the country.

Gura:  Nick, what have Israeli officials said about what might happen next?

Wadhams:  Well, this is the big question that we are all trying to figure out. So, Israel has said it is essentially duty-bound to respond. Its ambassador went to the UN and said this was an unprecedented attack on a sovereign nation, which, of course, is true, though Israel has also launched attacks on Iranian forces in Syria, for example.

They have said they will respond. The messaging that's really interesting that we've heard coming both from Israel and its proxies in the think tank community and elsewhere is that revenge is a dish best served cold, which to me suggests, Okay, they're gonna wait some time. We have been speaking with people for the last 24 hours, and there's a real sense that really any option is on the table.

There could be a direct attack. Israel could choose to go after Iran's nuclear program. So, really, I think at this point, what you're seeing from the administration is they say, Hey, listen, take the win. You guys did great. You repelled all those attacks. You don't really need to do any more. You've proved your military might. 

That is not the message we're getting from Israel.

Gura:  And my read of the message from Iran is, This is done. We have responded in kind. There's nothing else that Iran is planning here. Am I reading that right?

Wadhams:  It was an extraordinary moment in a week full of them, where Iran sent this letter to the UN Security Council and basically said, Hey, we now regard this operation as completed. You know, it does make you think about what the point of these attacks is. Was Iran actually trying to achieve some military objective in these attacks? Seeing as how it didn't achieve anything with the attacks, at least militarily, basically none of its targets were hit. But then they still say, okay, The action is over, which makes you think really that this was a messaging campaign designed to send a warning to Israel that more could come.

Gura:  Nick, it's Monday morning in New York and Washington as we're speaking. What are you watching for in the hours to come?

Wadhams:  So, a few things. Obviously, we're trying to figure out how Israel will respond and whether it lays the groundwork for a military response against Iran or tries to push this back into the shadows with assassinations, for example, that it doesn't take responsibility for, cyber attacks, things like that.

The second in the U.S. is how this shapes U.S. military assistance for Israel and Ukraine. There's this supplemental that's been hung up in Congress because the House Speaker doesn't want to send it to a vote. We now have indications that the attack by Iran has unlocked that in some form.

And then another thing is: What happens to Israel's campaign in Gaza? The Iran situation has diverted attention so much from Israel's campaign. Israel has been determined to go ahead with this invasion of Rafah, where there are about a million civilians. The U.S. has said, Please, you know, do not do that without a plan for these people.

But you have a moment right now where there is real unity. Iran is isolated again, Israel is not because of this attack. Do they decide maybe now is an opportune time to commit to the ceasefire or do they say, No we're just going to go ahead with this thing anyway?

Gura:  Nick Wadhams is an editor in Bloomberg's Washington bureau, overseeing national security coverage.

Gura:  Thanks for listening to The Big Take from Bloomberg News.  I'm David Gura.

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