How Iran’s attack on Israel was stopped (2024)

Iran’s widely anticipated missile and drone attack was defeated with the orchestrated help of the US, UK and Jordan who, alongside the Israeli military, ensured that all but a handful of ballistic missiles were neutralised overnight.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Sunday that about 360 missiles and drones were fired from Iran and that “99% of the threats” had been intercepted in a successful defence mission that may have cost Israel £800m – but will have saved many lives and dented Iran’s military credibility.

Iran’s plan appears to have been to try to overwhelm Israel’s system of air defences with a complex attack of the type employed by Russia against Ukraine, but on a much vaster scale. It comprised relatively slow-moving drones, faster cruise missiles and high-speed ballistic missiles capable of travelling several times quicker than the speed of sound.

Though the attack was well telegraphed, with Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, saying on Sunday it had given neighbouring countries 72 hours notice, its size was notable. Roughly three times a large-scale Russian assault in Ukraine and comprising over 100 ballistic missiles, the assault was a serious threat to any air defence system.

Iran’s chief of general staff, Gen Mohammad Bagheri, said on Sunday that the operation was considered a success and further attacks on its part were not necessary – but while Tehran will have learned about Israel’s air defences, the apparently low impact rate, particularly from the missiles, is likely to be a disappointment.

By comparison, the surprise drone and missile attack on two Saudi oil installations at Abqaiq and Khurais in September 2019, orchestrated by Iran, temporarily knocked out 5% of the world’s oil supply. Estimates vary, but two or three dozen drones and missiles were used at the time.

“Look at the size and scale of this latest attack – this was not a salutary move. It was designed to inflict real damage, but the fact that it didn’t is damaging to Iran’s credibility,” said Sidharth Kaushal of the Royal United Services Institute thinktank.

Middle East crisis: visual guide to Iran’s attack on IsraelRead more

Overnight, international help was critical in eliminating the slower-moving drones: the US said it had knocked out about 70 drones and three missiles. The UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, added that the RAF had intercepted an unspecified number. Other reports indicated Jordan, a longstanding US ally, had shot down dozens more drones over its airspace.

Working together to eliminate drones and cruise and ballistic missiles would have required careful planning, Kaushal added. “This is complex in every way. The defenders were a multinational force, having to operate in a deconflicted way, facing a mixture of weapons with different flight characteristics, from slower-moving drones to high-altitude ballistic missiles.”

Israel’s military said all 170 drones launched from Iran, likely to be from its Shahed family, were shot down before they reached Israeli airspace. In themselves, the drones are not much threat, able only to carry a modest bomb of up to 50kg, but their intention is to tie up defenders.

Videos of the craft, circulated on social media hours before being shot down, gave those responding plenty of time to react. The noisy engines suggested they were the slow-flying Shahed-136, which would take six hours to fly from Iran to Israel, although some Israeli media reported Iran had launched the faster jet-engined Shahed 238, which travel three times more quickly and whose flight time matched the events overnight.

Shahed-238 drone

Though the participation of countries other than the US may have been a surprise overnight, there was plenty of time to plan. It is 10 days since the US first warned about a response from Tehran, and the US and UK had been moving military assets into the Middle East to prepare since then.

On Friday the US said it had shifted assets to the region, but declined to give further details, while the UK enhanced the RAF presence at the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus. Planning was in place at the end of the week, with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, saying on Sunday he had signed off Britain’s involvement at a Cobra emergency meeting two days earlier.

Israel said Iran also launched 30 cruise missiles towards its territory, with IDF jets intercepting 25 “outside the country’s borders”, according to military spokesperson Daniel Hagari. The missiles are most probably the newly designed Paveh-351, designed to be manoeuvrable in flight but still taking two hours from Iran.

The most serious threat came from high-speed ballistic missiles, capable of flying several times the speed of sound and making the journey from Iran to Israel (about 600 miles at the closest points) in less than 15 minutes. More than 120 were launched at Israel, Hagari said, and he acknowledged that “a few” crossed into Israel’s airspace, some striking at the Nevatim airbase.


Tackling these was largely the task of Israel’s air defence system, which relies on rockets to hit incoming missiles. Knocking out the ballistic missiles was primarily the task of the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems, manufactured in an Israeli-US collaboration but never used until the start of the Israel-Hamas war, supported by David’s Sling, a medium-range interceptor.

Brig Gen Reem Aminoach, a former financial adviser to the IDF chief of staff, told Israel’s Ynet News that an Arrow missile typically costs $3.5m (£2.8m) a time, and David’s Sling interceptors $1m (£800,000). Adding up the cost of eliminating 100 ballistic missiles, plus the costs of the whole air defence campaign, is “an order of magnitude of 4 to 5 billion shekels (£850m to £1.1bn)”, he estimated.

However, the attack was also expensive for Iran, with ballistic missiles generally costing upwards of £80,000. The US estimates Tehran had about 3,000, the largest arsenal in the Middle East.

How Iran’s attack on Israel was stopped (2024)


How did Iran attack Israel? ›

On April 13, Iran launched a large salvo of missiles and drones at Israel. Designated “Operation True Promise,” the attack reportedly included around 170 drones, 120 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles.

What is the reason for conflict between Israel and Iran? ›

Concurrently, starting in 2010, a shadow war emerged between Iran and Israel over Israel's efforts to hinder Iran's nuclear program and military buildup through espionage, targeted assassinations, sabotage, and cyberattacks.

When did Iran attack Israel in 2024? ›

On 13 April 2024, Iran launched more than 330 drones and missiles against Israel in what it said was in retaliation for an attack on its consulate in Syria.

Who did Iran attack? ›

The attack on Iran follows an unprecedented Iranian assault on Israel last weekend that Tehran said was retaliation for a deadly suspected Israeli airstrike on Iran's consulate in Syria on April 1. The reprisals marked the first time the Islamic Republic had launched a direct assault on Israel from its soil.

When did Iran attack Israel? ›

Several countries in the Middle East preemptively closed their airspace a few hours prior to Iran launching a standoff attack against Israel around midnight on 13 April.

How much did Iran spend to attack Israel? ›

Experts have calculated the cost of the April 13 attack for Iran at $100-$200 million — perhaps five to ten times less than what Israel spent to repel it. That means a huge recurring bill if Iran were to keep attacking.

What is the relationship of Israel and Iran? ›

MALONEY: Iran has been hostile to Israel since the 1979 revolution, and their consistent rhetoric has been that they believe that Israel is an illegitimate state and should be expelled from the region.

What is the main reason for the Arab Israeli conflict in the Middle East? ›

The origins of the conflict go back to the end of the nineteenth century when the Zionist movement conceived the idea of building a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. This project met with bitter opposition on the part of the Arab population of the country.

Why is the Arab Israeli conflict happening? ›

The roots of the modern Arab–Israeli conflict lie in the tensions between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism; the latter having risen in response to Zionism towards the end of the 19th century.

Did Israel help Iran in war? ›

During the war, Israel was one of the main suppliers of military equipment to Iran. Israel also provided military instructors during the war, and in turn received Iranian intelligence that helped it carry out Operation Opera against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

Why did Iran fall in 1979? ›

Its causes continue to be the subject of historical debate and are believed to have stemmed partly from a conservative backlash opposing the westernization and secularization efforts of the Western-backed Shah, as well as from a more popular reaction to social injustice and other shortcomings of the ancien régime.

Where did Israel attack Iran? ›

JERUSALEM (AP) — Satellite photos taken Monday suggest an apparent Israeli retaliatory strike targeting Iran's central city of Isfahan hit a radar system for a Russian-made air defense battery, contradicting repeated denials by officials in Tehran of any damage in the assault.

What did Israel bomb in Iran? ›

One missile on Friday hit an antiaircraft battery in a strategically important part of central Iran, while another exploded in midair, the officials said.

What did Israel target in Iran? ›

The eventual strike on Friday appeared to target a Iranian Air Force base near the city of Isfahan, deep inside the country and close enough to nuclear facilities to send a message of Israel's reach but without using airplanes, ballistic missiles, striking any strategic sites or causing major damage.

Who started the Iranian war? ›

On 22 September 1980, Iraqi forces launched a limited incursion into southern Iran. In ordering this attack, Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein sought to counter the revolutionary government of Ayatollah Khomeini, which had been attempting to destabilize Iraq's ruling Ba'ath government.

What targets did Iran hit in Israel? ›

One of the missiles that made it through Israel's air defenses hit a runway at the Nevatim Air Base, one hit an empty airplane hangar and another hit a hangar that was no longer in use. The IDF said the base remained operational.

Does Iran have nuclear weapons? ›

In December 2007, the United States National Intelligence Estimate (which represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies) concluded, with a "high level of confidence", that Iran had halted all of its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen.

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