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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    U.S. details Pentagon’s role in defending Israel from Iranian attack

    Among the U.S. forces that participated were the 494th Fighter Squadron, with headquarters in Britain; and the 335th Fighter Squadron, of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Combined, the two squadrons used their F-15E Strike Eagles to take down about 70 attack drones heading to Israel, and received a phone call after from President Joe Biden. The jets are designed for both air-to-air combat and deep interdiction, the Air Force says.

    As Iran launched its much-anticipated attack on Israel on Saturday, the night sky was filled with deadly threats. More than 100 ballistic missiles were fired, senior U.S. officials said, complemented by about 30 cruise missiles and more than 150 explosive drones.

    Israel’s vaunted missile defense systems ramped up to engage the munitions as they were launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. But they were flanked by U.S. and British fighter jets, a Patriot missile defense system manned by U.S. troops in Iraq and U.S. destroyers off the coast of Israel, each ready to assist.

    The result, a senior Biden administration official said Sunday, was a “spectacular defeat” of Iran’s attack, even though it was larger than U.S. officials had anticipated.

    “You can imagine those tense moments,” the official said, speaking to reporters Sunday on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

    Among the U.S. forces that participated were the 494th Fighter Squadron, with headquarters in Britain; and the 335th Fighter Squadron, of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Combined, the two squadrons used their F-15E Strike Eagles to take down about 70 attack drones heading to Israel, and received a phone call after from President Joe Biden. The jets are designed for both air-to-air combat and deep interdiction, the Air Force says.

    A senior military official, speaking on the same call, said that the USS Carney and USS Arleigh Burke, destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, shot down between four and six ballistic missiles in the attack. U.S. troops manning the Patriot missile defense system in Irbil, Iraq, took down another missile that had violated Iraqi airspace on its vector to Israel, the official said.

    All told, Israeli and U.S. officials said that 99 percent of the incoming munitions were intercepted, suggesting just a few may have struck their intended targets in the Jewish state. At least one ballistic missile readied by Houthis in Yemen was destroyed on the launch pad, officials said, pointing to the coalition presence that has surveilled militant activity in the region in the last few months.

    “There’s virtually no infrastructure damage to Israel at all,” the senior administration official said. That, he said, was despite Iran’s intent to cause “significant damage and deaths in Israel.”

    Iranian drones similar to those used in the attack have been deployed by Russian forces to target Ukrainian infrastructure, and a key strategy there is to exhaust Kyiv’s costly air defense with cheaper and plentiful weapons to make future attacks easier, said Samuel Bendett, a member of the Russia studies program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a policy institute based in Arlington, Va. Tehran has almost certainly taken note, Bendett said.

    It was notable that some of the drones used are slower and less sophisticated than jet-powered drones they also have in their inventory, he said, and it was likely Iran knew those drones would be destroyed relatively easily.

    But the attack still imposed new challenges on Israel, Bendett suggested. To achieve a 99 percent interception rate required defenses that are probably “much costlier than the total number of threats arrayed against Israel,” he said.

    “In this case, the mission was accomplished,” he said. “Israel had to get its aircraft in the air.”

    Iran’s success overall was hit-and-miss, said Tom Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There was no strategic surprise, and the overall defeat of the threat demonstrated the value of diverse air defense systems that handle numerous types of weapons, he said.

    Yet the size of the operation itself prompts questions about the stocks now available for air defense systems, Karako said, which are finite and expensive.

    “The concern here is that Israel shot a lot of stuff. And so that speaks to their capacity issues,” Karako said. “You don’t take out 100 ballistic missiles of any type without dipping into capacity. So that’s going to be an issue here for the next steps.”

    Retired Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, who oversaw U.S. forces in the Middle East before retiring in 2022, said on Sunday that Iran, too, expended a lot of resources in the attack that will affect its ability to carry out anything similar soon. Speaking on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” McKenzie said that Iran has more than 3,000 missiles of various types scattered across the country, with a little more than 100 in western Iran, where they can target Israel.

    “Based on what the Israelis are saying, I believe they fired most of those weapons at Israel,” McKenzie said. “The Israelis, obviously, were able to intercept most of them. Iran could not replicate last night’s attack tonight, if they had to.”

    McKenzie called the attack a “maximum effort,” and said there was “nothing moderate” about it. Iran used its “most important capability,” ballistic missiles, in the assault, and it still failed, he assessed.

    “So I think Israel this morning is now much stronger than they were yesterday,” McKenzie said. “And Iran is relatively weaker than it was yesterday.”

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