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New Atlanticist April 19, 2024

Experts react: Israel just conducted a limited strike in Iran. Is this the end of the tit for tat?

By Atlantic Council experts

It was a show of force. Early on Friday, the Israeli military reportedly carried out a strike on a military target near the Iranian city of Isfahan. While there is an Iranian nuclear facility nearby, early reports indicated that it was not hit in the strike, and Israeli and Iranian officials seemed eager to downplay the impact. How should we interpret the signals that both sides are sending? Is this the last move in a dangerous geopolitical chess match? Our experts are on the case.

Click to jump to an expert analysis:

Jonathan Panikoff: Decoding the messages from the strikes

Kirsten Fontenrose: Iran, the call is coming from inside the house

Shalom Lipner: Iran and Israel may now be ready to step back from the precipice

Beth Sanner: We have not yet reached the peak threat of escalation

Carmiel Arbit: Limited strike shows Israel is restrained by its multifront war

Qutaiba Idlbi: An apparent Israeli strike in Syria signals the potential for another escalation to come

Thomas S. Warrick: Both Iran and Israel are signaling the damage they could do next time

Holly Dagres: Iranian officials are going out of their way to downplay the Israeli strike

Rob Macaire: Expect more well-practiced ambiguity from both sides

Alia Brahimi: Even if the conflict now retreats, three immediate concerns remain

Andrew Michta: Israel showed that deterrence is about credibility, not escalation management

Masoud Mostajabi: Further escalation is unlikely, but the conflict now moves back to the shadows

C. Anthony Pfaff: Israel’s strike was more about signaling than punishing

Alex Plitsas: Israel’s attack was meant to reestablish deterrence, not to escalate 

Decoding the messages from the strikes

In the early hours of Friday, Israel launched a retaliatory strike against Iran, targeting at least one military installation outside of Isfahan, some 275 miles south of Tehran, according to Israeli and US officials. The strikes were aimed at a military base or bases (it remains unclear) in Iran, just as one of Iran’s primary targets during its attack last weekend appeared to be Israel’s Nevatim air base. Israel appears to be sending three main messages with the strike.

Message one: This is a symmetrical, not proportional, response; but it is sufficient for Israel to close this particular chapter of direct military engagement with Iran. Unlike Iran’s significant escalation over the weekend—in which it used over three hundred ballistic and cruise missiles and drones—Israel’s strike made clear to Iran that it has the ability to successfully strike in and damage Iran, but can do so with far fewer weapons due to its superior technical capabilities.

Message two: Israel has the capability to target Iran’s nuclear program. What would have been escalatory is exactly what Israel did not strike. Not far from where the strikes occurred are a uranium conversion facility (UCF) and the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (INTC), they are part of one of Iran’s most prominent and important facilities housing the country’s ongoing efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. The message from Israel is unusually clear: But make no mistake, Israel has the capability to successfully target the Isfahan UCF and NTC.

Message three: Israel will not permit Iran or its proxies to attack Israel with impunity. Israel will retaliate against an attack on its soil, no matter how little damage is done in that attack or how much Israel’s closest allies implore Jerusalem not to respond. Israel views doing so as a requirement for restoring deterrence, which has been increasingly fragile since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack. Whether Israel’s response succeeded in restoring deterrence, for the time being, is now up to Iran.

Just yesterday, hours before the Israeli strike, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that in the event of Israeli retaliation, “the next response from us [Iran] will be immediate and at a maximum level.” And Iran might ultimately choose to retaliate directly or through one of its proxies. But it is also wary of a major war with Israel and the immediate response by Iranian officials was to downplay the event, with one claiming that Israel’s attack was a “failed and humiliating” drone strike.

Tehran’s next move will indicate which of Israel’s messages got through to Iranian leaders.

Jonathan Panikoff is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. He is a former deputy national intelligence officer for the Near East at the US National Intelligence Council.

Iran, the call is coming from inside the house

Reports from Iran about an assumed Israeli retaliatory strike on a military base near Isfahan say it was carried out by “small drones” and that Iran’s radars did not detect incoming drones across the border. If this is the case, the most important thing to note about this strike is that it was likely conducted from inside Iran. This makes a much larger point about Israeli reach than flying them in from the outside would and should unsettle regime leadership. Israel’s message to Tehran? “The call is coming from inside the house.”

Kirsten Fontenrose is a nonresident fellow with the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. She is president of the advisory firm Red Six International and a former senior director for the Gulf on the US National Security Council, where she led the development of US policy toward nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Yemen, Egypt, and Jordan.

Iran and Israel may now be ready to step back from the precipice

“Turning the other cheek” is a decidedly unpopular doctrine in the contemporary Middle East. While details of Israel’s retaliation against Iran will continue to emerge, what can be asserted confidently is that an Israeli response to the massive April 13 strike on its territory was a foregone conclusion. The ball is back in Iran’s court now. That said, indications are that Tehran and Jerusalem may both be ready to take a step away from the precipice of dangerous escalation.

The Netanyahu government could scant afford to let Iran’s launch of hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles on Israel go unanswered. Notwithstanding an extraordinarily high interception rate of incoming ordnance, the sheer magnitude of the Iranian assault—on the heels of Hamas’s rampage of October 7—posed a direct threat to the credibility of Israeli deterrence of its enemies. The contours of Israel’s raid reflected a balance between the imperative to project strength and the desire, simultaneously, to maintain the support of its allies in countering Iran’s aggressive behavior.

Multiple reports suggest that Israel took a surgical approach to the problem, limiting the scope of its action to a particular military airbase near Isfahan, and taking pains to exclude nuclear sites from its target list. Evidently, Israel, more than it sought to inflict damage on Iran, endeavored to send an explicit message that it possesses the potential to do so—should Israel determine it necessary. Keeping the Biden administration in the loop was the right move, given Israel’s increasing dependence on its foremost advocate.

Reaction in Iran—whose embassy to the United Nations posted on X amid its April 13 attack that “the matter can be deemed concluded”—has telegraphed that Tehran is looking now to end the current exchange. Iranian media has minimized the impact of the Israeli attack, offering that it involved only “small drones” and exacted no casualties. Commercial air traffic was restored quickly. Prevailing narratives in both Iran and Israel now allow for each side to claim satisfaction with their exploits and, more importantly, to scale down their posture.

The big question moving forward is whether this specific affair has inaugurated a new phase in the conflict, with Iran and Israel shifting gears toward direct engagement on each other’s home court. In this regard, an Iranian decision to take the lead—instead of working through terrorist proxies—will be influenced undoubtedly by the evolving challenge it faces from a US-engineered regional alignment, whose performance was instrumental in thwarting Iran’s designs to overwhelm Israel from the air.

What remains true is that the combination of volatility—headlined by Iran’s ongoing nuclear pursuits—and the ever-present danger of miscalculation, which appears to have afflicted Israel’s April 1 assassination of a top Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander in Damascus, will keep the entire region on edge for the foreseeable future.

Shalom Lipner is a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. He previously served seven consecutive Israeli premiers over a quarter-century at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

We have not yet reached the peak threat of escalation

Israel and Iran seem to have averted a regional escalation of the war, but the threat of escalation remains. Lying ahead are the same risks that existed before this round of escalation between Israel and Iran, centered on the threat from Hezbollah, but now in a context where the rules of the game have fundamentally changed.

The veil of the shadow war between Israel and Iran has been lifted and, with it, potential consequences for another round of escalation between one of its proxy forces and Israel or miscalculation in the ongoing shadow war that surely will continue. A Hezbollah missile and drone strike on an Israeli military base there on Wednesday wounded fourteen Israeli soldiers, six of them seriously, reminding us that this threat is far from resolved. More than sixty thousand Israelis remain displaced from the north, unable to return home because of ongoing fighting between the two sides and fears of residents that Hezbollah could execute an attack similar to Hamas’s October 7, 2023 attack.

Israeli leaders have warned that Israel can no longer live with this threat; Israelis overwhelmingly agree. Israeli military leadership has publicly warned they will use military force absent a diplomatic solution, and negotiations appear stalled. The ball seems very much to be in Israel’s court. Iran is seeking to play down the significance of the Israeli retaliatory strike, and Hezbollah’s second in command said earlier this week that it would not escalate unless Israel does. The next round of escalation may not be tomorrow, but is likely to come at a time and place of Israel’s choosing.

—Beth Sanner is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Strategy Project advisory committee and a former US deputy director of national intelligence for mission integration.

Limited strike shows Israel is restrained by its multifront war

After quick deliberation in Israel—and the war cabinet’s promise to retaliate against Iran—Israel did so with restraint. In so doing, the war cabinet sent a message to the Israeli people that it is taking action and reminded Iran what it is capable of. The optics were something of a fly swat: Iran rained hundreds of drone and missile strikes on Israel that had virtually no impact, whereas just a few drones caused targeted damage in Iran.  

The Israeli public’s reception to the increasing tension with Iran has been mixed: On the one hand, since Iran’s thwarted attacks, Likud has been creeping up in the polls. But the far right is constantly pushing the government to do more and go further: Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir responded on X with “Dardalah!”—Hebrew slang for “weak.” This group sees Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as kowtowing to a US administration that has demanded quiet in the region and made clear that it would not support any escalation with Iran.

While the United States undoubtedly played a key role in restraining Israel in its response, Israel is also constrained by its own current realities. The country is embroiled in a multifront war against Hamas and Hezbollah, and Israeli leaders lack the appetite—and possibly the ability—to seriously engage on an additional front.  

Carmiel Arbit is a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East Programs and the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

An apparent Israeli strike in Syria signals the potential for another escalation to come

Before Israel launched its attack against an air base outside Isfahan, Iran, this morning, Israeli warplanes reportedly struck Syrian military installations in southern Syria. The strikes appear to have targeted a Syrian army radar battalion, Izraa municipal airport, and Al-Thula military airport, to disable operational air defense systems in southern Syria that may intercept the Israeli air force.

The current escalation episode started on April 1 with an Israeli airstrike on a building that houses the Iranian consulate and the Iranian ambassador’s residence in Damascus. The strike killed a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy, Mohammad Hadi Haji-Rahimi.

Israel’s restrained and symbolic airstrike on an air base outside Isfahan on Friday seems to be the end of this episode of escalation between Israel and Iran, but the show of force in Syria and the potential for another escalation is far from over.

The United States and Israel need to address the IRGC’s power centers in Syria. Too often, US and Israeli policies on Syria have been shaped by a specific line of thinking: Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, as the devil we know, is better than the devil we do not know. Contrary to this line of thinking, Assad is not the lesser devil. To stay in power, he allowed Iran’s IRGC complete access to the country’s infrastructure and military.

In order to reduce Iran’s threat without going into a full war, the United States and Israel need to reorient their policies in Syria from containing the Iranian threat to dismantling the IRGC’s hold over Syria. This can be achieved politically through a serious diplomatic engagement to revive the negotiation process over Syria’s future, and militarily through supporting US allies in Eastern Syria to cut off Iran’s corridor into Syria on the Syria-Iraq border while continuing to prune remaining assets around the country.

Qutaiba Idlbi is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs where he leads the Syria portfolio.

Both Iran and Israel are signaling the damage they could do next time

On April 13, the world held its breath for about three hours while 330 drones and missiles headed towards Israel, with the prospect of a major war in the Middle East hanging in the balance. Israeli, American, and allied air forces brought down almost all of them, with only a few missiles landing near an Israeli base at Nevatim. Last night, the world held its breath for three hours before it became clear that Israel attacked an Iranian military facility near Isfahan—not Iran’s nearby nuclear facilities. When Iran claimed at dawn’s light that the explosions were from Iran’s air defenses, and that no explosives reached the ground, the feeling of relief across the Middle East and in Washington was almost palpable.

Both Israel and Iran have now made their point to each other this time that they have the ability the next time to do serious damage. Iran gave everyone advance warning about its April 13 attack, but said the next time it would act immediately and without warning.

By attacking a military facility outside Isfahan overnight, Israel demonstrated this time that the next time, it could mount a serious attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and missile launching sites. About a dozen American and Israel experts and television commentators on X (née Twitter) and several cable news channels reached this conclusion between 10:43 p.m. and 10:53 p.m. Washington time.

Just as Iran’s April 13 attack was a demonstration of Iranian capabilities, the April 18-19 strike demonstrates Israel’s capabilities.

Let’s hope that the Iranian regime leadership has reached the same conclusion. If Iran wants to tell its people that nothing important happened the night of April 18-19, perhaps that will be the end—of this round.

Thomas S. Warrick is a senior fellow and director of the Future of DHS Project at the Atlantic Council. He served in the Department of State from 1997-2007 and as deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy at the US Department of Homeland Security from 2008 to 2019.

Iranian officials are going out of their way to downplay the Israeli strike

“It’s always sunny here in Esfahan” was basically how Iranian state media downplayed the Israeli response in the early hours of April 19, as reporters reported live from a square and then the historical Khajoo Bridge. However, hours earlier, videos posted by citizen journalists in Esfahan province, home to a nuclear facility and an enrichment site, showed air defense systems going off and air raid sirens blaring. 

Reports from Iran honed in on Israel’s possible use of quadcopters. It’s unclear if that was meant to belittle the attack and poke fun at what was deemed a weak Israeli response—compared to Tehran’s firing of more than three hundred drones and missiles—or if the quadcopters were, in fact, actually utilized. If true, these small drones were likely launched from inside Iran, potentially highlighting yet another instance in which the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has a presence on the ground and how Iran is its playground. 

It’s worth noting that when Mossad assassinated Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020, officials spoke of a robotic vehicle being used, which resulted in countless jokes and memes on Persian language social media. However, it was much later revealed that Mossad had used a computerized sharpshooter with artificial intelligence and operated it remotely via satellite. 

Iranian authorities said air defense protected an air base in Esfahan, home to Iran’s F-14s, an outdated fleet purchased under the shah. When Iran retaliated directly against Israel on April 13, Tehran’s target was Nevatim air base in southern Israel, where Israel houses its F-35 stealth fighter jets. This appears to have been a tit-for-tat by the Israelis, and the very public downplaying of events suggests that Tehran does not want to retaliate directly against Israel and that deterrence has been restored—for now.

Holly Dagres is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. She is also the editor of the IranSource as well as MENASource blog and curator for the weekly newsletter, The Iranist.

Expect more well-practiced ambiguity from both sides

Since Iran’s mass missile and drone attack against Israel on April 13, there has been intense diplomatic pressure on the Israeli leadership not to respond provocatively—to ‘“take the win” in US President Joe Biden’s words. The United Kingdom has been among those urging restraint and was also among those helping to thwart that Iranian attack. Realistically, a non-response from Israel was never likely. But if the attacks that are now being reported (allegedly on targets in Isfahan, with Iran playing them down) are the sum total of Israel’s response, further escalation may be avoided. That doesn’t mean that attacks by both sides won’t continue. But they may revert to where they have been over recent months, with a combination of calibrated actions.  

Iran’s missile/drone attack was designed to show that Israel couldn’t with impunity carry out actions like the killing of IRGC generals in a Damascus consulate building. Israel’s overnight attacks are presumably intended to show that they can and will continue to strike inside Iran, even if in the past they have not often acknowledged doing so. If, as appears to be the case, the attacks turn out to be against Iran’s drone and missile manufacturing operations in Isfahan, the signal will be one of direct linkage to Iran’s attack, and a line may be drawn. If the attacks had been against nuclear research and development facilities, Iran could have been expected to react by ramping up its nuclear program (every major step up in the program has been in the wake of actions against it, whether sanctions or sabotage).  

Iran’s underlying objective in this situation remains the same—to stoke instability. If Israel’s primary objective is to deter Iran, and build a coalition to more effectively control it, there’s an incentive to be restrained at this point. If, however, Israel sees an interest in precipitating conflict with Iran, and potentially drawing in the United States, it would logically continue with more provocative attacks. Both countries are well practiced at operating with ambiguity. So Israel may not want to indicate clearly whether the overnight attacks have completed its response to Iran’s strikes last week.

—​​Rob Macaire is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Iran Strategy Project and a former ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Even if the conflict now retreats, three immediate concerns remain

The bad news is that this is Iran and Israel’s first exchange of direct attacks. The good news is that both sides seem to be calibrating their uses of force to send political messages rather than to inflict maximal damage.

However, even if the war between the two countries now retreats into the shadows, there are three sources of immediate concern.

The first is that the Israeli leadership went ahead with the latest strike on Iran after Biden had advised Netanyahu to draw a line under the affair, suggesting the tail (Israel) is determined to continue wagging the dog (the United States).

The second is that this latest phase of the conflict, however choreographed, has dealt yet another blow to the credibility of the international rules-based system. Israel’s April 1 attack on Iran’s diplomatic premises in Syria ran roughshod over an important principle of international law relating to the inviolability of embassies and consular spaces. Meanwhile, the European Union has decided to expand sanctions on Iran for its retaliation.

Third, this escalation and its subplots have functioned—perhaps by design—as a diversion from Israel’s campaign in Gaza and from the untold levels of human suffering there. It therefore becomes important to refocus with resolve on the moral emergency in Gaza, so that risky provocations are not inadvertently incentivized.

Alia Brahimi is a nonresident senior fellow within the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. She has worked as a political advisor on policy areas related to the Middle East and North Africa, and has provided expert briefings to several governments.

Israel showed that deterrence is about credibility, not escalation management

Most of the commentary about Israel’s retaliatory strike against Iran has focused on escalation management, with justified concerns about the risk of a wider war engulfing the Middle East.  Regardless of whether Iran now responds, Israel had no choice but to retaliate if it wanted to strengthen deterrence against Iran and its proxies. The last three years have witnessed a progressive unraveling of deterrence in key regions, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hamas’s attack on Israel, and more recently Iran’s attack against Israel to retaliate for the Israeli strike that killed several Iranian generals in Syria.   

No one can predict how this crisis will unfold going forward, but this direct exchange of blows between Iran and Israel—and whatever comes next—will have a lasting impact not just in the Middle East, but also on regional power balances in other theaters. We have entered a period of protracted instability across the globe, with our ability to maintain regional balances determining whether the international system holds or we end up in a full-scale general war.  By retaliating against Iran, Israel reaffirmed that in the final analysis deterrence is about credibility, not escalation management.  

Andrew A. Michta is Director and Senior Fellow, Scowcroft Strategy Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and the former dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

Further escalation is unlikely, but the conflict now moves back to the shadows

Following the calibrated strike by the Islamic Republic of Iran over the weekend, Israel’s vow of revenge meant it simply was not willing to appear weak. However, Friday’s response was similarly measured. According to Iranian officials, the response employed only a few unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were easily intercepted by Iranian air defenses, just as the hundreds of Iranian drones and missiles were easily intercepted by Israeli and allied air defenses.

Israel has reportedly used similar UAVs previously without provoking a strong reaction from Iran. Therefore, the Israelis apparently deemed this approach a way to look strong while not escalating the conflict. Yet it also served as a subtle warning that Israel would not hesitate to target Iranian soil if tensions boil over.

Despite Iran’s claims that it would decisively respond to an Israeli attack, Iranian media downplayed the significance of the Israeli strikes, indicating a willingness to call it even at this stage and negate immediate retaliation. Thus, an immediate escalatory response from Iran seems unlikely.

The United States, alongside much of the international community, can step away from Friday’s strikes with a sigh of relief, having spent the past week urging Israeli leadership to show restraint and prevent further escalation.

For now, this chapter appears to have concluded, marking a return to the “shadow war” between the two regional adversaries. Nonetheless, for as long as the war on Gaza rages, the risk of miscalculation and a widening of the conflict that could draw in regional and international players remains at unprecedented levels.

Masoud Mostajabi is a deputy director of the Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.

Israel’s strike was more about signaling than punishing

Despite hopes that the escalatory spiral between Israel and Iran had been settled, Friday morning’s strike near Isfahan seems to have opened up a new round. By calling the matter “concluded,” Tehran had hoped to impale Israel on the horns of a dilemma by forcing it to choose between escalation and the status quo. Escalation would not only risk a wider conflict at a time when Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are engaged in Gaza, but would also risk undermining support from partners, most of whom have called for restraint.

Accepting the status quo,however, gave Tehran an advantage difficult for the Israelis to ignore. By making any attack against Iranian facilities and personnel engaged in proxy support a potential trigger for escalation, Tehran was able to portray what would otherwise be a legitimate act of defense as an act of aggression. This strategy works because, as I have written elsewhere, it is difficult under international law to hold sponsors accountable for their proxy actions. This accountability “gap” effectively allows Iran to support its proxies while making attacks intended to disrupt that support not just escalatory but potentially illegal under international law. Even if Israel never faces legal sanctions, that potential reinforces a narrative that Israel—and possibly its partners—selectively adhere to the world order they propose to defend. 

Whether the spiral continues remains to be seen. The Israeli strike was restrained relative to what some had feared, and Iranian media is portraying it as ineffective. Thus, apparently, like the Iranian barrage of drones and missiles a few days prior, the strike was more about signaling than punishing. What’s not clear is whether either side is communicating that they got the signal. However, it is possible that the conflict between Iran and Israel will settle into the same kind of tit-for-tat exchange that currently characterizes US engagement with Iran.

C. Anthony Pfaff is a nonresident senior fellow with the Iraq Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and the research professor for Strategy, the Military Profession and Ethic at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), US Army War College in Carlisle, PA. He is the author of Proxy War Ethics: The Norms of Partnering in Great Power Competition.

Israel’s attack was meant to reestablish deterrence, not to escalate 

Israel launched a limited missile strike against Iran in response to Tehran’s unsuccessful April 13 combined drone and missile attack on Israel. Israel’s response appears to have been designed to send a message to the Iranian regime more so than to actually cause damage.

The attack was extremely limited in scope and apparently targeted a single location in Isfahan, which is located in central Iran. Israel struck near nuclear facilities in Isfahan but not the facilities themselves, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

With this attack, Israel sent Iran a number of messages: Israel can strike inside Iran if and when it chooses, it can hit Iran’s nuclear facilities, it can strike deep inside Iran, there’s little Iran can do to stop Israel from doing so, and Iranian strikes against Israel will draw a direct response against targets inside Iran.

Lastly, the limited scope of the strike was also a clear signal that Israel is not looking to escalate a regional conflict. Israel’s attack, which targeted a single site in Iran with no more than a handful of missiles, was not proportional to Iran’s attack, which involved a combination of three hundred drones and ballistic and cruise missiles.

Iranian state media has downplayed the attack and stated explosions were from air defense systems. This appears to be a signal from Tehran that it will dismiss the attack as inconsequential rather than respond. 

The situation remains tense, but it appears that the unprecedented attacks by both Iran and Israel are done for the time being and the two adversaries will resume a posture of deterrence.

Alex Plitsas is a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East Programs’ N7 Initiative and former chief of sensitive activities for special operations and combating terrorism in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Further reading

Related Experts: Jonathan Panikoff, Shalom Lipner, Thomas S. Warrick, and Masoud Mostajabi

Image: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (2nd R) is addressing attendees at a military parade marking Iran's Army Day anniversary at an Army military base in Tehran, Iran, on April 17, 2024. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto)