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Iran's attack on Israel raises fear of regional conflict

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

What is the next move in the Middle East? What might Israel do? How far might Israel go in response to Iran's attack over the weekend? Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday night, which was Iran's response to Israel's attacking its diplomatic compound in Damascus back on April 1. Well, let's bring in Sima Shine, former head of research and analysis for Israel's espionage agency, the Mossad. When I spoke to her from Tel Aviv earlier today, Sima Shine, like so many others, characterized the attack this weekend as unprecedented.

How big an escalation does this represent, in your view, of what has been a long-running shadow war between your country and Iran?

SIMA SHINE: Yeah, that's - I think it's crossing the Rubicon from the point of view of Iran. It...

KELLY: Why?

SHINE: Iran never did before anything similar to that. In spite of everybody telling the Iranians not to do it, they decided to do it. And they took upon themselves the responsibility for escalation. What is interesting is that during the time that all these elements were on their way from Iran to Israel, their ambassador in the U.N. already came out and said, we have launched. But it's finished, and we don't want to escalate. So everything was prepared, and they believe that they can stop it without escalation.

KELLY: Well, on the scale of everything from Israel doing nothing at all to Israel then going on to escalate from here, what is the range of options for how you see Israel responding?

SHINE: It's very difficult to evaluate because the last hours here in Israel, there is a decision to retaliate. That doesn't mean that we understand what kind of retaliation. But yesterday I could say that it looks as if Israel decided not to retaliate immediately. And today it looks different. Today it looks - from what we hear from the cabinet meeting and from meetings that are planned by the prime minister and the leaders of the opposition, usually it is the tradition in Israel that if we go for something that might deteriorate to a war or something like that - something big - the prime minister is addressing the opposition, the heads of the opposition. So this is going to happen in the coming hours.

And I also saw some reports coming from Washington that there was a telephone call between our defense minister and the secretary of defense, and that Israel announced that it's going to retaliate. I don't know what will be the way Israel will choose 'cause there are different options. But it looks as if we are going to a new stage.

KELLY: In terms of that range of options, is there one that seems more likely? Is there one that seems more wise, in your view?

SHINE: Yeah. You have put it very well. There are two options. One is what looks like possible and the other what is more wise. I personally didn't think that Israel has to retaliate immediately. I was thinking - and that's what I have been saying openly today and yesterday - that Israel can take the time and prepare some sophisticated retaliation - not just, you know, shooting missiles and others on Iran, but some more sophisticated way of doing something in Iran in the future, and to use the strategic, unprecedented regional network of anti-missile defense that was operating Saturday night. This is something that we should use the opportunity to get into a closer relations with our neighbors under the umbrella of CENTCOM in the U.S. And I think this is the future of Israel, and we should look on the future and not on the immediate retaliation.

KELLY: And just...

SHINE: But I'm not in the government anymore.

KELLY: Yeah. Just to push you on this, we said, you know, you and Israel knew these strikes were coming. That is because Iran telegraphed days in advance they were going to happen - you know, gave days for Israel and its allies to prepare. Does that give Israel room to de-escalate?

SHINE: I think this and the fact that, at the end, nothing dramatic happened, it could give Israel the opportunity to de-escalate or to postpone the escalation and not to do it while we are in Gaza and fighting on the North and everything. But from what I hear - and I say it's only, you know, open sources - it looks as if there is a feeling in the army and the security establishment that Israel cannot afford itself not to retaliate. The fact that they didn't succeed to penetrate Israel, but if all these model (ph) 300 drones and missiles could penetrate Israel, well, that could be a dramatic damage.

KELLY: How worried are you about the risk of escalation?

SHINE: I don't know. It could escalate. Even without Iran retaliating, they could just ask Hezbollah to start a full-scale war and - which is not - we have a war with Hezbollah now, but it's not a full-scale war. And they could use other proxies. It could even, without Iran itself - because at the end of the day, I believe the regime in Iran doesn't want a war. Big percentage of the population doesn't like their regime, and I think they don't want a war. But many times in history, no one wanted a war and, still, miscalculation escalated to a war.

KELLY: Exactly. Last thing, when you and I last spoke, we talked about your granddaughters. And you told me they're young, and you were trying to explain everything happening - the October 7 attack and the war in Gaza - and that you were telling them it's like a play. It's like make-believe, you know, to make it less scary. May I ask how you're talking with them now?

SHINE: Yeah. You know, the day before the attack on Israel, the big one - which is a small one but she's the bigger one - told me, you know, for a long time there are no missiles anymore. And then came the Saturday night and the - well, nothing happened in Israel. But it's interesting that this is the experience of a 4-years-old (ph) child, that for a long time there are no missiles anymore.

KELLY: That that would be something they would notice and that would strike them 'cause it's become such a part of their short life.

SHINE: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly.

KELLY: Sima Shine, former senior Mossad official. She now runs the Iran desk at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Sima Shine, thank you.

SHINE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.