How Israel Could Strike Back At Iran: High-Risk Options Explained

Israel’s war cabinet has been working round to clock to decide on how to retaliate against Iran for its drone and missile attack.

Noteworthy, Iran fired nearly 300 missiles and drones at Israel on Sunday, the first strike on the Jewish state from Iranian soil which brought into the open a years-long shadow war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed a strong response, even though the US and several other allies have urged them to not risk igniting a wider regional conflict.

Ministers in the Netanyahu government have publicly stated that a failure to act would signal weakness and encourage further attacks by its arch-enemy.

But the country hasn’t yet given any details about how or when it will respond.

Here are some of the options which Israel may be considering:

Air Strikes on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

Israel could respond to the Iranian barrage with air strikes of its own, particularly as Iranian air defences are considered much weaker than the multi-layer system that Israel and its allies deployed on Saturday night.

A potential Israeli strike could target strategic locations, including Revolutionary Guards’ bases or nuclear research facilities.

This would be among the riskiest and most aggressive of the choices and could force Iran to lash out at Israel again, potentially triggering a regional war the US, Europe, and Arab states are so keen to avoid.

Israel has a history of taking pre-emptive military action against perceived threats to its security, having bombed an Iraqi reactor in 1981 and a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007.

Israel views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat. While Tehran insists its nuclear facilities are for peaceful purposes, Israel believes they are intended for weaponization.

Many of Iran’s nuclear sites are deeply concealed underground, posing a challenge to potential strikes.

Consequently, many strategists argue that Israel would need US assistance to target these facilities.

But US President Joe Biden has made it clear that he will not send forces to aid Israel if they decide to retaliate against Iran.

Another target could be Iran’s Bonab Atomic Research Center, the closest site to Israel and 500 kilometers south of Azerbaijan, an Israeli ally.

While it’s one of Iran’s less important nuclear facilities, hitting it would send a strong signal about Israel’s military capabilities.

Target Military Infrastructure

Israel may potentially target Iranian military installations or critical infrastructure through either direct airstrikes or cyber operations.

This strategy aims to deliver a deterrence message by striking Iranian territory while minimizing civilian casualties, according to Sima Shine, former head of the Mossad intelligence agency’s research division.

While any missile or drone attack on Iranian soil would be significant for Israel, it might not be the first. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed that Israeli forces destroyed a drone base in Iran in 2022 under his directive.

An Israeli Air Force officer stated during a press briefing that the air force stands ready to defend Israel, emphasizing the importance of reacting and striking back when necessary.

“The decision on how, when, and if to act lies with our government and the cabinet,” the officer added.


Israel has for years been blamed for cyberattacks on both civilian and military sites in Iran — as well as assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and other intelligence operations — but has never claimed responsibility.

The country is believed to have carried out cyber-attacks on infrastructure ranging from petrol stations to industrial plants and nuclear facilities, and a repeat is considered among the likely options for retaliation.

Any such attacks could interfere in highly visible areas such as energy production or flight services.

As with direct air strikes, former intelligence officials say they believe Israel would avoid attacks on infrastructure such as hospitals to reduce the impact on the general population.

Hitting Iranian Proxies in The Middle East

Instead of a direct strike inside Iran, Israel could also hit proxy groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Houthis in Yemen.

There are also groups in Iraq and Syria that are funded by Iran to attack Israel on its behalf.

Israel has exchanged daily fire with Hezbollah since the war against Hamas began in Gaza in October.

And it’s fended off missiles and drones from the Houthis, who have also attacked Israeli-linked ships around the Red Sea.

Still, the fighting has been kept below the threshold of all-out war.

Iran’s weekend missile attack was prompted by Israel allegedly attacking their embassy in Syria, which killed two Iranian generals.

Focus On Gaza

Israel could also focus on its six-month-old war in Gaza and destroying Hamas, including in the city of Rafah where the Israeli government says around 8,000 of the group’s fighters are lodged.

Defeating Hamas, which receives training and funding from Iran, would mark a victory for Israel against Iran, said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former research head of military intelligence.

“This entire war, from day one, is a war against Iran,” he said. “We have to finish the job in Gaza to cause much damage to the Iranian axis.”

Covert Operations

Israel is believed to have previously carried out several covert operations inside Iran, including the assassination of several of its senior nuclear scientists.

Such operations could be carried out both inside and outside Iran.


Israel, while it deliberates on a military response, has stepped up diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran, including by extending sanctions.

The United States said Tuesday it would soon impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program and that it expects its allies and partners to follow with parallel measures.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz has also renewed pressure on European countries to join the United States in declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to be declared a terror organization.

(With Reuters and Bloomberg inputs)