Strike Was Meant to Show Iran that Israel Could Paralyze Its Defenses

An Israeli weapon deployed in a retaliatory strike against Iran on Friday damaged a defense system responsible for detecting and destroying aerial threats near Natanz, a central Iranian city critical to the country’s secret nuclear weapons program, according to two Western officials and two Iranian officials.

The strike, the Western officials said, was calculated to deliver a message to Iran that Israel could bypass Iran’s defense systems undetected and paralyze them, using a fraction of the fire power Iran deployed last week when it launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel. That attack, intercepted by Israel and its allies, caused minimal damage.

The two Iranian officials said the weapon had struck an S-300 antiaircraft system at a military base in the nearby province of Isfahan. The officials’ account is supported by satellite imagery analyzed by The New York Times, which showed damage to the radar of an S-300 system at the Eighth Shekari Air Base in Isfahan.

It was unclear what sort of weapon struck the Iranian air defense system. Three Western and two Iranian officials confirmed on Friday that Israel had deployed aerial drones and at least one missile fired from a warplane. Previously, Iranian officials said the attack on the military base had been conducted by small drones, most likely launched from inside Iranian territory.

A missile, two Western officials said, was fired from a warplane far from Israeli or Iranian airspace and included technology that enabled it to evade Iran’s radar defenses. Neither the missile nor the aircraft that fired it entered Jordanian airspace, the Western officials said, a gesture meant to keep the kingdom out of the conflict after it helped shoot down Iranian weapons last week.

The two Iranian officials said that Iran’s military had not detected anything entering Iran’s airspace on Friday, including drones, missiles and aircraft. Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, reported that no missile attacks had occurred and that Iran’s air defense system had not been activated.

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