Crackdowns, Attacks and Threat of War Put Iranians on Edge

In the early hours of Friday, Mehrdad, an engineer in Isfahan, Iran, woke to the sound of explosions rattling the windows and shaking the ground. In Tehran, passengers about to board flights were abruptly told the airspace was closed.

Israel, they soon learned, had attacked Iran.

As booms and gunfire went off in the distance, Mehrdad, 43, came to realize that the Israelis’ target was a military base on the outskirts of the city. He and his pregnant wife remained fearful that war would break out, he said in an interview by phone.

“I think Israel wanted to test the water and evaluate with last night’s strikes,” said Mehrdad, who, like others interviewed for this article, asked that his last name be withheld for fear of retribution. “I fear the worst is coming, but I also hope that things end here.”

So, apparently, does the Iranian government, which after a week of promising a forceful response to any Israeli attack on Iranian territory, appeared to be standing down from nearly going to the brink of war with Israel. Facing deep economic troubles and a restive population, the government seems to have adopted a two-track policy, analysts say, declaring victory over Israel and cracking down at home.

“The external and internal challenges are two sides of the same coin for the establishment,” Abbas Abdi, a prominent analyst and writer in Tehran, said in a telephone interview. “With both Israel and internal dissent, they are taking an aggressive approach because they think both issues have reached a boiling point where if they do nothing it will only get worse.”

The tit-for-tat attacks between Iran and Israel over the past three weeks were a startling and worrisome departure from the shadow warfare they have waged for decades, raising fears of a regional war. Iran responded to a deadly Israeli attack on its embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, by launching a barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles directly at Israel for the first time. A majority of them were intercepted.

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