Satellite imagery reveals damage at Iranian air base following Israeli strike after Tehran launched unprecedented 300-drone attack on Jewish state – amid fears that Middle East tinderbox could explode

New satellite imagery has revealed that an Iranian air base suffered significant damage as a result of an Israeli strike on Friday. 

Israel sent a retaliatory missile to hit an Iranian target in the central Isfahan province early on Friday morning, a week after Iran sent a salvo a 300 missiles and drones to Israel. 

The salvo attack was in response to a missile strike on an Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, that killed seven people, including two top-level generals. 

Though Iran has claimed no damage was suffered by any military bases, a BBC analysis of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery captured over Isfahan on Friday revealed that the Shikari air base was materially hurt on Friday. 

Debris and damage can be seen around one major component, most likely a radar, that shifted positions slightly. 

Debris and damage can be seen around one major component, most likely a radar, that shifted positions slightly

Several positions in the base that would normally hold S-300 missile launchers have also been removed since the attack, and it is not currently clear where they have gone. 

There were fears Iran’s nuclear sites were damaged during the retaliatory strikes, though the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has said there was ‘no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.’

Iranian officials sought to downplay any significant damage to its military facilities and outright denied any nuclear plants were destroyed, while Iranian state TV this morning released footage of an undisturbed Isfahan to cast doubt on reports the city had been hit.

Experts said the strike aimed to be ‘de-escalatory’, and allowed both countries to step back from rising tensions while also saving face.  

Dr Andreas Krieg, an expert on Middle Eastern security and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London’s School of Security Studies, told MailOnline that such a limited strike could be seen as an effort by Tel Aviv to climb down from a major kinetic conflict.

‘If this is the extent of Israel’s retaliation it could be described as a deescalatory strike. The use of small drones such as quadcopters provides a degree of plausible deniability that could help Iran downplay the effect of the attack,’ he said.

‘We could say that this attack makes a return to the shadow war that has been ongoing for years if that is the extent of it.

He added: ‘The Iranians would have to respond to a strike that is not deniable or involved Israeli jets over Iran – but this attack does not cross the threshold. Neither side wants an all-out war.’

‘I think a prolonged but manageable conflict is in Netanyahu’s interest. That can be achieved by extending the conflict with Iran’s Axis of Resistance. This is a low risk conflict that keeps Israel on high alert without the risk of becoming existential.

‘Israel might decide to engage in a series of dispersed attacks over time that are individually so negligible that Iran doesn’t have to respond. ‘Israel might resort to Iran’s strategy of “death by a 1000 cuts” which is difficult to deter.’

Similar sentiments were expressed by Justin Crump, British army veteran and CEO of global risk analysis firm Sibylline.

‘It remains to be seen if this is the start of a more concerted campaign by Israel steadily to harm Iran while remaining below an escalation threshold, or an isolated act,’ he told MailOnline in the wake of the overnight strikes.

‘Iran has its own internal problems with spiralling inflation and anti-regime sentiment and is so far keen for things not to escalate. While it has similarly sub-threshold ways to respond, and will likely do so, this limits more major escalation.

‘However,’ he continued, ‘this cannot now truly be a return to business as usual and I would suggest that honour is far from satisfied on both sides at the moment.’

While he said the Israeli strikes ‘may give the illusion that we have threaded the needle on the crisis, […] the baseline level of alert across the region is now going to be escalated for an extended period.’

He added: ‘The risk of miscalculations is higher and the many points of tension remain, most obviously Gaza, but also around Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities. If this truly is it from Israel […] then there is a window for intense diplomacy, but how long that remains stable and open is yet to be seen.’