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Iran launches airstrikes toward Israel in retaliatory move, boosting chance of wider conflict

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — Iran launched waves of attack drones toward Israel on Saturday in retaliation for a deadly Israeli airstrike this month, in what may be the start of a broader multi-front reprisal.

A military response from Israel is expected, although it was unclear how robust it would be. Air raid sirens were reported in Israel early Sunday. An Israeli military spokesman said that Iran had fired more than 200 “deadly drones” as well as cruise and ballistic missiles but that the “vast majority of threats” had been intercepted “with assistance from our partners.”

Attacks from Iranian soil toward Israel proper represent a major escalation in the regional conflict amid the Israel-Hamas war that has raged for six months in Gaza.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said early Sunday that the attack caused minor damage to one military base and no serious casualties.

Hagari said Israel had been on high security alert, canceling school and large public gatherings. Regional governments, Israel and its major ally, the U.S., had been bracing for a violent response from Iran after Israeli airstrikes April 1 killed seven senior Iranian officials at an Iranian diplomatic mission in Syria.

President Joe Biden cut short his weekend in Delaware on Saturday and rushed back to the White House, where he was joined by a team of national security advisers.

Biden was also joined by the secretaries of Defense and State, Lloyd J. Austin III and Antony J. Blinken, amid reports from the Pentagon that U.S. forces deployed across the Middle East were helping Israel pinpoint, intercept and destroy incoming rockets. Biden also telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” Biden said in a statement.

In Jerusalem, journalists reported hearing overhead explosions that may have been weapons systems blasting incoming rockets, while warning sirens sounded through the early predawn hours. The Israeli army ordered residents in the Golan Heights, the disputed territory near Israel’s border with Syria, to “stay in protective spaces.”

Iran, through its official state news agency IRNA, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired “dozens of drones and missiles toward the positions of the Zionist regime in the occupied Palestinian territories.” Iran considers all of Israel to be an occupied territory.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement posted on social media that its action was a defensive move in response to Israel’s attack on the consulate in Damascus, the Syrian capital.

“The matter can be deemed concluded,” the statement said. “However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

Iran said the attack on its facility in Damascus violated international law governing diplomatic missions. U.S. officials raised doubts over the status of the building, alleging it was being used to plot military actions against Israel.

Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, the Hezbollah militant organization, arrayed across Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, also could be expected to attack with missiles — in a larger display of the kind of daily cross-border barrages both sides have been executing.

 

Still, U.S. officials have long said direct military engagement between Israel and Iran would be a game-changer.

“We are in totally uncharted territory,” Mairav Zonszein, Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, said on the social media platform X.

“Iran attacking Israel would be the prelude of a wider regional war,” Mark Esper, who served as Defense secretary in the Trump administration, said on CNN.

Biden administration officials, along with counterparts from several Arab and European nations, in recent days had been urging Iran to show restraint even as Tehran’s heated rhetoric increased and preparations for an attack were clearly under way.

Several countries neighboring Israel, such as Jordan, on Saturday closed their airspace, while others, including the Netherlands, ratcheted up official warnings against travel to Israel.

U.S. officials also urged Israel to calibrate any response commensurate with Iran’s action.

But a wider conflict, in a region already reeling from Israel’s devastating war in the Gaza Strip, would further stymie Washington’s diplomatic efforts aimed at easing tension and freeing hostages held by the Hamas militant group, including several U.S. citizens.

It could also undermine Biden’s domestic support among war-weary voters less than seven months before the U.S. presidential election.

The Middle East has been engulfed in crisis since Hamas attacked Israelis in southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostage. That triggered an Israeli campaign of airstrikes and ground-based raids that have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry.

Earlier Saturday, Revolutionary Guard commandos seized an Israeli-linked container ship near the Strait of Hormuz. Photos showed members of the paramilitary unit rappelling onto the deck from helicopters.

IRNA, the state-run Iranian news agency, said the Revolutionary Guard’s naval unit took the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged cargo ship associated with Zodiac Maritime Shipping Co. and Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. The agency said the commandos were turning the vessel toward Iranian waters. MSC said 25 crew members were on the ship.

“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” the company said in a statement.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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