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Israel attacked by Iran as Mideast enters perilous new phase

Alisa Odenheimer, Arsalan Shahla and Donato Paolo Mancini, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Iran launched armed drones and missiles against Israel, marking a new and more volatile phase of the Middle East conflict. The attack, in retaliation for a strike in Syria that killed top Iranian military officers, marked the first time Iran has struck Israel from its soil.

Most of the more than 200 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and attack drones fired by Iran were intercepted with the help of Israel’s allies before landing, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said early Sunday. He said the only impacts were a 10-year-old girl who was badly injured and minor damage to an army base. Hagari earlier called the attack from Iran “a severe and dangerous escalation.”

U.S. President Joe Biden returned to the White House from his private residence in Delaware. “I just met with my national security team for an update on Iran’s attacks against Israel,” Biden said in a posting on X, formerly Twitter. “Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations said the action was a “legitimate” defensive response to the strike in Damascus — which Israel hasn’t acknowledged carrying out — and suggested it was a warning. It also warned the U.S. to stay away from the conflict. “The matter can be deemed concluded,” the Iranian mission said in a social media post. “However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe.”

Multiple alarms sounded in various locations in Israel: Jerusalem, Beer Sheva and Dimona in the south, and the Jewish settlement Ariel in the West Bank. Residents of Jerusalem reported hearing blasts. Alarms also sounded in Israel’s north. The Israel Defense Forces said it cut off GPS services in some areas to help counter the attack.

A U.S. defense official confirmed that its forces in the region shot down Iranian-launched drones targeting Israel. The U.K. Defense Ministry said it deployed Royal Air Force jets to intercept Iranian drones headed for Israel if necessary.

Israel has upgraded its air defenses considerably over the past decade and a half, adding new systems for interceptions of ballistic missiles fired from as far away as 2,400 kilometers (1,491 miles.) That range includes Yemen, Syria and Iraq, where militant groups allied with Iran are based, as well as Iran.

Israel’s most active and well-known air defense is Iron Dome, which has intercepted thousands of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2011. But Iron Dome is designed for missiles and drones with a short range, and is just one of the advanced missile-defense systems in place.

Israel also has a medium-to-long-range interceptor known as David’s Sling and the Arrow defense system, which developers say can intercept missiles fired from as far away as 2,400 kilometers.

 

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was among the first leaders to respond to Iran’s attack. “The U.K. will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq,” Sunak said in a statement. France, Germany and the European Union also condemned Iran’s action.

So did United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called for an immediate halt to the hostilities, citing the risk of a “devastating region-wide escalation.” Israel asked for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

The assault escalates a Middle East conflict that began on Oct. 7 when thousands of Hamas operatives broke into Israel from Gaza, killing about 1,200 people and abducting 250. A direct clash between Iran and Israel would likely draw in the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah, which like Hamas is backed by Iran, and heighten the possibility of a regional war.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly warned Israel will be “punished” for the deadly strike in Damascus on April 1, which destroyed the Islamic Republic’s consulate building and killed at least 13 people, including seven Iranian military personnel. Israel hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attack, in keeping with its usual response to accusations of targeting Iran.

Recent history suggests any assault will be measured against what might come next from Iran’s adversaries. When the U.S. killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani in 2020, for example, Iran opted for nonlethal attacks on military bases.

Israeli officials have said that if their country were hit, Iran’s leaders should expect a counterattack, although Israel may weigh what it portrayed as the failure of the Iranian assault in choosing its response.

Iran has tried to be circumspect on its role in hostile acts by allied militant groups beyond its borders. That policy became more difficult after Hamas attacked Israel, touching off an extended war in Gaza. Houthi rebels in Yemen used that as a pretext for missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, while Hezbollah has exchanged fire across the border with Israel almost daily since the incursion.

(Ethan Bronner, Augusta Saraiva, Galit Altstein, Alex Wickham and Justin Sink contributed to this report.)


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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