Iran launches missile and armed drone attack on Israel

Iran has launched missiles and more than 100 armed drones towards Israel in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike in Damascus that killed several senior Iranian commanders, pushing the Middle East closer to a full-blown regional war.  

Just before 2am Israeli time, sirens went off over Jerusalem, across southern and northern Israel and in the occupied Golan Heights. Skies over Israel were lit up by incoming missiles and Israeli air defence interceptors.

It was not immediately clear if any damage was caused. The Israeli paramedic service said a 10 year-old Bedouin boy was critically wounded in the country’s south.

Earlier, Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said Israel’s military was “prepared and ready on all its systems, in offence and defence, for a variety of scenarios that we prepared in advance”.

“We’re working in close co-ordination with the US and our partners in the region in order to operate against these launches and intercept them . . . we have another layer of defence [provided] by the US military,” Hagari said in a televised press conference.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed “dozens” of missiles and drones had been launched against Israel. A post published by the account of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on the social media platform X said: “The evil regime shall be punished.”

Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a meeting of his War Cabinet in Tel Aviv on Saturday © Israeli Prime Minister Office/AFP via Getty Images

A US defence official said US forces in the region “continue to shoot down Iranian-launched drones”.

A senior Israeli military official said it was too early to say what Iran was targeting, and that “there may be more waves as time progresses”.

Iran’s mission to the UN said on X that the attack on Israel was in response to the April 1 strike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus. It said “the matter can be deemed concluded”. But it added that should Israel “make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe” and warned the US to “stay away”. 

Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, described the assault as a “multi-layered attack from four directions, deploying “hundreds of drones and a large number of missiles of different types”.

It said that in addition to Iran, Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, Iraqi militants and Houthi rebels in Yemen launched attacks against Israel. 

Early on Sunday, the military warned people in the occupied Golan Heights, as well as in the areas around the southern towns of Dimona, Nevatim and Eilat to stay close to shelters “until further notice”.

The senior official said Israel was also watching closely whether other Iranian-backed groups in the region would join the attack. Hizbollah said it had launched dozens of Katyusha rockets at an Israeli barracks in the Golan Heights.

People hold Iranian and Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel rally after Iran launched drone attacks against Israel at Palestine Square in Tehran
People hold Iranian and Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel rally after Iran launched drone attacks against Israel at Palestine Square in Tehran © ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Israel’s suspected strike on the consulate in Damascus was a significant escalation of the hostilities that have engulfed the Middle East since the war between Hamas and Israel erupted in October.

In the past six months Israeli forces have traded near-daily fire with Hizbollah in Lebanon, while other Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have also fired missiles and drones at Israel.

But until now, Iran and Israel have avoided a direct confrontation. Despite their long history of enmity, the two countries have never exchanged fire using strikes launched from their own soil. Only once before — in 2018 — did Iranian forces based in Syria fire on Israel directly.

The Iranian attack “puts the region on the precipice of a broader regional war that almost no one seems to actually want,” said Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Atlantic council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. 

Iran’s first direct attack on Israel “shatters the previous conflict threshold” in their long running war, he said. “At this time what is clear is that this is the beginning of a new era, one in which Iran is willing to respond directly to Israeli attacks and in doing so risk retaliation against the Iranian homeland.”

Iran’s leadership had vowed to exact revenge in the wake of the strike on the consulate in Damascus, which Iranian officials said they considered “sovereign territory” and which claimed the lives of a senior Iranian general and six other military officers.

In recent days, Israel has been bracing for the response. Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli military announced limits on public gatherings and shuttered schools for the next two days. Hagari said that “tens” of Israeli fighter jets were airborne in preparation for the Iranian assault, and that GPS disruption would be experienced in some parts of the country.

Other countries in the region, including Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq also said that they were closing their airspace.

In a recorded statement earlier on Saturday night, before he convened the war cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he appreciated the US “standing by Israel’s side”, and the support of the UK, France and other countries.

The long-serving premier also issued a direct threat to Iran. “I established a clear principle — whoever hurts us, we hurt him. We will protect ourselves from any threat and we will do so with composure and determination,” he said.

US President Joe Biden cut short his weekend in Delaware and hastily returned to Washington earlier on Saturday for consultations with his national security team.

“I just met with my national security team for an update on Iran’s attacks against Israel,” Biden tweeted. “Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives said they were drafting new legislation to provide more aid to Israel and sanction Iran and its allies.

In a social media post, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said: “This would NEVER have happened if I were President!”

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