Israel Under Attack by Iran as Mideast Enters Perilous New Phase


Israel’s armed forces announced late Saturday that Iran launched attacks from within its territory toward Israel and that Israeli forces are on high alert. With the expectation that it may take hours for the drones and missiles to arrive, Israel said it would shut down its airspace starting at half past midnight, for both domestic and international flights. 

US President Joe Biden returned to the White House from his private residence in Delaware to meet with top national security advisers in the Situation Room. He was briefed earlier Saturday by national security aides Jake Sullivan and Jon Finer.

The U.S. confirmed that Iran had begun an airborne attack against Israel, saying it’s likely to unfold over “a number of hours.”

“President Biden has been clear: Our support for Israel’s security is ironclad,” White House spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran.”

Israel is aiming to stop the missiles and drones before they land.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, Israel has upgraded its air defenses considerably, adding new systems for interceptions of ballistic missiles fired from as far away as 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles.) That range includes Yemen, Syria and Iraq, where militant groups allied with Iran are based, as well as Iran.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was cutting off GPS services in some areas as part of its preparations and that “if we detect additional threats with a shorter arrival time, we will update you immediately.”

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. 

“We are closely monitoring Iranian killer drones that are en-route to Israel sent by Iran,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a video. The direct attack from Iranian soil is “a severe and dangerous escalation,” he said.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was among the first leaders to respond to the attack.

“The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq,” he said in a statement. “ Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilise the situation and prevent further escalation. No one wants to see more bloodshed.”

Although Iran said missiles as well as drones were launched at Israel, an Israel military spokesman said he could confirm only that drones were en route. Israeli defense officials said earlier Saturday that they had stepped up preparedness for an anticipated Iranian attack.

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 US killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani in 2020, for example, Iran opted for non-lethal attacks on military bases.

The most active and well-known of Israel’s air defenses 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, plus the Arrow defense system, which developers say can intercept missiles fired from as faras 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) away and can do so above Earth’s atmosphere.

Read more: As Iran Threatens Attack, These Are Israel’s Defenses: QuickTake

Israeli officials have said that if their country were hit, Iran’s leaders should expect a counterattack. 

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. The Houthis 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.

On April 10, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with  Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and “made clear that the US will stand with Israel against any threats by Iran and its proxies,” a State Department spokesman said.

–With assistance from Ethan Bronner and John Harney.

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Published: 14 Apr 2024, 04:09 AM IST

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