14 Apr 2024

Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel with hundreds of drones, missiles

7:13 pm on 14 April 2024

By Dan Williams and Parisa Hafezi, Reuters

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel has been "foiled," the Israeli army announced on April 14, with almost all of the more than 200 missiles and drones intercepted with the help of the United States and allies. (Photo by Ronaldo SCHEMIDT / AFP)

A man walks across a deserted street in Jerusalem on 14 April, following the Iranian missile and drone strikes on Israel. Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT

Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict, as the US pledged "ironclad" backing for Israel.

Sirens wailed and Reuters journalists in Israel heard distant heavy thuds and bangs from what local media called aerial interceptions of explosive drones. Authorities said a seven-year-old girl was critically injured.

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US President Joe Biden, who spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would convene a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major economies on Sunday to coordinate a diplomatic response to what he called Iran's brazen attack.

Six months into an Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza and amid growing risks of a greater regional war, Axios quoted a senior White House official as saying Biden also told Netanyahu the US would oppose any Israeli counterattack against Iran.

The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4pm New York time on Sunday (8am Monday morning in NZ) after Israel requested it condemn Iran's attack and designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation, according to a schedule released late on Saturday.

Israel's military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said Iran launched dozens of ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, most of them intercepted outside Israeli borders. They included more than 10 cruise missiles, he said.

The Iranian salvo of more than 200 drones and missiles caused light damage to one Israeli military facility, Hagari said.

The Israeli military later said it was not advising any residents to prepare to take shelter. This revision of an earlier alert appeared to signal the end of the threat.

Israel's Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a "significant response" to the attack.

Iran had vowed retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on 1 April that killed seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two senior commanders. Tehran said its strike was punishment for "Israeli crimes". Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.

"Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran's response will be considerably more severe," the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to "stay away". However, it also said Iran now "deemed the matter concluded".

This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024 shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during Iranian attack on Israel. Iran's Revolutionary Guards confirmed early April 14, 2024 that a drone and missile attack was under way against Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 drone strike on its Damascus consulate. (Photo by AFPTV / AFP)

This video grab from AFPTV taken on 14 April shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem sky during an Iranian attack on Israel. Photo: AFP

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to act to protect US forces and support defence of Israel.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Iran's attack, saying he was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said on the Telegram social media app that in addition to a letter from Israel, the Security Council had received one from Iran asserting its attack was within the UN Charter framework governing the right to self-defence.

"The latter warns that if Israel responds, Iran will respond in a more powerful and decisive manner," Polyanskiy said.

Biden, who on Friday had warned Iran against an attack, cut short a weekend visit to his home state of Delaware and returned to Washington to meet with his national security advisers, including his secretaries of defence and state, in the White House Situation Room. He pledged to stand with Israel.

"Our commitment to Israel's security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad," Biden said on X after the meeting.

The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Hamas on 7 October, has ratcheted up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.

Drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group, British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement.

Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter, the United States. Regional power Egypt urged "utmost restraint".

While Israel and Iran have been bitter foes for decades, their feud has mostly unfolded via proxies or by targeting each other's forces operating in third countries.

US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Israel's Channel 12 reported. The US military knocked down dozens of drones and missiles bound for Israel, three US officials said.

Biden said he had directed the US military to move aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers to the region over the course of the past week.

"Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles," he said.

This handout picture courtesy of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office taken on April 14, 2024 shows Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. Iran's Revolutionary Guards confirmed early April 14, 2024 that a drone and missile attack was under way against Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 drone strike on its Damascus consulate. (Photo by Israeli Prime Minister Office / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Israeli Prime Minister's Office - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Benjamin Netanyahu during the war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. Photo: AFP


Netanyahu convened Israel's war cabinet at a military headquarters in Tel Aviv, his office said.

Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defences to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.

Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.

Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defence systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.

The European Union, Britain, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Norway condemned Iran's attack.

Biden's Republican rival in November's presidential election, Donald Trump, briefly referred to the airstrikes at a rally in Pennsylvania, criticising his Democratic rival.

"They're under attack right now," Trump said. "That's because we show great weakness. This would not happen, the weakness that we've shown, it's unbelievable, and it would not have happened if we were in office."

Israel had been bracing for an Iranian response to the Damascus consulate strike since last week, when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel "must be punished and shall be" for an operation he called equivalent to one on Iranian soil.

Iran's main ally in the region, the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah that has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began, said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.

- This story was first published by Reuters.

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