/ 14 April 2024

World urges restraint after unprecedented Iran attack on Israel

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Women walk past an anti-Israeli mural depicting fighters with assault rifles along a wall in Palestine Square in Tehran on April 14, 2024. Iran on April 14 urged Israel not to retaliate militarily to an unprecedented attack overnight, which Tehran presented as a justified response to a deadly strike on its consulate building in Damascus. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

World leaders urged restraint on Sunday after Israel came under an unprecedented attack from Iranian drones and missiles that drew widespread condemnation and sparked fears of a broader conflict.

Iran’s overnight barrage from late Saturday was its first-ever direct assault on Israeli territory and came in retaliation for a deadly strike on Tehran’s consulate in the Syrian capital.

It remained unclear how Israel would respond to this major escalation in the long-running covert war between the regional foes which has been further inflamed by the Gaza war raging since October 7.

Israel’s top ally the United States cautioned against an escalation after the attack that was largely foiled, with the Israeli army saying 99 percent of the launches had been intercepted.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday: “We don’t want to see this escalate. We’re not looking for a wider war with Iran.”

However, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that “the campaign is not over yet -– we must remain alert”.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel against a “reckless” retaliation, saying it would face “a decisive and much stronger response”.

Iran said its drone and missile attack came in response to the April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate building in Damascus, an attack widely blamed on Israel.

Syria said Sunday Iran had exercised its “right to self-defence”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran had notified neighbouring states ahead of Saturday’s attack, stressing its aim was “to punish the Israeli regime”.

UN Security Council meeting

US President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” support for Israel, while appearing to guide its staunch ally away from a military response.

Other world leaders also urged restraint, ahead of a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting requested by Israel.

G7 nations were also holding a video conference to discuss the attack.

Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel late Saturday, injuring 12 people, Israel’s military said.

One of those wounded was a seven-year-old girl near the southern town of Arad who was in intensive care.

Most of the drones and missiles were intercepted before reaching Israel, the army said, with help from the United States, Jordan, Britain and other allies.

The attack came as fighting between Israel and Hamas raged in Gaza, and the latest attempt to reach a ceasefire in the war appeared to falter.

News outlet Axios said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would oppose an Israeli counterattack and that he should “take the win”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for “calm heads to prevail,” adding that UK warplanes had also shot down Iranian attack drones.

NATO said it was “vital that the conflict in the Middle East does not spiral out of control”.

And Pope Francis called for “an end to any action which could fuel a spiral of violence”.

Iran’s attack ‘foiled’

Turkey’s foreign minister called on Iran to avoid a “new escalation”, a diplomatic source said, and France urged its citizens in Iran to leave “temporarily”.

President Abdel Latif Rashid of Iraq, Iran’s neighbour, called for a “reduction of tensions” and warned against the “spread of conflict”.

Indonesia, the Muslim world’s most populous country, said it was “deeply concerned” and urged “all parties to exercise restraint”.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that 99 percent of the launches were intercepted, declaring that “the Iranian attack was foiled”.

While 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles were shot down before reaching Israel, a few of the 110 ballistic missiles did get through, the Israeli army said.

Iran’s proxies and allies also carried out coordinated attacks on Israeli positions.

AFP correspondents heard blasts in the skies above Jerusalem early Sunday, and overnight people sought cover.

On Sunday morning, people began returning tentatively to the streets.

“The situation is really frightening because we are afraid of what happens and all of the bombing and aircraft that are coming,” said 48-year-old Jerusalem resident Ayala Salant.

The Iranian army declared that its attack was “completed successfully”, and that it was in “self defence” after the Damascus strike which killed seven of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards including two generals.

Iran’s “Operation Honest Promise… achieved all its objectives”, armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri said.

Bagheri said the attack targeted an intelligence centre and the air base from which Tehran says the Israeli F-35 jets took off to strike the Damascus consulate.

“Both these centres were significantly destroyed,” he said, although Israel said there was only minor damage.

Analyst Nick Heras of the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy told AFP Saturday’s attack was “all about satisfying the honour of Iran”.

“This recent escalation in the Middle East is about the treacherous state of US and Iran relations, in which Israel is just one arena of conflict,” he said.

Hezbollah rocket fire

Hundreds of Iranians in Tehran’s Palestine Square waved Iranian and Palestinian flags in support of Iran’s military action.

Israel, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon all said they had reopened their airspace after suspending air traffic during the attack.

Jordan said it intercepted “flying objects” in its airspace during the attack.

Iran’s allies in the region joined the attack, with Yemen’s Tehran-backed Huthi rebels also launching drones at Israel, security agency Ambrey said.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the annexed Golan Heights around the same time, and another barrage hours later.

An Israeli strike destroyed a building used by Hezbollah in east Lebanon on Sunday, Israeli and Lebanese sources said.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations warned Washington to keep out of its conflict with Israel.

It added on X that “the matter can be deemed concluded”.

“However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe.”

Before Tehran attacked, Israel’s military warned Iran it would suffer the “consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further”.

Iran had earlier seized an Israeli-linked container vessel in the Gulf, putting the whole region on alert.

Meanwhile, fighting in Gaza continued. 

The war began with an unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas against Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Late on Saturday, Hamas said it had submitted its response to a truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators at talks that started in Cairo on April 7.

Hamas said it was sticking to its previous demands, insisting on “a permanent ceasefire” and the “withdrawal of the (Israeli) occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip”.

Israel’s Mossad spy agency called this a rejection of the proposal, accusing Hamas of “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran” and aiming for “a general escalation in the region”.

© Agence France-Presse