Iran launches hundreds of missiles, drones in first direct attack on Israel

Israel says, with help from US, UK and other forces, it intercepted vast majority of 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.

Iran has launched hundreds of drones and missiles against Israel, in an unprecedented attack that came as a response to an Israeli raid on the Iranian consulate in Syria two weeks ago.

The overnight escalation came more than six months into Israel’s devastating war on the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians and pushed the besieged territory to the brink of famine. The war has driven 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.

INTERACTIVE Iran fires drones and missiles at Israel (1)-1713087132

The Israeli military said on Sunday the Iranian salvo consisted of more than 300 “killer drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles”, but that 99 percent were intercepted with help from forces from France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The launches, which the army said came from Iran, as well as from Iraq and Yemen, set off air raid sirens in cities across Israel, including Tel Aviv, with explosions heard as air defences intercepted the projectiles.

Medics said a girl in southern Israel was wounded by shrapnel from an intercepted drone, while the military said “a small number of hits were identified, including at [an Israeli military] base in southern Israel, where minor damage was caused to infrastructure”.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed the attack, saying it launched the drones and missiles under Operation True Promise as part of the punishment for “the Zionist entity’s crime of targeting the Iranian consulate in Syria” on April 1.

The raid in Damascus killed 13 people, including two senior generals in the IRGC’s elite Quds Force.

An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian embassy after a suspected Israeli strike on Monday on Iran's consulate, adjacent to the main Iranian embassy building, which Iran said had killed seven military personnel including two key figures in the Quds Force, in the Syrian capital Damascus
An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian embassy in Damascus after an Israeli strike on April 1, 2024 [File: Firas Makdesi/Reuters]

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.

With the missiles and drone attack, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said it now deemed the matter “concluded” and warned Israel of a “considerably more severe” response should the “Israeli regime make another mistake”.

It also warned the US to stay out of the conflict.

Fears of a wider escalation

Before the Iranian attack, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon announced temporarily closing their airspace, while Syria also put on high alert its Russian-made Pantsir ground-to-air defence systems around Damascus and major bases, according to the Reuters news agency.

Earlier on Saturday, Iranian armed forces seized a container ship linked to Israel near the Strait of Hormuz.

Western countries condemned Iran’s missile and drone assault, including the US, the UK, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Norway. Egypt and Saudi Arabia called for restraint, while the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency session to discuss the matter at Israel’s request.

US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his Delaware beach house to meet his national security team at the White House on Saturday afternoon. He also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late on Saturday, reaffirming Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to its ally’s security.

Biden said he told Netanyahu that “Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel”.

Netanyahu, in a brief post on X, said Israel will achieve victory.

“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” he added.

The Pentagon meanwhile reported that defence chief Lloyd Austin had spoken with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats … and made clear that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also 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 UNSC 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.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on all parties to “exercise calm and restraint”, describing the situation as the “latest spillover of the Gaza conflict”. It said it was deeply concerned by the escalation and said Israel’s war on Gaza “must end now”.

Analysts described Iran’s attack on Israel as carefully calibrated to prevent further escalation.

“What the Iranians are trying to do is to come up with a measured, calculated attack in order to regain deterrence and not to be seen as weak in front of their own proxies,” said Hassan Barari, professor of international relations at the University of Qatar.

However, he expressed worry that the attack could worsen the situation in Gaza.

“I know some right-wing politicians in the government will see this as an opportunity because the world’s attention has shifted onto Iran-Israel and then they can do something probably horrendous in Gaza,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies