• Israel on alert as Iran warns against responding to attack amid global calls for restraint

    Israel on alert as Iran warns against responding to attack amid global calls for restraint File photo Israel on alert as Iran warns against responding to attack amid global calls for restraint

    Israel was on high alert on Sunday after Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attack drew an international chorus of condemnation and sparked fears of a broader conflict.

    Iran launched its first-ever direct assault on Israeli territory late on Saturday in retaliation for a deadly Damascus strike, marking a major escalation of the long-running covert war between the regional foes.

    Its proxies and allies also carried out coordinated attacks on Israeli positions as sirens sounded in many places and AFP correspondents heard blasts in the skies above Jerusalem early on Sunday.

    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel against a “reckless” retaliation, saying one would be a met with “a decisive and much stronger response”.

    Iran had repeatedly threatened to strike Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike on its Damascus consular annexe and Washington had warned repeatedly in recent days that the reprisals were imminent.

    It remained unclear how Israel would respond to Iran’s attack. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that “the campaign is not over yet — we must remain alert”.

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

    Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel late on Saturday, injuring 12 people, the Israeli army said. But almost all were intercepted before they reached Israeli territory, the army said, with help from the United States, Jordan, Britain and other allies.

    Many nations have called for restraint, and the United Nations Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday.

    Operation ‘True Promise’

    Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched “extensive” retaliatory drone and missile strikes — as part of what they called the Operation ‘True Promise’ — against “certain targets” inside Israel.

    “Last night Iran fired over 300 ballistic missiles, UAVs and cruise missiles towards Israel,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a televised statement, revising an earlier figure of more than 200 launches.

    Hagari said 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles were launched, none of which entered Israeli territory, adding that 110 ballistic missiles were also fired and few of them reached Israel.

    In a separate statement, the Israeli military said that “dozens of surface-to-surface missile launches” were identified, with the majority intercepted before crossing into Israeli territory.

    One of those injured was a seven-year-old girl from a Bedouin community near the southern town of Arad, who was in intensive care, according to the medical centre that received her.

    People in Jerusalem sought cover, as residents also stockpiled water. “As you can see it’s empty, everybody is running home,” said Eliyahu Barakat, a 49-year-old grocery shop owner in Jerusalem’s Mamilla neighbourhood.

    Early on Sunday, the Israeli army said that 99 per cent of the launches had been intercepted. “The Iranian attack was foiled,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement.

    The army said it had scrambled dozens of fighter jets to intercept “all aerial threats”, and was working with the US and other allies to stop the launches.

    Iran says retaliation ‘concluded’, warns Israel not to respond

    Meanwhile, Iran urged Israel not to retaliate militarily to the overnight attack, which Tehran said was a justified response to the strike that destroyed its consulate building in Damascus.

    The Iranian army said the attack had “achieved all its objectives”.

    “Operation Honest Promise … was completed successfully from last night to this morning and achieved all its objectives”, Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian armed forces’ chief of staff, told state TV.

    “Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus,” the Iranian mission to the UN said.

    The attack, according to the mission, was “conducted on the strength of Article 51 of the UN Charter pertaining to legitimate defence”.

    “If necessary”, Tehran “will not hesitate to take defensive measures to protect its interests against any aggressive military action,” Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

    Experts have suggested that Saturday’s slow-moving drone attack was calibrated to represent a show of power but also allow some wiggle room.

    “It appears that Iran telegraphed its attack on Israel to demonstrate it can strike using different capabilities to complicate the (Israeli army’s) ability to neutralise the assault but also to provide an off ramp to pause escalation,” said Nishank Motwani, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Washington.

    Hundreds of Iranians gathered in Tehran’s Palestine Square, waving Iranian and Palestinian flags to celebrate the unprecedented military action against Israel.

    Iran’s allies in the region joined the attack with Yemen’s Houthi rebels also launching drones at Israel, according to security agency Ambrey, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement announcing rocket fire at Israeli positions in the annexed Golan Heights.

    The official Irna news agency said the attack had dealt “heavy blows” to an air base in the Negev desert, but the Israeli army said there had only been minor damage.

    The Iranian mission to the United Nations warned Washington to keep out of Iran’s conflict with Israel. “It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the US MUST STAY AWAY!” it said.

    It added that it hoped its action to punish the strike on its diplomatic mission would lead to no further escalation and “the matter can be deemed concluded”.

    Iranian president Raisi also warned Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions.

    “If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behaviour, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.

    ‘Ironclad’ support from US

    US President Joe Biden vowed Washington’s “ironclad” support for Israel after an urgent meeting with his top security officials on the spiralling crisis.

    Biden said in a later statement that the United States had “helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles”, but appeared to guide the key US ally away from retaliating against Tehran by saying Israel had now shown its strength.

    “I told him 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,” he said.

    He said he had ordered US military aircraft and ballistic missile defence destroyers to the Middle East in recent days, as the likely threat following a presumed Israeli strike on Iranians in Damascus became clear.

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

    Early on Sunday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had spoken with Biden.

    Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz postponed a planned visit to Hungary and Austria while the prime minister convened his war cabinet in Tel Aviv.

    An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said that Israel was in “complete panic” over Tehran’s looming response. “They don’t know what Iran wants to do, so they and their supporters are terrified,” senior adviser Yahya Rahim said.

    British jets shot down Iranian drones, PM Sunak says

    British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that British military jets shot down drones launched by Iran and called for “calm heads to prevail” to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

    “I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones,” Sunak told broadcasters.

    “If this attack had been successful, the fallout for regional stability would be hard to overstate. We stand by the security of Israel and the wider region, which is of course important for our security here at home, too. What we now need is for calm heads to prevail.”

    Sunak was due to join discussions between Group of Seven leaders later on Sunday.

    “It’s important that we coordinate with allies and we’ll be discussing next steps at that moment,” he said.

    Pakistan urges ‘utmost restraint’

    Pakistan said it was watching the ongoing developments in the Middle East with “deep concern” and called for “utmost restraint”.

    In a statement, the Foreign Office emphasised “for months, Pakistan has underlined the necessity of international efforts to prevent expansion of hostilities in the region and for a ceasefire in Gaza”.

    It recalled its earlier statement wherein it had “pointed to the dangers of the attack on an Iranian consular office in Syria as a major escalation in an already volatile region”.

    “Today’s developments demonstrate the consequences of the breakdown of diplomacy,” the FO said, adding that they also underlined the “grave implications in cases where the UN Security Council is unable to fulfil its responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security”.

    “It is now critically urgent to stabilise the situation and restore peace. We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and move towards de-escalation,” the FO said.

    Iran summons the British, French and German ambassadors over ‘double standards’

    Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, and Germany to question what it referred to as their “irresponsible stance” regarding Tehran’s retaliatory strikes on Israel, the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency reported.

    The three European countries condemned Iran’s drone and missile attack against Israel. The director for Western Europe at Iran’s foreign ministry accused the three countries of “double standards” as they opposed earlier this month a Russian-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have condemned Israel’s attack on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria.

    “Iran’s military action against the Zionist regime’s (Israel) bases is well within the framework of the right to legitimate defence stipulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and it is in response to a series of crimes, including the recent attack on the embassy compound in Syria,” the official added.


    US media reported that President Biden was looking to de-escalate. News outlet Axios said Biden had told Netanyahu that he would oppose an Israeli counterattack against Iran and that he should “take the win”.

    NBC said he had privately expressed concerns to others that Netanyahu was trying to drag the United States more deeply into a broader conflict.

    Earlier on Saturday, Biden had cut short a weekend trip to the Delaware coast and flew back to Washington for an emergency meeting at the White House with his top national security officials.

    He posted a picture of the meeting in the wood-panelled White House Situation Room with officials including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director Bill Burns.

    Biden’s handling of the Middle East conflict will also be under scrutiny in a US presidential election year.

    Former US president Donald Trump, Biden’s rival in November’s election, said the Democratic incumbent was showing “weakness”.

    “God bless the people of Israel. They are under attack right now. That’s because we show great weakness,” Republican Trump said at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

    Airspace reopened

    Israel’s airspace reopened on Sunday at 4:30am GMT after it was closed following Iran’s attack on Israel, the Israeli airports authority said in a statement.

    “As of 07:30 in the morning, Israel’s airspace is reopening and Ben Gurion Airport is returning to operations”, the statement said, adding that domestic airports would reopen throughout the day.

    The airspace had been closed since 9:30pm GMT on Saturday. The Israeli military had warned Iran it would suffer the “consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further”.

    Shortly before the launches, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared for a “direct attack from Iran”.

    “Our defence systems are deployed, we are prepared for any scenario, both in defence and attack,” the Israeli premier said in a televised statement, adding Israel had the backing of the United States and “many” other countries.

    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had already seized an Israeli-linked container vessel in the Gulf earlier on Saturday, putting the whole region on alert. Israel said it was closing schools nationwide while Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon announced they were temporarily closing their airspace.

    Indian officials said there were 17 Indian citizens on board the Aries, while the Philippine government said that four of its nationals were also aboard.

    The April 1 strike in Damascus, which killed 16 people, including two Iranian generals, had been widely blamed on Israel. Iran had repeatedly vowed to hit back, but had not specified how.

    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a container ship “related” to Israel in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, which was now heading towards Iranian waters, Iranian state media reported.

    The ship’s operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, said it was working with the relevant authorities to ensure the wellbeing of the 25 crew onboard.

    Both Israel and the United States denounced the seizure as piracy, with Israel also demanding that the Guards be declared a “terrorist organisation” by the European Union.

    In Washington, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson called on Iran “to release the vessel and its international crew immediately”. “Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy”, she said.

    Gaza truce stalemate

    The Gaza crisis began with the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas against Israel which resulted 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 33,686 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry. Israel’s military said on Saturday it had struck more than 30 Hamas targets across Gaza.

    In the main central city of Deir al-Balah, fire burned in the rubble of a destroyed mosque. Israel’s military “demanded that the whole area be evacuated” before it was “wiped out in minutes”, said Abdullah Baraka, a witness.

    In nearby Nuseirat refugee camp, Abd Thabet said residents had been warned to evacuate on Friday evening ahead of a large explosion that caused “massive destruction”.

    “All of the houses were demolished, including my home,” the 35-year-old told AFP.

    Hamas said it had submitted its response to a Gaza truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators at talks in Cairo this week.

    The Palestinian group said it was sticking to its previous demands, insisting on “a permanent ceasefire” and the “withdrawal of the occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip”.

    During the October attack, Hamas seized about 250 hostages, 129 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza, including 34 the army says are dead.

    The Israeli prime minister’s office accused Hamas of torpedoing efforts for an exchange of hostages for prisoners. “Hamas to this day has refused any deal and any compromise proposal,” it said.