What we know so far from Iran’s retaliatory attack on Israel after consulate strike in Syria

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What happened?

In a retaliatory attack, Iran launched a swarm of explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday, in its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory.

According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari, over 200 missiles and drones were fired from Iran toward Israel, most of which were intercepted outside Israeli borders. They included more than 10 cruise missiles, he said.

The IDF said in a social media post that Iranian missiles caused minor damage to one Israeli military base and a little girl sustained injuries, but no further details were immediately provided.

Iran’s state media reported that its attacks on Israel dealt “heavy blows” to an air base in the Negev desert. “The most important Israeli air base in the Negev was the successful target of the Kheibar missile,” the official IRNA news agency said, adding that “images and data indicate that the base sustained heavy blows.”

It took several hours before the drones reached Israeli airspace. Two security sources in Iraq said dozens of drones had been spotted flying from Iran toward Israel over Iraqi airspace.

Two U.S. officials said U.S. forces in the region also shot down some of the Iranian-launched drones.

Shortly before news of Iran’s drone launches, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s “defensive systems” were deployed, preparing for “any scenario.”

“The IDF is on high alert and is constantly monitoring the operational situation,” the IDF said in an earlier statement. “The IDF Aerial Defense Array is on high alert, along with Israeli Air Force fighter jets and Israeli Navy vessels that are on a defense mission in Israeli air and naval space. The IDF is monitoring all targets.”

So far, several Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, have suspended flight operations in their airspace.

Why did Iran attack?

Iran’s mission to the UN said on Saturday that the attack is “in response” to the Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack.

Iran’s UN mission said on social media platform X that “the matter can be deemed concluded,” but added that if Israel “makes another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe.” It also warned the U.S. to “stay away,” saying this is a conflict between Iran and Israel. 

Fan Hongda, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, said as a major Middle Eastern country, if Iran failed to respond to the Syrian consulate attack, it would believe that its dignity and strategic position as a regional power would be damaged, which is likely to have further adverse effects in the future.

Tehran’s mission to the UN had previously said on X that the “imperative for Iran” to retaliate for the attack on its embassy compound in Damascus might have been avoided had the U.N. Security Council condemned the strike.

Reactions

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.”

The UN Security Council aims to hold an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday after Israel requested it condemn Iran’s attack.

U.S. President Joe Biden cut short a weekend visit to his home state of Delaware. He returned to Washington and met national security advisers, including his secretaries of defense and state. 

He has 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 European Union and other Western countries, including the UK, Germany, France, Canada and Spain, have condemned Iran’s attack against Israel and expressed concerns that the attack will escalate tensions and destabilize the region.

Escalation

The Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas, now in its seventh month, 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.

British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement that drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Houthi group.

Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter, the U.S. 

Regional power Egypt urged “utmost restraint.”

Syria said it is putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.

“Iran’s military retaliation against Israel has begun. The following reaction of Israel is the key factor influencing the course of conflict. If Israel can exercise restraint, it’s still possible to avoid further deterioration of the situation,” Fan said.

He added that Israel’s attack on Iran’s consulate in Syria triggered Saturday’s strike, and the current pressing issue is for Israel and its American ally to exercise restraint to reduce the tension. “If Israel doesn’t respond further, Iran should then show restraint, too.”

(With input from agencies)