•      Mon May 20 2024
Logo

Iran launches over 200 missiles and drones in unprecedented attack



An anti-missile system operated after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel. (AP)

JERUSALEM, APRIL 14, 2024 (AP) — Booms and air raid sirens sounded across Israel early Sunday after Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in an unprecedented revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war.

The attack marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Condemnation from the United Nations chief and others was swift, with France saying Iran “is risking a potential military escalation,” Britain calling the attack “reckless” and Germany saying Iran and its proxies “must stop it immediately.”

The Israeli military’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Iran fired scores of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles — with the vast majority intercepted outside Israel’s borders. He said warplanes intercepted over 10 cruise missiles alone, also outside Israeli airspace.

Hagari said a handful of missiles landed in Israel. Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though they said police were still investigating the circumstances of her injuries. Hagari said a missile struck an army base, causing light damage but no injuries.

“A wide-scale attack by Iran is a major escalation,” he said. Asked whether Israel would respond, Hagari said only that the army “does and will do whatever is required to protect the security of the state of Israel.” He said the incident was not over, and dozens of Israeli warplanes remained in the skies.

U.S. forces downed some of the Iran-launched drones flying toward Israel, according to a U.S. defense official and two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Israel’s military said its Arrow system, which shoots down ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, handled most interceptions and noted that “strategic partners” were involved.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he was speaking to U.S. President Joe Biden early Sunday. No details on their conversation were immediately made public. But Biden has said his commitment to Israel’s security is “ironclad” in the face of Iranian threats — a departure from his harsh criticism over Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Iran had vowed revenge since an April 1 airstrike in Syria killed two Iranian generals inside an Iranian consular building. Iran accused Israel of being behind the attack. Israel hasn’t commented on it.

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The war erupted after Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

In a statement carried late Saturday by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles towards the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime.”

In a later statement, the Revolutionary Guard issued a direct warning to the U.S.: “The terrorist U.S. government is warned any support or participation in harming Iran’s interests will be followed by decisive and regretting response by Iran’s armed forces.”

IRNA also quoted an anonymous official saying ballistic missiles were part of the attack. A ballistic missile moves on an arch trajectory, heading up into space before gravity brings the weapon down at a speed several times faster than the speed of sound.

Israel has a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets. However, in a massive attack involving multiple drones and missiles, the likelihood of a strike making it through is higher.

Iran has a vast arsenal of drones and missiles. Online videos shared by Iranian state television purported to show delta-wing-style drones resembling the Iranian Shahed-136s long used by Russia in its war on Ukraine. The slow-flying drones carry bombs. Ukraine has successfully used both surface-to-air missiles and ground fire to target them.

Some Israelis watched the interceptions light up the night sky.

Air raid sirens were reported in numerous places including northern Israel, southern Israel, the northern West Bank and the Dead Sea near the Jordanian border.

Israel’s army ordered residents in the Golan Heights — near the Syrian and Lebanese borders — as well as the southern towns of Nevatim and Dimona and the Red Sea resort of Eilat into protective spaces. Dimona is home to Israel’s main nuclear facility, and Nevatim has a major air base. Loud booms were heard in Jerusalem and northern and southern Israel.

The army’s Home Front Command canceled school Sunday and limited public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people. Israel and some other countries in the region closed their airspace.

Earlier, Netanyahu warned: “Whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

In Washington, Biden convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the attack.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, was in Israel over the weekend consulting with Israeli defense officials. The Central Command oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations issued a warning to both Israel and the U.S. “Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” it wrote online. “It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, witnesses saw long lines at gas stations early Sunday as people appeared worried about what may come next. Dozens of hard-liners demonstrated in support of the attack at Palestine Square.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following Iran’s launch of drones. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it launched “dozens” of Katyusha rockets at an Israeli military site in the Golan Heights early Sunday. It was not immediately clear if there was any damage.

Iranian missiles or drones were intercepted in the sky above the Jordanian capital, Amman. In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and elsewhere in the country, residents reported seeing missiles in the sky and hearing explosions, likely from interceptions. In Syria, explosions were heard in the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere. Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian air defenses tried to shoot down Israeli attempts to intercept Iranian missiles.