Iran warns of stronger response if Israel, US retaliate to attack

Iranian demonstrators react after the IRGC attack on Israel, during an anti-Israeli gathering in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2024.

What you need to know:

  • Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that 99 percent of the launches had been intercepted, declaring that "the Iranian attack was foiled".
  • While 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles were shot down before they reached Israel, a few of the 110 ballistic missiles did get through, the Israeli army said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned on Sunday against any "reckless" Israeli retaliation to Tehran's unprecedented missile and drone attack, as world leaders urged restraint.

Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory, marking a major escalation of the long-running covert war between the regional foes and sparking fears of a broader conflict, as fighting between Israel and Hamas militants rages on in the Gaza Strip.

Tehran had repeatedly threatened to retaliate against Israel for a deadly April 1 air strike on Iran's consulate building in Damascus, and Washington had warned in recent days that a response was imminent.

The response came late Saturday when Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel, injuring 12 people, the Israeli army said.

But almost all of the drones and missiles were intercepted before they reached Israel, with help from the United States, Jordan and other allies.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that 99 percent of the launches had been intercepted, declaring that "the Iranian attack was foiled".

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

Among the injured was a 12-year-old girl near the southern Israeli town of Arad who was in intensive care, according to the medical centre that received her.

Iran's President Raisi said in a statement that "if the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behaviour, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response."

Numerous countries condemned the attack, and the United Nations Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday over what it has called a "serious escalation".

The attack also came as the latest attempt to reach a ceasefire in the war in Gaza appeared to falter, with Israel accusing the Palestinian militant group Hamas of rejecting a truce proposal.

 'Running home'

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 in the city while some residents stockpiled water.

On Sunday morning, people were beginning to tentatively return to the streets of Jerusalem.

Ayala Salant, 48, told AFP "the situation is really frightening". 

"We are afraid of what is happening and all of the bombing and aircraft that are coming."

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

The Iranian army declared that its attack was "completed successfully," which it said was in "self defence" after the Damascus strike which killed seven of Iran's Revolutionary Guards including two generals earlier this month.

"Operation Honest Promise... achieved all its objectives", said Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian armed forces' chief of staff.

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, though Israel maintains that the attack only resulted in minor damage.

Hundreds of Iranians gathered in Tehran's Palestine Square waving Iranian and Palestinian flags in a show of support for the military action.

 'Ironclad' US support for Israel

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

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement announced it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the annexed Golan Heights around the same time, as well as a second barrage hours later.

An Israeli strike destroyed a building in Lebanon's east on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency reported. A source within Hezbollah told AFP that there were no casualties.

As the attack was occurring, US President Joe Biden reiterated Washington's "ironclad" support for Israel.

Biden said he told Netanyahu during a phone call that Israel's defence against the attack sent "a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel".

The Iranian mission to the United Nations warned Washington to keep out of Iran's conflict with Israel.

The mission added on X that it hoped Iran's attack would lead to no further escalation and "the matter can be deemed concluded".

NATO spokeswoman Farah Dakhlallah said the alliance condemned "Iran's overnight escalation", stressing, "It is vital that the conflict in the Middle East does not spiral out of control."

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Iran's "reckless" action and pledged his government would "continue to stand up for Israel's security".

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia urged parties to exercise "restraint and spare the region and its peoples from the dangers of war".

The US Security Council was to meet at around 2000 GMT Sunday to discuss the latest crisis at Israel's request.

G7 nations will also hold a video conference in the early afternoon to discuss the attack.

Jordan, which is located between Israel and Iran, said it had intercepted "flying objects" that breached its airspace during the attack.

Before Tehran launched its attack on Saturday, the Israeli 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.

Gaza stalemate

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. 

On Saturday night, 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 described this as a rejection of the proposal, accusing Hamas of "continuing to exploit the tension with Iran" and aiming for "a general escalation in the region".