Israel Hits Back at Iran With Limited Drone Strike on Air Base

(Bloomberg) -- Israel reportedly struck back at Iran on Friday morning, hitting a military site in a drone operation that was limited in scale and seemed to cause little damage.

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Iranian state media confirmed an attack had taken place in the city of Isfahan and said it failed. The country’s officials — who were bracing for Israel to respond to Saturday’s unprecedented drone and missile assault by the Islamic Republic — signaled they weren’t inclined to launch a counterstrike.

The Israeli government, which rarely talks about specific military actions linked to Iran, hasn’t confirmed or denied the attack. Two US officials, speaking privately to Bloomberg, confirmed Israel was behind it.

Read more: Israel Debates If Reported Strike on Iran Was Big Enough

Italy’s foreign minister said Israel gave the US last-minute forewarning and that Washington played no role in the incident.

“The small-scale of the event” is partly down to the efforts of the Group of Seven to restrain Israel’s response to last weekend’s assault, Antonio Tajani told reporters in Capri on Friday. He spoke after a meeting of G-7 foreign ministers.

An explosion was heard early Friday in Isfahan, Iran’s third-biggest city. Nuclear facilities located there are safe, state television and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said.

Flights were suspended in Isfahan and the Iranian cities of Tehran and Shiraz as well as airports across the country’s western borders, but those restrictions were soon eased.

The incident followed days of frantic diplomacy from the US and European nations in which they tried to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to respond too aggressively, if at all, to the Iranian attack. Their main concern is to avoid a wider war in a region already roiled by the Israel-Hamas conflict and which could send oil prices above $100 a barrel.

Read More: Israel Versus Iran — What All-Out War Could Look Like: QuickTake

Crude and gold jumped in early trading on Friday, but later pared their gains as reports showed the attack to be far from extensive.

Isfahan is home to around 2 million people and several military bases and facilities. It’s believed to have been one of several launch sites for Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday night.

The New York Times reported a military air base near Isfahan was struck.

Israel notified the US on Thursday it planned to retaliate in the next 24-48 hours, two American officials said to Bloomberg. Antony Blinken, also at the G7 meeting, refused to comment, beyond saying the US wasn’t involved.

Brent crude oil climbed above $90 a barrel before reversing its gains and trading around $86.50 as of 1:10 p.m. in London, down 0.7% on the day.

Gold also fell after initially jumping. US Treasuries — another haven for global investors in times of geopolitical stress — rose slightly, with yields on 10-year debt declining four basis points to 4.59%.

The shekel weakened this week to its lowest level in 2024, though was stronger on Friday at 3.77 per dollar. That was despite S&P Global Ratings downgrading Israel by one level to A+ — still easily in investment-grade territory — hours before the explosion in Isfahan.

Read more: S&P Joins Moody’s in Downgrading Israel on Geopolitical Risk

Israel had vowed to retaliate against Iran for its barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles. While the vast majority were destroyed before reaching their targets and there was minimal damage, Israel said it would send a message of weakness to Iran and other enemies if it didn’t respond.

Iran said its move was a justified reaction to a strike on its embassy compound in Syria on April 1, which killed several Iranian officers and was blamed on Israel.

The US, Europe and Arab states urged Netanyahu to act with restraint. The foreign ministers of the UK and Germany traveled to Israel on Wednesday to see him. US President Joe Biden reportedly told him to “take the win” and focus on how successful Israel’s air defenses — backed by the American, British, French and Jordanian militaries — had been in thwarting Iran.

Netanyahu faced a dilemma this week. While many of his far-right coalition members insisted on a firm response, the Israeli public was split on whether the country should react at all. Many, according to a poll, said it wasn’t worth provoking Iran and straining Israel’s ties with the US.

Israel is more than six months into the war in Gaza and still intent on attacking the city of Rafah, where it says several thousand Hamas fighters are lodged. Many in the country want the government to focus on finishing the conflict against the Iran-backed militant group that launched a deadly invasion on Oct. 7.

The war in Gaza has inflamed public opinion in the region and led to an outpouring of support for Palestinians and anger toward Israel. Other Iran-backed Islamist groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen have attacked Israel as well as US bases in the Middle East and ships around the Red Sea.

Still, so far the US and its allies have managed to prevent the fallout from triggering a regional war.

Ball in Iran’s Court

The narrative around Friday’s attack, marked by conflicting reports and a lack of official comments, could ease fears of that outcome, especially if both Israel and Iran are satisfied that they’ve done enough to restore their policies of deterrence.

“The ball is in Iran’s court now,” said Ziad Daoud, chief emerging-market economist for Bloomberg Economics. “The most likely scenario is avoiding escalation through another direct attack on Israel.”

Read more: GLOBAL INSIGHT: Israel-Iran Tit-for-Tat and World Economy

Many analysts had said targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities would be the riskiest and most aggressive option open to Israel, with strikes on non-nuclear military facilities and cyberattacks among the less assertive choices.

The indications are that Israel chose a “symbolic attack” that won’t force Iran to respond aggressively, retired Israeli General Israel Ziv told the nation’s Channel 12.

Israel’s hawkish national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, suggested he wasn’t happy with his country’s response.

“Weak,” he said in a one-word post on X in Hebrew.

Ben Gvir isn’t part of Netanyahu’s Likud party and doesn’t sit in the five-man war cabinet that takes final decisions on military actions. But he’s key to the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition and said after Iran’s attack that Israel had to hit back hard.

Sense of Calm

Also on Friday morning, Israel fired missiles at Syrian air-defense facilities, according to Syria’s main news agency. It was unclear if that operation was linked to the one in Isfahan.

Iranian media portrayed a sense of calm and normalcy in Isfahan after the strike.

Tehran has routinely accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear and military sites in the past, including in Isfahan, home to some key enrichment and missile facilities.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but the West accuses it of seeking to develop atomic weapons.

Read more: Foiling Iran’s Missile Attack Probably Cost More Than $1 Billion

On Thursday, Iran said it may reconsider its nuclear policies if Israel attacked its atomic sites.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also warned Israel against lashing out after the weekend assault.

“In case the Israeli regime embarks on adventurism again and takes action against the interests of Iran, the next response from us will be immediate and at a maximum level,” he said to CNN.

--With assistance from Ethan Bronner.

(Updates throughout.)

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