Iran launches significant drone, missile attack on Israel

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Iran has launched a significant attack of drone and missile strikes on Israel, the White House and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Saturday, widening fears of a regional war in the Middle East.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement that it launched dozens of missiles and drones toward Israel, according to a statement shared by state-run Iranian media outlet Press TV.

IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the “direct attack” from Iran is a “severe and dangerous escalation.”

“Our defensive and offensive capabilities are at the highest level of readiness ahead of this large-scale attack from Iran,” he said in a video address. “This is a mission that we are determined and ready to fulfill.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said President Biden was being regularly updated on the unfolding situation and would meet with his national security team at the White House.

NSC Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the attack by Iran, which had been expected for days, “is likely to unfold over a number of hours.”

“President Biden has been clear: our support for Israel’s security is ironclad. The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran,” Watson said in a statement.

Israel is on high alert and forces are “constantly monitoring” the situation, the IDF said, adding that the air defenses are also on alert.

Fighter jets and naval vessels are also on a defense mission around Israel, the IDF said.

Iran was expected to strike Israel after an alleged Israeli strike earlier this month hit near the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, killing two senior officers in Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The slain IRGC officers were the highest-profile deaths since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, and the biggest blow to Tehran since the U.S. drone strike in 2020 that killed Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Their deaths led to a public outcry in Iran.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had repeatedly threatened Israel following the Damascus strike, saying the country would be “slapped” for their actions. He said a strike on an embassy is tantamount to striking a country’s soil.

Israel has not confirmed the Damascus strike, though Israeli officials have rarely if ever commented on military action taken in Syria against Iran.

Iran’s counter-strikes are likely to raise tensions in the Middle East, which has been volatile since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. Iran is the primary backer of Hamas, which invaded Israel on Oct. 7 and killed some 1,200 people, while taking another roughly 240 captive.

That war is still raging in Gaza, and it has led to clashes across the Middle East between Iranian proxies and Israel and U.S. forces. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are still targeting commercial ships in the Red Sea and fighting with the U.S. Navy.

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 32,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health services in Gaza, inflaming much of the region.

Israel has been on high alert for more than a week and the Iranian strikes were expected. Israel also has the highly valuable Iron Dome air defense system.

Still, there were some reports that Iran was massing dozens of cruise missiles and drones for a potentially lethal strike in Israel that could overwhelm their forces. It’s not clear what Iran may be targeting in Israel, though reports indicated they may be looking to hit government and military sites.

The attack is also likely to inflame tensions between Iran and the U.S., which have been high amid the Israel-Hamas war. Iranian proxies have largely stopped hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, which was a near constant in the beginning of the Gaza war, but that could change.

Washington has repeatedly vowed to stand by Israel amid the public Iranian threats, a stance underscored in a phone call Biden had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also called his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, on Saturday to stress that Israel would have U.S. backing.

Gen. Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Israel this week ahead of the anticipated Iranian action.

Biden on Saturday afternoon had returned from a short vacation at Rehoboth Beach to head back to the White House.

At the White House, Biden will meet with Austin, Secretary  of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Brown and CIA Director Bill Burns.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other officials will also be in attendance, as will Vice President Harris and White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients via video link.

Netanyahu said in a video address Saturday that Israel was “ready for any scenario.”

“The state of Israel is strong. The IDF is strong,” he said. “We have determined a clear principle: whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

Iran’s Minister of Defense Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani said in a statement shared by Iranian media channels that “any country that opens its airspace or territory to Israel to attack Iran will receive decisive response.”

Netanyahu has convened a meeting with his war cabinet in Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.

This story was updated at 5:52 p.m.

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