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Israel shoots down missiles and drones after Iran launches unprecedented attack

Israeli Iron Dome air defense systems launch to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel on Sunday.
Tomer Neuberg
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AP
Israeli Iron Dome air defense systems launch to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel on Sunday.

Updated April 13, 2024 at 11:11 PM ET

Booms and air raid sirens sounded across Israel and the occupied West Bank early Sunday morning, after Iran launched dozens of drones and missiles toward Israel, in an attack that marked a major escalation of conflict in the Middle East.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said U.S. forces had helped Israel down "nearly all" the drones and missiles, and pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran fired more than 300 projectiles at Israel overnight, 99% of which were shot down, the "vast majority". Officials reported minor damage to a military base in southern Israel and one injury to a 10-year-old child, who was reported to be in critical condition.

"We will do everything we need, everything, to defend the state of Israel," Hagari said. He added that some of the launches came from Iraq and Yemen.

The Israeli War Cabinet planned to meet at lunchtime. In a statement Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. does "not seek escalation" of the conflict.

G7 leaders are meeting on Sunday afternoon to coordinate on a diplomatic response to Iran's attack, and engage with officials across the Middle East. The United Nations Security Council is is also set to meet, after Israel requested the council condemn Iran's attack, and designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

Iran had vowed to retaliate after an airstrike on an Iranian consulate in Syria earlier this month killed seven Iranian military officials. It is the first time that Iran has launched an attack on Israel from Iranian soil, Israeli officials said.

U.S. forces in the region were active in shooting down drones, a U.S. defense official said. And interceptions by Israel's anti-missile defense system lit up the skies over populous areas including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Israeli emergency medical service Magen David Adom reported that a 10-year-old child had been struck in the head by shrapnel in the area of Arad, a town near the southwestern edge of the Dead Sea. Paramedics also treated about 20 people who suffered from anxiety or minor injuries experienced while seeking shelter, the service said.

Saturday's attack, which was first announced by Israeli officials around 4 p.m. ET, was staged in waves and took hours to reach Israel, officials said.

In a statement broadcast on Iranian state television, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps described the attack as a "large-scale military operation" against multiple targets inside Israel.

In a post on the social media site X, Iran's permanent mission to the United Nations wrote that the attack was a direct response to the strike on the consulate and that "the matter can be deemed concluded."

Following Tehran's overnight drone and missile attack on Sunday, Iran warned Israel of a larger attack on its territory should it retaliate, adding that Washington has been warned not to back Israeli military action.

"Our response will be much larger than tonight's military action if Israel retaliates against Iran," armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri told state TV, adding that Tehran warned Washington that any backing of Israeli retaliation would result in U.S. bases being targeted.

The U.S. military was directly involved in the response, a senior U.S. defense official said. "In accordance with our ironclad commitment to Israel's security, U.S. forces in the region continue to shoot down Iranian-launched drones targeting Israel. Our forces remain postured to provide additional defensive support and to protect U.S. forces operating in the region," the official said.

Israelis were urged to take shelter

This video grab from AFPTV taken on Sunday shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem's sky during an Iranian attack on Israel.
/ AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images
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AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images
This video grab from AFPTV taken on Sunday shows explosions lighting up Jerusalem's sky during an Iranian attack on Israel.

Officials in Israel had explicitly urged residents of Nevatim, Dimona and Eilat — three cities in Israel's Negev desert region — and people in the northern occupied Golan Heights to take shelter. A major Israeli air base is located near Nevatim, and an Israeli nuclear research facility is located in Dimona.

Airspace over Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon was closed late Saturday, while some airlines announced the cancellation of some flights and the re-routing of others due to the attacks. Israel and Jordan reopened their airspace on Sunday morning.

Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group, said that it had staged its own attack by launching dozens of rockets toward an Israeli military base in the Golan early Sunday.

In a Saturday night address to Israelis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his country was ready for "any scenario, both defensively and offensively."

"We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination," Netanyahu said.

President Biden monitored the attack from the Situation Room alongside top defense and diplomatic officials. In anticipation of the attack, he had cut short a trip to Delaware in order to return to the White House.

Afterward, he spoke with Netanyahu and said Israel had "demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel."

"At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week" the president said. "Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles."

Iran blames Israel for an earlier attack on its consulate

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks  on March 1 in Tehran, Iran. Iran vowed to respond after an attack on an Iranian consulate in Syria.
Majid Saeedi / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks on March 1 in Tehran, Iran. Iran vowed to respond after an attack on an Iranian consulate in Syria.

The attack on Israel comes four days after Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed retaliation for an April 1 strike on an Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Iran said the strike killed seven members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals, and it blamed Israel for the attack. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied being behind the attack, though the Pentagon said Israel was responsible.

By Saturday, as anticipation had grown over a possible retaliation, Israeli officials warned residents living in communities near Gaza and the Lebanon border to limit the size of gatherings and to work indoors or within reach of a shelter. Schools across Israel were closed through Monday.

U.S. defense officials told NPR Saturday that the U.S. military had moved assets around the region in anticipation of an attack, including aircraft, and had shored up defensive positions for forces in the region. The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, Gen. Michael Kurilla, arrived in Israel Thursday to coordinate with the Israeli military.

In a post on Telegram on Sunday, Hamas expressed support for Iran's attack, calling it a "natural right" and a deserved response to the Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria this month. The militant group called on Arab and Islamic nations to continue their backing in its fight against Israel, according to the Washington Post.

Also on Sunday, a statement by Israel's intelligence agency Mossad announced that Hamas had rejected the latest hostage deal outline, which would have led to a six week pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas. They blamed the lapse in negotiations directly on Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

The attack is a large escalation of hostilities in the region

The strike and retaliation represent an escalation of conflict in the region that many officials worldwide had expressed worry about ever since the outbreak of war between Israel and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas on Oct. 7, the day Hamas led an attack on Israel that left some 1,200 people dead.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Saturday that he condemned Iran's attack and was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

Egypt's foreign affairs ministry called Iran's attack a "dangerous escalation" and in a Saturday night statement urged "the exercise of the utmost restraint to spare the region and its people further factors of instability and tension." Jordan's Prime Minister said on Sunday any escalation in the region would lead to "dangerous paths", while United Arab Emirates foreign ministry called for the exercise of the utmost restraint to avoid dangerous repercussions.

Iran has long supplied Hamas with funds and weapons. The White House has not directly linked Iran to the Oct. 7 attack.

In the six months since Oct. 7, Israel has bombarded Gaza and conducted a devastating ground invasion that has left much of the territory in ruins and more than 33,000 Palestinians dead, according to Palestinian health officials.

The last time Iran launched a similar attack was in 2020, when it fired ballistic missiles at the Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, wounding dozens of U.S. troops, in retaliation for the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimaniby a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

Additional reporting by NPR's Daniel Estrin and NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tel Aviv, NPR's Tom Bowman in Washington, D.C., and NPR's Jane Arraf in Amman. Alon Avital and Itay Stern contributed reporting from Tel Aviv. contributed to this story

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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