• Tehran claims it is ready to confront any Israeli attack; Raisi says countries who sought normalisation with Israel ‘stand humiliated’
• Western bloc discusses ramping up sanctions at G7 meeting

TEHRAN / JERUSALEM / BRUSSELS: Amid a diplomatic flurry aiming to calm a region already on the edge, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday his country would decide how to respond to Iran.

Tehran, however, said its military and air force were ready to confront any Israeli attack.

Israel faces pressure from its allies to refrain from striking back at Iran.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock were the first Western envoys to visit Israel and urge calm, but Netanyahu told the visiting ministers that Israel “will reserve the right to protect itself,” his office said.

The German FM called for “prudent restraint”, saying the region must not slide into a situation whose outcome is completely unpredictable.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron said that “we’re very anxious to avoid escalation and to say to our friends in Israel: It’s a time to think with head as well as heart.”

The US has already made clear it won’t join any attack on Iran and has called for de-escalation, as have a host of other Western and Arab leaders.

Israel’s military chief Herzi Halevi has already vowed “a response” to Iran’s first-ever direct attack, while military spokesman Daniel Hagari stressed that Tehran would not get off “scot-free”.

But it remains unclear how and when Israel might strike, and whether it would target Iran directly or attack its interests or allies abroad in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

A direct attack on Revolutionary Guards bases or nuclear research facilities within Iran is among the options Israel has to strike back.

Iran holds military parade

Meanwhile, Iran celebrated the “success” of its drone and missile strike during its annual military parade on Wednesday, as Hamas termed Tehran’s actions a “legitimate and deserved” response to a strike on the Islamic republic’s consulate in Syria.

In its first reaction, Hamas said, “The response from the Islamic Republic of Iran confirms that the time when the Zionist entity could act as it wanted without accountability or punishment has ended.”

The operation dubbed Honest Promise “brought down the glory of the Zionist regime (Israel)”, President Ebrahim Raisi said at a military base on the outskirts of Tehran.

“This operation showed that our armed forces are ready,” he said in a speech addressed to the regular army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“Any attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) on our soil will be dealt with a severe response,” state media quoted him as saying.

In his speech, Raisi also hit out at countries that had “sought to normalise relations” with Israel.

“These countries are now humiliated in front of their own people which constitutes a strategic failure for the regime” of Israel, he added.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force said at the same event that its warplanes, including Russian-made Sukhoi-24s, were in their “best state of preparedness” to counter any Israeli attack.

Air force commander Hamid Vahedi warned Iran’s enemies against making a “strategic error”.

“We are 100 per cent ready in all aerial fronts,” he was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

Wednesday’s parade saw Iranian forces showcase a range of military equipment, including drones and long-range ballistic missiles.

Among them were multiple versions of the Ababil, Arash and Mohajer drones as well as the Dezful medium-range ballistic missile and S-300 air defence missile system.

EU, G7 working on sanctions

Separately, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels was also working to expand sanctions against Iran, including its supply of drones and other weapons to Russia and to proxy groups around the Middle East.

European Union leaders met on Wednesday to discuss stepping up sanctions against Iran to prevent a wider conflict in the Middle East, more than six months into Israel’s war in Gaza.

“The EU is ready to take further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and missiles,” a draft statement said ahead of the summit.

Meanwhile in Italy, foreign ministers from the G7 nations gathered on Wednesday for talks dominated by the crisis in the Middle East. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is among those attending the meeting of the Group of Seven.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani confirmed they were “working” on some kind of sanctions against Iran.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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