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Today's Paper | May 26, 2024

Updated 19 Apr, 2024 10:30pm

Tehran signals no retaliation against Israel after drones attack Iran

Explosions echoed the Iranian city of Isfahan on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged towards averting region-wide war.

Israel had previously warned it would hit back after Iran fired hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel almost a week ago, in retaliation for a deadly strike — which Tehran blamed on its foe — that levelled Iran’s consular annex at its embassy in Syria.

While most of the Iranian strikes were intercepted, fears of a major regional spillover from Israel’s Gaza offensive have since soared.


What we know so far:

  • US media says Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Iran; Iranian media denies reports country attacked from abroad
  • Blinken says US not involved in ‘any offensive operations’ amid reports of Washington being pre-notified of reported strike
  • Global calls, including from G7, for de-escalation pour in
  • Syria says Israeli army targeted army position in country’s south

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by worldwide diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since the Iranian move last weekend.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran’s air defences hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators”, rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more towards infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the drones caused no damage or casualties, in comments made to the envoys of Muslim countries in New York and cited by Iranian media.

“The Zionist regime’s media supporters, in a desperate effort, tried to make victory out of their defeat, while the downed mini-drones have not caused any damage or casualties,” Amirabdollahian was quoted as saying.

In a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart, Amirabdollahian said: “The main factor for stability and security in the region is to stop the Zionist regime’s (Israel) crimes in Gaza and the West Bank and establishing a lasting ceasefire.”

Jonathan Lord, head of the Middle East security program at the Centre for a New American Security, a US think tank, said Iran’s response “seems to indicate that Iran is seeking to step down off the ledge, minimise the impact of the attack, and perhaps walk back down the escalation ladder from here”.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East during six months of battle in Gaza.

The two longstanding foes had been heading towards direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Iran’s response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Following reports from the US media of Israeli strikes on Iran earlier today in the latest tit-for-tat exchange, countries around the world urged for de-escalation.

‘Several drones shot down, no missile attack’

Earlier today, Iran’s state media reported air defence systems over several Iranian cities were activated after the country’s official broadcaster said explosions were heard near the city of Isfahan.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, citing “informed sources,” denied that Iran had been attacked from abroad.

“Contrary to the rumours and claims” made in foreign media, “there are no reports of an attack from abroad on Iran’s central city of Isfahan or any other part of the country”, Tasnim said.

Three Iranian officials told The New York Times that small drones carried out the attack, possibly launched from inside Iran, and that its radar systems had not detected unidentified aircraft entering Iranian airspace.

Fars news agency reported “three explosions” heard close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army airbase, while Iran’s space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian said “several” drones had been “successfully shot down”.

Dalirian said on social media platform X there were “no reports of a missile attack”.

“Reports indicate there was no major damage or large explosions caused by the impact of any air threat,” the official IRNA news agency said.

A senior military officer in Isfahan, Brigadier General Siavash Mihandoost, told state television that the loud sound people heard was caused by defence systems shooting at a target in the air, not an explosion on the ground.

Nuclear facilities in Isfahan were reported to be “completely secure”, Tasnim said. Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed there was no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.

The agency continues to monitor the situation very closely and calls for extreme restraint from all sides, stressing that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts, it said.

US not involved in ‘any offensive operations’: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly declined to confirm the reported Israeli attack on Iran, saying Washington has not been involved in any offensive operations and it was committed to de-escalating tensions in the region.

“I’m not going to speak to that except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” Blinken said at a news conference capping a gathering of G7 foreign ministers on the southern Italian island of Capri.

“What we’re focused on, what the G7 is focused on, and again, it’s reflected in our statement, and in our conversation, is our work to de-escalate tensions, to de-escalate from any potential conflicts,” Blinken said.

The top US diplomat kept repeating the same response, almost verbatim, when he was asked about the issue several times at the news conference.

At a separate news conference moments before Blinken, Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said the United States was “informed at the last minute” but did not elaborate.

Washington pre-notified of strike: reports

Washington received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike, but did not endorse the operation or play any part in its execution, US media quoted officials as saying.

US President Joe Biden had promised “ironclad” support for Israel but also urged it to “think carefully and strategically” before launching a response against Iran that could trigger a wider war.

NBC and CNN, citing sources familiar with the matter and a US official, respectively, said Israel had pre-notified Washington of the strike.

CNN quoted one official as stating the target was not a nuclear facility.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or Pentagon. The Israeli military had told AFP: “We don’t have a comment at this time.”

Following today’s development, countries around the world, including the G7, urged for de-escalation.

Israel targets army position in Syria: ministry

Israeli strikes on Friday also targeted a Syrian army position in the country’s south, Syria’s government and a monitor said.

In a statement, Syria’s defence ministry said “the Israeli enemy carried out an attack using missiles […] targeting our air defence sites in the southern region” and causing material damage.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Israel targeted an army radar position in the southern province of Daraa that had detected the entry of Israeli planes into Syria’s airspace.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, said the strikes took place “at a time when the Israeli air force was flying intensively over the Daraa region” without Syrian air defences taking any action.

Rayan Maarouf, who runs the Suwayda24 anti-government new website, had earlier told AFP there had been strikes on a Syrian army radar position in Sweida province, without specifying their origin.

US embassy in Israel tells employees to limit movement

The United States embassy in Israel told its employees and their families to restrict their movements.

“Out of an abundance of caution following reports that Israel conducted a retaliatory strike inside Iran, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv” area as well as the Jerusalem and Beersheva areas “until further notice,” a security advisory issued by the mission on its website said.

Due to a “complex” security environment that “can change quickly,” the embassy “may further restrict or prohibit” the concerned people from travelling to parts of Israel, Jerusalem’s Old City, and the occupied West Bank, the advisory read.

Airlines reroute flights after Israeli attack on Iran

Airlines changed flight paths over Iran, cancelled some flights, diverted others to alternate airports or returned planes to their departure points in response to airspace and airport closures after the attack on Iran, flight tracking data showed.

Iran closed its airports in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan and cleared flights from the western portion of its airspace for a few hours after the attack, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

By 4:45am GMT, the airports and airspace had reopened, and closure notices posted on a US Federal Aviation Administration database had been removed.

Before the airports reopened, Flydubai said it had cancelled its Friday flights to Iran. One of its earlier flights turned back to Dubai, it said.

An Iran Air flight from Rome to Tehran was diverted to Ankara, Turkiye, Flightradar 24 showed.

Germany’s Lufthansa cancelled all flights to Tel Aviv and Erbil until Saturday and said it would fly around Iraqi airspace during the same period.

“The safety of passengers and crews is always the top priority,” it said.

Emirates, Flydubai, Turkish Air, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi and Belavia were among the carriers continuing to fly over the part of Iran’s airspace that remained open in the initial hours after the attack early on Friday, the tracking website showed.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and will make changes to our flight paths in consultation with the relevant authorities,” Flydubai said in a statement.

The airspace and airport closures in Iran compounded a difficult week for Dubai-based carriers after record rainfall in the United Arab Emirates.

Since Tuesday, 1,478 flights have been cancelled to and from Dubai, approximately 30 per cent of all flights, according to FlightRadar24. Many Western and Asian airlines had already been steering clear of Iran and its airspace before the Israeli attack, which came days after Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel.

Germany’s Lufthansa on Wednesday had extended a suspension of flights to Tehran until the end of the month, citing ongoing security concerns in the region.

Australia’s Qantas Airways said on Saturday it was rerouting flights between Perth and London on concerns about the Middle East, adding a fuel stop in Singapore as it avoided Iran’s airspace.

Taiwan’s China Airlines said in a statement that it “continues to pay attention to the situation as it develops and plans the most appropriate routes in accordance with the recommendations of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency”.

Taiwan’s EVA Air told Reuters that its flights had already been avoiding Iranian air space.

Etihad Airways, which does not fly to Iran, said it “continuously monitors security and airspace updates, safety is always our highest priority and we would never operate a flight unless it was safe to do so”.

Mideast ‘on a precipice’

Over the weekend, Iran carried out its first attack to directly target regional foe Israel which, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones launched by Tehran, and suffered no deaths.

Iran had launched its attack in retaliation for an April 1 strike on its consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus. In that attack, seven of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards including two generals were killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack that started Israel’s offensive in Gaza, has stressed that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.

The United States, Israel’s main ally and military supplier, has made clear it would not join a reprisal attack on Iran, but unveiled sanctions against people and entities involved in producing the drones deployed in the Iranian assault.

“We are holding Iran accountable,” US President Joe Biden said on Thursday, announcing the measures after the European Union said it would also sanction Iran’s drone programme.

Amirabdollahian had warned that Tehran would make Israel “regret” any attack on the Islamic republic.

On Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, warning that spiralling tensions over the conflict in Gaza and Iran’s attack on Israel could devolve into a “full-scale regional conflict.”

“The Middle East is on a precipice. Recent days have seen a perilous escalation — in words and deeds,” Guterres told the Security Council.

“One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable — a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved,” he said, calling on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint”.

Oil prices surged more than three per cent in early Asian trade on Friday following the reports of explosions.

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