Tehran plays down suspected Israeli attack, signals no retaliation

In World
April 19, 2024



TEHRAN:

Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as a suspected 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.

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

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.

An 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.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first-ever direct attack on Israel by Iran

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation.  China said that it will “continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate” tensions in the Middle East.

“China opposes any actions that further escalate tensions and will continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate the situation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from from Arab states in the region.

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.

Fears of a major regional spillover from the Gaza war have since soared.

 

No mention of Israel

Within Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defences in Isfahan.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object”.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril”.

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes.

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted, opens new tab U.S. government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba “out of an abundance of caution”.

In a statement, the embassy warned U.S. citizens of a “continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning”.

Overnight on April 13, Iran carried out its first attack to directly target Israel, its regional foe. Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones launched by Iran, and suffered no deaths.

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

Iran-backed groups have bolstered President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.
Iran is also a key backer of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack that started the Gaza war, 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 Thursday, announcing the measures after the European Union said it would also sanction Iran’s drone programme.

After its missile and drone barrage against Israel, Iran had declared the matter concluded. But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had warned that Tehran would make Israel “regret” any new attack on the Islamic republic.

Airlines scramble to change routes

Airlines quickly changed flight paths over Iran, diverted to alternate airports or returned planes to their departure points on Friday in response to airspace and airport closures after an Israeli attack on Iran, flight tracking data showed.

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

By 0445 GMT the airports and airspace had reopened, and closure notices posted on a US Federal Aviation Administration database had been removed.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, warning that spiralling tensions over the war 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 percent in early Asian trade on Friday following the reports of explosions.

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