Fears of further escalation after Iranian air attack on Israel

IANS Photo

Tel Aviv, April 14 (DPA/IANS) Iran's large-scale air attack on Israel has prompted fears of further escalation in the volatile Middle East, as leaders condemned the attack and rallied on Sunday to consider their further response.

Israeli and regional airspace reopened on Sunday morning after the country managed with the help of its allies to intercept 99 per cent of the projectiles fired by Iran, according to Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari.

Tehran had launched "over 300 threats of various types," Hagari said.

For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, Iran directly attacked Israel in the overnight barrage of drones and missiles. The attack was retaliation for the killing of high-ranking Iranian officers in Syria, in a suspected Israeli airstrike on April 1.

Of the 170 unmanned missiles and more than 30 cruise missiles launched by Iran, none reached Israel, Hagari said. "Out of over 120 ballistic missiles, only a few crossed into Israeli territory, with the rest being intercepted," he added.

These had caused minor infrastructure damage to the Nevatim Air Force Base, which continued to function normally.

Hagari spoke of Israel's "very significant strategic achievement" in deterring the attack. He strongly rejected the idea that the airstrikes could have been intended as a form of sabre-rattling without serious intent of damage.

"I think Iran meant to get results and did not get results," Hagari told journalists. He pointed to the use of ballistic missiles by Iran as a clear escalation.

Israel is now carefully considering its next steps, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in an interview with the Israeli army radio station.

"We have said: if Iran attacks Israel, we will attack Iran. And this commitment is still valid," Katz said.

He said the specific question of a possible response would be discussed in the appropriate framework under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli media have announced that the war cabinet was to meet at 3.30 p.m. (12.30 GMT) to discuss the next steps.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had "taught a lesson" to the country's arch-enemy Israel.

"Punishment of the aggressor, which was the sincere promise of the powerful and wise leader of the Islamic Revolution, has come true," Raisi said in a statement from the presidential office.

Raisi warned Israel's allies against counter-attacks: "We advise the supporters of the occupying regime to appreciate this responsible and proportionate action of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Iran's highest-ranking general, Mohammed Bagheri, rated the attack on Israel as a success, in comments carried by the ISNA news agency. "The reason for this operation was a crossing of red lines by the Zionist regime," Bagheri said.

Israel called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Sunday to condemn Iran's attack on Israel and designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan sent an urgent letter to the President of the Security Council, Vanessa Frazier, calling for the meeting.

"The Iranian attack is a serious threat to global peace and security and I expect the Council to use every means to take concrete action against Iran," he posted on X.

Italy, which currently holds the G7 presidency, has convened a videoconference on Sunday for the heads of the seven leading democratic industrialised nations.

US President Joe Biden had previously announced the meeting, "to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack".

Western leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the attack, while Beijing broke its relative silence on the conflict in the Middle East to express "deep concern."

In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called on all sides to "exercise calm and restraint to prevent a further increase in tensions".

Moscow, meanwhile, blamed Western powers for failing to respond to the April 1 attack on Iran's consulate in Damascus and said Iran was invoking its right to self-defence under the UN Charter.

"Unfortunately, due to the position adopted by its Western members, the (UN) Security Council was unable to provide a proper response to the strike on the Iranian consular mission," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russia and Iran, both facing sanctions by Western powers, have strengthened their ties over recent years.

Tehran had vowed to respond to the April 1 attack on its Damascus embassy compound, and indications had mounted that it would take action this weekend. Two brigadier generals were killed in the suspected Israeli airstrike.