British military warns of possible vessel being boarded near Strait of Hormuz

British military warns of possible vessel being boarded near Strait of Hormuz

JERUSALEM (AP) — Booms and air raid sirens sounded across Israel early Sunday after Iran launched hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in an unprecedented revenge mission that pushed the Middle East closer to a regionwide war. A military spokesman said the launches numbered more than 300 but 99% of them were intercepted.

Calling the outcome “a very significant strategic success,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran fired 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles. Of those, several ballistic missiles reached Israeli territory, causing minor damage to an air base.

Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though they said police were still investigating the circumstances of her injuries.

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

The Iranian attack, less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria that killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building, marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Condemnation from the United Nations chief and others was swift, with France saying Iran “is risking a potential military escalation,” Britain calling the attack “reckless” and Germany saying Iran and its proxies “must stop it immediately.”

Hagari said the vast majority of the intercepts came outside Israel’s borders, including 10 cruise missiles that were intercepted by warplanes.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Tomer Neuberg)

“A wide-scale attack by Iran is a major escalation,” he said. Asked whether Israel would respond, Hagari said only that the army “does and will do whatever is required to protect the security of the state of Israel.” He said the incident was not over, and dozens of Israeli warplanes remained in the skies.

Israel’s military said its Arrow system, which shoots down ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, handled most interceptions and noted that “strategic partners” were involved.

“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,” Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our service members, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

An Iranian demonstrator chants slogans while attending an anti-Israeli gathering at the Felestin (Palestine) Square in Tehran, Iran, early Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

An Iranian demonstrator flashes a victory sign as he holds a model of a bullet during an anti-Israeli gathering in Tehran, Iran, early Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement that U.S. forces “intercepted dozens of missiles and UAVs en route to Israel, launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke early Sunday, Israeli time, their governments said. Biden said in his statement that he reaffirmed “America’s ironclad commitment” to Israel’s security — a departure from his growing criticism of Israel’s conduct in its war on Hamas in Gaza.

Iran had vowed revenge since the April 1 airstrike in Syria, which Tehran accused Israel of being responsible for. Israel hasn’t commented on it.

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. The war erupted after Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon, began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

In a statement carried late Saturday by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles towards the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime.”

In a later statement, the Revolutionary Guard issued a direct warning to the U.S.: “The terrorist U.S. government is warned any support or participation in harming Iran’s interests will be followed by decisive and regretting response by Iran’s armed forces.”

IRNA also quoted an anonymous official saying ballistic missiles were part of the attack. A ballistic missile moves on an arch trajectory, heading up into space before gravity brings the weapon down at a speed several times faster than the speed of sound.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s defenses are ready after Iran launched dozens of drones and ballistic missiles on Saturday.

Israel has a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets. However, in a massive attack involving multiple drones and missiles, the likelihood of a strike making it through is higher.

Iran has a vast arsenal of drones and missiles. Online videos shared by Iranian state television purported to show delta-wing-style drones resembling the Iranian Shahed-136s long used by Russia in its war on Ukraine. The slow-flying drones carry bombs. Ukraine has successfully used both surface-to-air missiles and ground fire to target them.

Some Israelis watched the interceptions light up the night sky.

Air raid sirens were reported in numerous places including northern Israel, southern Israel, the northern West Bank and the Dead Sea near the Jordanian border.

Israel’s army ordered residents in the Golan Heights — near the Syrian and Lebanese borders — as well as the southern towns of Nevatim and Dimona and the Red Sea resort of Eilat into protective spaces. Dimona is home to Israel’s main nuclear facility, and Nevatim has a major air base. Loud booms were heard in Jerusalem and northern and southern Israel.

The army’s Home Front Command canceled school Sunday and limited public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people. Israel and some other countries in the region closed their airspace.

Earlier, Netanyahu warned: “Whoever harms us, we will harm them.”

In Washington, Biden convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the attack.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, was in Israel over the weekend consulting with Israeli defense officials. The Central Command oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations issued a warning to both Israel and the U.S. “Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” it wrote online. “It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!”

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, witnesses saw long lines at gas stations early Sunday as people appeared worried about what may come next.  » …
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