Israel says Iran launched drones toward it that will take hours to arrive

Equipo
By Equipo
8 Min Read

JERUSALEM (AP) — Iran launched drones toward Israel late Saturday, the Israeli military announced, and Iran’s state-run media reported that dozens had been fired.

The Israeli army’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said it would take several hours for the aircraft to arrive and that the country was prepared. Iran had been threatening to attack Israel since an airstrike last week killed two Iranian generals in Syria. Israel has not commented on that attack, but Iran accused it of being behind it.

Israeli aviation authorities said they were closing the country’s airspace to all flights as of 12:30 a.m. local time (5:30 p.m. EDT).

The drone attack late Saturday marked the first time Iran had ever launched a full-scale military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a statement carried 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.” The statement did not elaborate.

The White House said it would provide unspecified support for Israel’s defense against the ongoing attack. “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

President Joe Biden was set to convene a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the unfolding attack, the White House said. Biden had cut short a weekend trip to his beach house in Delaware to return to the White House and monitor the situation.

Earlier Saturday, the Israeli military said it was canceling school and limiting public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people as a precaution.

Hagari said Israel is “prepared and ready” with defensive and offensive actions. He also said there was “tight” cooperation with the U.S. and other partners in the region.

The head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Erik Kurilla, has been in Israel in recent days to coordinate with Israel about the Iranian threats.

Israel has a number of layers of air defense capable of intercepting everything from long-range missiles to UAV’s and short-range rockets. Hagari said Israel has an “excellent air defense system” but stressed it is not 100% effective and urged the public to listen to safety announcements.

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

Iran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, despite its targeted killings of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns on Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has targeted Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces.

Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has inflamed decade-old tensions in the Middle East, and any new attack threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.

Flight-tracking data showed the airspace over Jordan empty, while few flights continued on their north-south routes over Iraq. A sole Middle East Airlines flight from Dubai to Beirut remained airborne over Syria.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following the launch of drones from Iran. The Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been clashing with Israeli forces in the border area for more than six months.

Earlier Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.

Iran’s state-run IRNA said a special forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.

Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew members were on the ship.

“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” MSC said.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the crew was made up of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian and Estonian nationals and urged Iran to release them and the vessel.

IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.

A Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, provided video of the attack to The Associated Press in which Iranian commandos are seen rappelling onto a stack of containers on the vessel’s deck.

The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The commandos rappelled from what appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used before to raid ships.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization. Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” Katz said.

The U.S., Israel’s main backer, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and wounding over 76,200 more. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.

The Pentagon said Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats … and made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”

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Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Michael Balsamo in New York, Krutika Pathi in New Delhi, Stephen Graham in Berlin, Thomas Adamson in Paris, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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