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Iran Strikes Israel in Historic Escalation

14/04/24

In a significant escalation of hostilities in the Middle East, Iran launched a comprehensive missile and drone attack against Israel late Saturday, marking the first direct confrontation between the two nations. On Sunday, Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations stated that the country’s military response against Israel was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognises the legitimate right to self defence. This action was a reaction to a lethal Israeli assault on the Iranian consulate in Syria, as reported by the official news agency IRNA.

The Attack and Immediate Fallout

According to a report from the Anadolu Agency, the Israeli military stated on Sunday that Iran had launched a total of 290 missiles and drones at Israel. This arsenal included 100 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles, and 160 suicide drones. The attacks, executed from various locations within Iran and in multiple waves, also coincided with additional missile and drone launches from Yemen, Iraq, and approximately 40 from Lebanon. Israeli forces, with support from the United States and other allied nations, successfully intercepted over 20 cruise missiles outside of Israeli borders. The Israeli army reported that while no cruise missiles breached Israeli territory, the ballistic missiles that did caused only minor infrastructural damage. [1]

Israel has not reported any fatalities thus far. The country has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, scheduled for later today, and Israeli officials have promised substantial retaliation.

This aerial assault by Iran on Saturday was in response to an April 1 airstrike that targeted Iran’s diplomatic premises in Damascus, resulting in the deaths of at least seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two high-ranking generals.

“Hundreds of drones and dozens of cruise and ballistic missiles were launched at Israel,” reported the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Air defence systems were activated countrywide as sirens wailed, with major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem witnessing interceptions and explosions lighting up the night sky.[1]

Footage aired by international media, including Al Jazeera, captured the intense moments of air defences engaging incoming threats. A military spokesperson from Israel confirmed the scale of the attack, stating, “This is a direct and significant escalation. A child was seriously injured, and there has been minor damage to military infrastructure.” [1]

Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had captured a cargo ship associated with Israel in the Strait of Hormuz. This action came shortly after Tehran’s declaration that it might shut down this vital maritime passage and its threats of retaliation following an Israeli attack on its consulate in Syria.

The state-run Irna news agency reported that the ship, the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, was boarded by a Guard helicopter and redirected to Iranian waters because of its connections to Israel.

MSC, the company operating the Aries, acknowledged the seizure and stated it was actively collaborating with appropriate authorities to ensure the safe return of the ship and the security of its 25 crew members.

Zodiac Maritime, partially owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, explained that MSC leases the Aries from its affiliate, Gortal Shipping, and is responsible for the vessel’s operations.

Iranian news channels aired video footage showing an individual descending from a helicopter onto the ship. Although Reuters confirmed the ship in the video was the MSC Aries, the recording date of the video could not be verified.[4]

Iran’s Justification

In Tehran, the mood was resolute. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, addressed the nation, declaring, “The malicious Zionist regime will be punished. Our actions are justified as a measure of self defence under international law.” This sentiment was echoed in a formal statement by Iran’s foreign ministry, which asserted, “Our resort to defensive measures demonstrates Iran’s responsible approach toward regional peace and security.”

Regional and International Reactions

As the international community watches closely, regional dynamics have shown signs of immediate impact. Jordan and Lebanon reported having to engage with elements of the assault that violated their airspace. A Jordanian official stated, “Our air defenses intercepted several unidentified objects. Thankfully, there were no casualties, although debris was scattered across multiple locations.” [2]

The global reaction was swift. The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting following a request from Israel. European leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, were quick to condemn the attacks. Sunak described them as “reckless,” adding that such actions represent “a grave threat to regional security.” [2]

From the United States, President Joe Biden reaffirmed his stance, stating, “Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad. We are monitoring the situation closely and are prepared to respond appropriately.”

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov labeled the April 1 Israeli airstrike on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus, which resulted in the deaths of at least 13 individuals including a senior general, as a “political killing,” according to the Anadolu Agency. In a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, it was noted that Lavrov expressed his condemnation of the Israeli action during a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Lavrov emphasised, “Any attacks on diplomatic and consular facilities, the inviolability of which is guaranteed by the relevant Vienna Conventions, are categorically unacceptable, as well as political killings.” [3]

Looking Ahead

Despite the immediate severity of the attacks, Iran’s Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri announced, “Iran has no further plans to continue this attack provided there is no further provocation.” However, the Iranian foreign ministry was clear in its warning that Iran “would not hesitate to take further necessary defensive measures to protect its legitimate interests.”

The chief of staff of Iran’s military issued a warning to the United States, stating that if Washington supports any Israeli counteractions against Iran, Tehran would retaliate against American bases. This warning was conveyed to the United States through Switzerland, as reported by Iranian state television. [1]

In a phone conversation with Israel’s Netanyahu, President Biden assured that the US would not back any Israeli offensive operations against Iran, as reported by various US media outlets.

This incident not only marks a significant escalation in direct conflicts between Iran and Israel but also highlights the fragile state of regional stability. As the international community calls for restraint, the potential for further escalation remains a critical concern for all parties involved.

[1] Middle East Eye. (2024.). Israel’s war on Gaza live: Iran’s ballistic missiles penetrated Israeli defences, hitting southern airbase. [online] Available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/live/israel-war-palestine-gaza-widespread-death-destruction.

[2] Middle East Monitor (2024.). Iran attacked Israel with 290 missiles, drones: Army. [online]  Available at: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20240413-palestinians-are-dying-of-hunger-and-no-one-knows/.

[3] anews. (2024.). Russia urges restraint after Iranian attack on Israel. [online] Available at: https://www.anews.com.tr/world/2024/04/14/russia-urges-restraint-after-iranian-attack-on-israel.‌

[4] Middle East Eye. (2024.). Iran seizes Israel-linked cargo ship in Strait of Hormuz after threats to close waterway. [online] Available at: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-seizes-israel-linked-cargo-ship-strait-hormuz-after-threats-close-waterway.

Tariq Kurd was born and grew up in Hertfordshire. His family is originally from Halabja, Kurdistan but due to periodic migration currently reside across the Baluchistan region.
He has a BA Hons. in History from the Open University. Besides English, Tariq can speak Baluchi and Brahvi, he is also conversant in Persian and Pashto.
His has an eclectic range of interests including military and tribal history. Tariq lives in London and is currently studying Islamic apologetics through the Sapience Institute.