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Israel hails ‘success’ in blocking Iran’s unprecedented attack

Biden expected to hold meeting with G7 on Sunday to coordinate a ‘diplomatic response’

Israel on Sunday hailed its air defenses in the face of an unprecedented attack by Iran, saying the systems thwarted 99% of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched toward its territory. Regional tensions were high amid fears of an Israeli counter-strike that could fuel further escalation.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he would convene a meeting Sunday of the Group of Seven advanced democracies “to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.” The U.S. made clear it would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

“We don’t seek a war with Iran. We’re not looking for escalation here,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told NBC.

Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria earlier this month and killed two Iranian generals. Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key member of Israel’s War Cabinet, Benny Gantz.

The two foes have for years been engaged in a shadow war marked by attacks such as the Damascus strike. But Sunday’s assault, which set off air-raid sirens across Israel, was 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.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the United States — 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.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already bogged down in its war against Hamas in Gaza and engaged in low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

Israeli and U.S. officials praised the response to the aerial assault.

“Iran launched more than 300 threats and 99% were intercepted,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman. “That is a success.” Asked if Israel would respond, Hagari said the country would do what was needed to protect its citizens.

Hagari said none of the drones and cruise missiles reached Israel and that only a few ballistic missiles got through. Of the cruise missiles, 25 were shot down by the Israeli air force, he said.

Hagari said minor damage was caused to an Israeli airbase, but he said it was still functioning. Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though police were still investigating the circumstances.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a message on X: “We intercepted. We blocked. Together, we will win.” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant thanked the U.S. and other countries for their assistance.

Schools remained closed around Israel, and traffic on the first day of the workweek was lighter than usual as many people stayed home.

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said the operation was over, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. “We have no intention of continuing the operation against Israel,” he was quoted as saying.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike.

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard issued a new threat against 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,” said a statement carried by IRNA.

Israel may be particularly proud of the success of its defense because it stands in sharp contrast to the failures it endured during Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. Facing a far less powerful enemy in Hamas, Israel’s border defenses collapsed, and the military took days to repel the marauding militants — an embarrassing defeat for the Middle East’s strongest and best-equipped army.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image, what it does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals.

In Washington, Biden said U.S. forces helped Israel down “nearly all” the drones and missiles and pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain’s air force shot down a number of Iranian drones.

Biden spoke with Netanyahu later in the day.

“I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks — sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel,” Biden said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies in the coming days.

The U.S., along with allies, has sent direct messages to Tehran to warn against escalating the conflict. Leaders from the G7 were scheduled to hold a video conference Sunday afternoon, according to Italy, which holds the presidency of the group of developed countries. The group includes the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, and Canada.

READ ALSO: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemns Iran’s attacks on Israel

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, 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.

In other developments, negotiations meant to bring about a cease-fire in exchange for the release of the hostages appeared to hit a setback Sunday. Netanyahu’s office said Hamas rejected the latest proposal for a deal, which had been presented to Hamas a week ago by mediators Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

A Hamas official said the group wants a “clear written commitment” that Israel will withdraw from Gaza during the second of a three-phase cease-fire deal. The deal presented to the sides calls for a six-week cease-fire in Gaza, during which Hamas would release 40 of the more than 100 hostages the group is holding in the enclave in exchange for 900 Palestinian prisoners from Israel’s jails, including 100 serving long sentences for serious crimes.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war against Israel.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah 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.


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Samy Magdy in Cairo, Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

Tia Goldenberg, The Associated Press