Israel vows to ‘exact a price’ after unprecedented Iranian attack while world leaders call for restraint

Apr 14, 2024, 8:04 PM | Updated: 8:13 pm

President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu, and made clear that the US would not participate...

President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu, and made clear that the US would not participate in any offensive operations against Iran. (Getty Images, CNN Newsource)

(Getty Images, CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — Israel pledged that it will “exact a price” from Iran as the country weighs its response to an unprecedented overnight barrage of drone and missile strikes while facing international pressure to de-escalate.

The overnight attack – which saw Tehran launch a series of strikes at Israel over a five-hour period – threatens to tip the crisis in the Middle East into an untempered regional war.

Israel’s war cabinet has been authorized to respond to the attack and met on Sunday, with one of its members, Benny Gantz, saying the “event is not over.”

He cited the need to “build a regional coalition and exact a price from Iran, in a way and at a time that suits us.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant earlier said Israel had “thwarted this attack in a way that is unparalleled” but added “we must be prepared for every scenario.” In his first comments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “we have intercepted, we have contained. Together we shall win.”

An Israeli official separately told CNN that Israel will respond to Iran’s attack, but the scope of that attack has yet to be decided. The official said Israel is yet to determine whether to try and “break all the dishes” or do something more measured.

But Israel is being urged by Western allies to de-escalate an intensely fraught situation on Sunday and close, at least for now, a weeks-long chapter of uncertainty and confrontation that had spiraled out of Israel’s war with Hamas that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza and caused a humanitarian disaster in the enclave.

Iran’s retaliatory attack had been anticipated since a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic complex in Syria earlier this month, and finally came late on Saturday when over 300 projectiles – including around 170 drones and over 120 ballistic missiles – were fired toward Israeli soil. Approximately 350 rockets were fired from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, according to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari. Israeli authorities said “99%” of the projectiles were intercepted with help from allies including the US, the UK and France. The only injury reported was a 7-year-old girl who was seriously wounded by shrapnel.

The reprisals brought years of clandestine conflict between the countries into the open, and marked the first time the Islamic Republic had launched a direct assault on Israel from its soil.

Israel and Iran have long been rivals, but tensions escalated in the wake of Hamas’ attacks on Israel, which left about 1,200 people dead. Iran backs a web of proxies across the Middle East that have frequently clashed with Israel since the attacks.

The war cabinet meeting lasted for hours and ended Sunday night without a decision on how Israel will respond, according to an Israeli official.

The war cabinet is determined to respond but has yet to decide on the timing and scope, the official said. One of the key dilemmas facing the cabinet is determining how quickly Israel should respond. The official said the Israeli military has been tasked with coming up with additional options for a response.

Iran says next attack could be ‘much bigger’

On Sunday, Iran said a “new equation” in its adversarial relationship with Israel had been opened, and warned of a “much bigger” assault on the country should Netanyahu decide on a tit-for-tat attack.

“We have decided to create a new equation, which is that if from now on the Zionist regime attacks our interests, assets, personalities, and citizens, anywhere, and at any point we will retaliate against them,” the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami told Iranian state TV. The “Zionist regime” is a term Iran uses to refer to Israel.

Earlier, Sardar Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, had said: “If the Zionist regime responds, our next operation will be much bigger.”

Iran’s attacks targeted the Israeli airbase from which, it said, the strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus was launched. Iranian ballistic missiles that reached Israel fell on the airbase in southern Israel, and caused only light structural damage, Hagari said.

Bagheri said that from Iran’s perspective, the military operation against Israel “has concluded.” But he emphasized that Iranian armed forces remain on high alert and are prepared to “act if necessary,” according to an interview on state IRINN TV on Sunday.

Those warnings came as Western nations urged Israel to descend from the brink of open warfare with its foe.

After the attack, US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu, and made clear that the US would not participate in any offensive operations against Iran, a senior White House administration official told CNN.

Biden told Netanyahu he should consider the events of Saturday night a “win” as Iran’s attacks had been largely unsuccessful, and instead demonstrated Israel’s “remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks.”

Israel has told the US that it’s not “looking for a significant escalation with Iran,” a senior Biden administration told reporters Sunday.

“They’re looking to protect themselves and defend themselves,” the official said.

“The president was very clear that we’re going to help defend Israel, and he made very clear to the prime minister last night that we do have to think carefully and strategically about risks of escalation,” the official added.

Biden has meanwhile reiterated that the US’s commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies remains “ironclad.”

Showing some of the domestic pressure Netanyahu faces, two hardline government ministers called for a firm response. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a retaliation that “resonates throughout the Middle East,” while National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Israel should “go crazy.”

Calls for restraint have also been made across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, a major regional rival to Iran, stressed the importance of “preventing any further exacerbation” of the crisis, while Qatar, which enjoys close economic relations with Iran, expressed “profound concern.” The United Arab Emirates warned of “new levels of instability” if the episode was not closed.

Iran had vowed to retaliate after accusing Israel of bombing its diplomatic complex in Syria earlier this month.

The airstrike destroyed the consulate building in the capital Damascus, killing at least seven officials including Mohammed Reza Zahedi, a top commander in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and senior commander Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, Iran’s foreign ministry said at the time.

Zahedi, a former commander of the IRGC’s ground forces, air force, and the deputy commander of its operations, was the most high-profile Iranian target killed since then-US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020.

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Israel vows to ‘exact a price’ after unprecedented Iranian attack while world leaders call for restraint