IDF chief of staff says Israel will respond to Iran missile attack

International Desk Published: 16 April 2024, 09:07 AM
IDF chief of staff says Israel will respond to Iran missile attack
Iran's attack 'will be met with a response', Israel's top general says

Israel’s top general has said the country will respond to Iran’s missile and drone attack, but it remains unclear what form that response will take and whether it will be so forceful that it could tip a worsening spiral of violence into a full-scale regional war, reports The Guardian.

US officials said on Monday that some form of counter to Iran’s attack, which involved more than 300 missiles and drones, was almost inevitable, but the Biden administration was still hoping it would be a limited counterstrike and not aimed at Iranian territory.

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, gave the clearest confirmation so far since the attack that Israel would strike back.

“This launch of so many missiles, cruise missiles and drones into Israeli territory will be met with a response,” Halevi said, speaking from the Nevatim air force base in southern Israel, which was lightly damaged in the attack.

Israel’s war cabinet met for the fourth time in the last two days on Monday afternoon, as the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, and Benny Gantz, the former defence minister and centrist Netanyahu rival, again discussed how to walk the tightrope between escalation and deterrence.

“We respect that that’s a decision the war cabinet, the prime minister, have to make. We know that they live in a very tough neighbourhood,” the White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, told CNN on Monday. But he added that Joe Biden had “also been very clear that we don’t want a war with Iran. We don’t seek to widen and broaden this conflict. We don’t want to see things escalate.”

A range of options were discussed during a meeting that lasted several hours, Israel’s Channel N12 News reported, which would show Iran its actions had crossed a red line without triggering an even bigger response, as Tehran has threatened.

N12 reported that Israel intended to coordinate with the US on its response, but the Biden administration has said repeatedly it will not take part or assist any Israeli counterattack. US officials appeared resigned on Monday that the Israeli government would not heed Biden’s advice to “take the win” of having shot down the overwhelming majority of incoming Iranian missiles and drones on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and that there would be some sort of Israeli response.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, told his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday that Tehran was willing to exercise restraint and had no intention of further escalating the situation, according to state media.

The IDF claims it shot down 99% of the drones and ballistic and cruise missiles. But it was later reported that many of the Iranian munitions had failed to launch or fell far short of their targets. In the end, only four Iranian missiles struck in and around the Nevatim base.

The Biden administration remained hopeful, however, that the counterstrike would not physically target anything on Iranian soil, but would take the form of a large-scale cyber-attack, or aim at an Iranian proxy or an Iranian military target, such as a drone manufacturing plant, in a third country such as Lebanon, Syria or Iraq.

Officials suggested another possibility was a covert attack on a target inside Iran, not to be explicitly acknowledged by Israel but which would be widely known to have been carried out by Israeli special forces or intelligence.

Over the past decades there have been a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and blasts at sensitive military sites that have been attributed to Israel, but any open attack on military sites or infrastructure targets inside Iran would be viewed differently by Tehran, which has threatened to escalate further, making an all-out war much more likely.

Some hardline Israeli security establishment figures may view this weekend’s developments as a window of opportunity to go after Iran’s nuclear facilities, where Iranian technicians have come much closer to making weapons-grade uranium since the collapse of a 2015 nuclear deal, triggered by Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.

As with Saturday’s attack on Israel, the amount of casualties or damage caused by a direct Israeli retaliation would be likely to determine Iran’s next move.

Biden and the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, contacted Israel’s Arab neighbours on Sunday and Monday to reassure them of Washington’s position: that it was urging Netanyahu not to respond to the Iranian attack and that the US would play no part in any Israeli counterstrike.

During talks in Washington on Monday, Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, called for restraint in the Middle East.

“We encourage all the efforts of stopping the expansion of the area of conflict, especially the latest development,” Sudani said at the start of a meeting with Biden.

France, whose aircraft played a part in shooting down incoming Iranian munitions on Sunday, joined the chorus of foreign powers calling for Israeli restraint. “For several years now we have had an airbase in Jordan to fight terrorism,” Emmanuel Macron told the BFM TV news channel. “Jordanian airspace was violated … We made our planes take off and we intercepted what we had to intercept.”

Macron echoed the Biden position, saying France would help bolster Israeli defences but would not countenance a counterattack on Iranian territory. “We will do everything to avoid a conflagration - that is to say an escalation,” the French president said. “We need to be by Israel’s side to ensure its protection to the maximum, but also to call for a limit to avoid an escalation.”

He said the emphasis of the international community should be on “isolating Iran, convincing countries in the region that Iran is a danger, increasing sanctions, reinforcing pressure over nuclear activities”.