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Israel Attacks Iran, Conflicting Reports Say, Amid Fears of Escalation

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Israel launched a retaliatory strike against a site in Iran early Friday morning local time, U.S. officials confirmed to several media outlets, though an Iranian official has downplayed the attack as a “failed and humiliating” drone strike. (Syria also reported a simultaneous attack by Israel.)

ABC News, CBS News, NPR, and others have cited unnamed U.S. officials in reporting that one or more missiles were launched by the Israeli military at Iran. Citing two unnamed U.S. officials, Bloomberg News reported that Israeli officials had warned U.S. officials earlier on Thursday that it planned to attack Iran in the next 24-48 hours. An unnamed senior U.S. official also told CNN that the U.S. was warned of Israel’s planned retaliatory action, a response the official said the U.S. “didn’t endorse.”

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Friday that the U.S. told G7 ministers at their summit in Italy it was “informed at the last minute” by Israel about the drones. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to provide information about whether the U.S. had advance notice of the attack and other related questions from reporters at a press conference following the summit.

“I’m not going to speak to that except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” he said, adding that the G7 is focused on de-escalating tensions.

In his opening remarks, Blinken said “the G7 condemned the unprecedented Iranian attack on Israel.” Over the weekend, Iran launched more than 300 munitions at Israel, 99% of which were intercepted by Israel’s defense systems, with help from the U.S. and others.

“We are committed to Israel’s security,” Blinken continued. “We’re also committed to de-escalating, to trying to bring this tension to a close.”

Iran’s foreign minister had urged some of his counterparts to condemn an attack on an Iranian embassy building in Syria on April 1 that killed senior Iranian officials, which Iran blames on Israel and to which it said its missile barrage a response. Pentagon officials have said Israel did not notify them about its strike on the embassy building and the U.S. had no involvement. Israel has not publicly acknowledged the strike.

What we know about the latest strike

An unnamed Israeli official told the Washington Post that the attack was intended to send a message to Iran that Israel had the ability to strike inside the country.

Details of the strike, including its scale and the extent of the damage, remain unclear. FARS, a news agency managed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported that explosions occurred near Isfahan—a city some 340 km. south of Tehran that hosts key military sites, including a major airbase and nuclear facilities. It later clarified that the nuclear facility is completely safe, according to “informed sources,” and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed there was no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.

Iranian state-affiliated news agency IRNA reported that Iran’s air defense system had been activated in the skies of several provinces, following explosions heard in and around Isfahan. The source of the explosion was a “defense shot,” fired after the air defense in Tabriz, a city northwest of Isfahan, saw a “suspicious object,” IRNA reported, adding that the city was in “complete peace.”

Hossein Dalirian, an Iranian space agency spokesperson, said on X that reports of a foreign missile attack were “not true” and that it was three “microbirds” that were shot down.

“So far no large-scale hit and explosion caused by any air threat has been reported,” said IRNA, while state broadcasters have shown videos of life appearing normal in Isfahan—though their credibility is questionable after being found to promote misinformation as recently as earlier this week.

Fears of escalation

The apparent Israeli retaliation comes just days after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel over the weekend, most of which were intercepted by Israel’s defense systems as well as those of its allies and neighbors. The weekend attack sparked widespread fears of a sharp escalation of conflict, as regional tensions have heightened amid Israel’s war in Gaza. As world leaders urged Israel to refrain from a counterattack, Iran said that it considered the matter “concluded.”

In recent days, foreign governments concerned about rising violence in the Middle East have warned their citizens against traveling to or remaining in the region. On Wednesday, the Dutch government told its citizens to “leave Iran if you can do so safely.” And Australian authorities on Friday urged Australians to leave Israel and Palestinian territories “if it’s safe to do so.” The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued a security alert on Friday restricting U.S. government employees in Israel and their families from traveling for personal reasons outside greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva, and reminding U.S. citizens in Israel to take caution.

Several U.S. Congress members, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have posted on social media in support of Israel. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House passed a resolution earlier on Thursday condemning Iran’s weekend attack and affirming support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

Reflecting growing divisions within the Democratic Party, however, over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the White House’s ongoing support for Israel, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) retweeted a post by political commentator Peter Beinart, who said after reports of the attack on Iran: “Biden’s failure to stop this is a disaster for the safety of people all over the Middle East, including Israelis.”

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told CNN earlier on Thursday that “in case the Israeli regime embarks on adventurism again and takes action against the interests of Iran, the next response from us will be immediate and at a maximum level.” But an unnamed senior Iranian official told Reuters on Friday that “Iran has no plan to strike back immediately.”

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