US helps Israel thwart Iran assault; world awaits Israeli response

U.S. forces overnight in Israel helped its ally thwart a significant aerial assault by Iran, helping to intercept hundreds of Iranian drones and missiles and severely mitigating their damage.

The attack from Iran and its allies on Israel appeared to cause little damage, and Israeli forces said most of the projectiles had been successfully thwarted.

The question now is how Israel will respond to an attack from Iranian soil on its territory. Israel’s war Cabinet was set to meet Sunday to discuss the matter.

The attack by Iran was in response to a strike earlier this month on an Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, that killed members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran had vowed to respond to that attack, but by telegraphing Saturday’s strikes, they may have done so in a way intended to avoid triggering a wider war with the United States and Israel.

In a statement Saturday, President Biden emphasized U.S. support for Israel but also noted the success U.S. and Israeli forces had enjoyed in thwarting the attack.

“At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week,” Biden said. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

The New York Times reported early Sunday that Biden administration officials were advising Israel against a retaliatory attack on Iran given its successful defense.

Fears the Iran strikes could trigger a wider war emerged immediately after news broke about the assault. A shadow war between Iran and its allies, including the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and Israel has taken place for years, but it greatly ramped up with the unprecedented Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that killed 1,200 Israelis, many of them civilians.

That brazen attack triggered an all-out assault by Israel on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, that has killed more than 32,000 people. The war has led to an international outcry against Israel, isolating the country and contributing to fraying ties between the Biden administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Biden in recent weeks has stepped up his criticism of Netanyahu, arguing Israel’s response to the Hamas attack had gone over the top and urging the ally to do more to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza.

Biden is likely to come under more pressure domestically after the Iran attacks to show support for Israel. Meanwhile, in an early signal of GOP intentions, one Republican lawmaker on Saturday called on the U.S. to strike Iran in retaliation for its actions.

At the same time, the administration has consistently sought to prevent the Israeli war in Gaza from breaking out into a wider conflict, and it is expected U.S. efforts will continue to move in that direction.

U.S. officials on Saturday night said they would continue to offer support for Israel if there were more strikes from Iran.

“Our forces remain postured to provide additional defensive support and to protect U.S. forces operating in the region,” a U.S. official said.

Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday and reaffirmed U.S. support.

“I’ve just spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu to reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel,” Biden said. “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.”

The British Royal Air Force has also deployed to the Middle East and are prepared to intercept any Iranian drones headed to Israel, said the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Defense Grant Shapps.

“I strongly condemn the senseless airborne attacks Iran has launched on Israel,” Shapps said in a statement.

Iranian Minister of Defense Mohammad Reza Ashtiani warned that there will be a “decisive response” to any country in the region that assists Israel in downing Iranian drones and missiles, according to state-run media channel Press TV.

Israel was on high alert to defend itself for a possible Iranian attack, and the U.S. had already positioned forces in the region in anticipation of Iranian action.

This story was updated at 7:56 a.m. Sunday.

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