Israel retaliates against Iran as Middle East tensions escalate

Amid escalating tensions, Israel has retaliated against Iran following Tehran’s recent rocket and drone onslaught, US officials confirm. Iranian media has downplayed the strike, reporting an explosion in Isfahan but assuring nuclear facility safety. Flights were suspended nationwide. Israel, responding to the April 13 attack, has vowed retaliation. Uncertainty looms over casualty reports. World leaders have urged restraint. As oil prices soar, global anxiety mounts over Middle East conflict escalation.

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By Arsalan Shahla, Peter Martin and Jennifer Jacobs

Israel launched a retaliatory strike on Iran less than a week after Tehran’s rocket and drone barrage, according to two US officials, but Iranian media appeared to downplay the incident in the hours that followed the initial reports.

An explosion was heard early Friday in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported. Nuclear facilities in the city are completely safe, state television reported. 

Flights were suspended in Isfahan and the Iranian cities of Tehran and Shiraz as well as airports across the country’s western borders, Iran’s Mehr news agency also reported. 

The details of the blast in Isfahan are unknown, according to Fars, but the city — home to several military bases and facilities — is believed to have been one of several launch sites for Iran’s April 13 attack. 

The New York Times reported that two Israeli defense officials confirmed the nation was behind the strike. Israel had notified the US earlier Thursday that it planned to retaliate in the next 24-48 hours, according to two US officials who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations. Spokespeople for the National Security Council and the Pentagon declined to comment.

Brent crude jumped above $90 a barrel before paring gains, and gold surged past $2,400 an ounce. The yield on 10-year Treasuries slumped as much as 11 basis points to 4.52%, while a gauge of the dollar climbed as much as 0.6% to its highest since November. 

The reports come after Israel vowed to retaliate against Iran for its barrage of some 300 drones and missiles, the vast majority of which were destroyed before hitting their targets. Iran said it was responding to a strike on its diplomatic building in Syria that killed several Iranian officers on April 1. 

If attributed to Israel, the nature and scope of the strike — including any casualties — could determine whether the tit-for-tat responses between the two sides escalate or start to get scaled back. 

Early indications are that this was a “symbolic attack” that won’t force Iran to respond aggressively, retired Israeli General Israel Ziv told the nation’s Channel 12.

Iranian media also appeared to downplay the attack, with the state broadcaster portraying a sense of calm in Isfahan and asserting that everything was proceeding as usual. Separately, the country’s Supreme National Security Council decided against convening for an emergency meeting, according to state TV, while officials provided no immediate updates on potential casualties or damage.

Iran has been bracing for reprisal by Israel all week. World leaders from the Middle East to the US urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show restraint in the face of the Iranian attacks, but the Israeli leader and other top officials said the country would have little choice but to respond. 

Tehran has routinely accused Israel of attacks and sabotage activities targeting its nuclear and military sites in the past, including in Isfahan, home to some of its key nuclear enrichment and missile facilities. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but Israel and allies accuse it of seeking to develop atomic weapons.

Any missile or drone strike on Iranian soil, no matter the target, would be a significant move for Israel. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the first attack in Iran by Israel. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israeli forces destroyed a drone base in Iran in 2022 under his orders.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday night Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned against retaliation for the weekend assault. “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,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement before the strikes were reported.

The two men discussed “regional threats and Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East,” Ryder said. The statement didn’t say if Gallant gave Austin any warning of the strikes.

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