Israel closes airspace as it braces for Iranian drone attack

Iran has launched a number drones towards Israel, officials in Jerusalem have announced, as Tehran’s state-run media reported that dozens had been fired.

The Israeli army’s spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said it would take several hours for the aircraft to arrive and that the country was prepared.

Iran had been threatening to attack Israel since an airstrike last week killed two Iranian generals in Syria. Israel has not commented on that attack, but Iran accused it of being behind it.

Israeli aviation authorities said they were closing the country’s airspace to all flights as of 12.30am local time.

The drone attack marked the first time Iran had ever launched a full-scale military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard acknowledged launching “dozens of drones and missiles towards the occupied territories and positions of the Zionist regime”. The statement did not elaborate.

The White House said it would provide unspecified support for Israel’s defence against the ongoing attack.

“The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defence against these threats from Iran,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

President Joe Biden was set to convene a principals meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the unfolding attack, the White House said.

Mr Biden had cut short a weekend trip to his beach house in Delaware to return to the White House and monitor the situation.

Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli military said it was cancelling school and limiting public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people as a precaution.

Mr Hagari said Israel is “prepared and ready” with defensive and offensive actions. He also said there was “tight” co-operation with the US and other partners in the region.

The head of the US Central Command, General Erik Kurilla, has been in Israel in recent days to co-ordinate with Israel about the Iranian threats.

Israel has a number of layers of air defence capable of intercepting everything from long-range missiles to UAV’s and short-range rockets.

Mr Hagari said Israel has an “excellent air defence system”, but stressed it is not 100% effective and urged the public to listen to safety announcements.

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have threatened to “slap” Israel for its Syria strike.

Iran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, despite its targeted killings of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns on Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has targeted Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces.

Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has inflamed decade-old tensions in the Middle East, and any new attack threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.

Flight-tracking data showed the airspace over Jordan empty, while few flights continued on their north-south routes over Iraq. A sole Middle East Airlines flight from Dubai to Beirut remained airborne over Syria.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following the launch of drones from Iran.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been clashing with Israeli forces in the border area for more than six months.

Earlier on Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.

Iran’s state-run IRNA said a special forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.

Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew members were on the ship.

“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” MSC said.


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