Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

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A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 10, 2023, shows Israeli armored personnel carriers driving along the border fence as smoke rises above the Palestinian enclave amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
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Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Dec. 9, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

  • Term used by Israeli PM Netanyahu faulted by experts for not offering clarity on status of Gaza once war is over
  • West Bank-style system would mean loss of space for movement Palestinians had under Hamas rule

LONDON: Israel’s endgame for Gaza appears now firmly set on the enclave’s demilitarization, but some experts say that goal and “total destruction” in this conflict have become indistinguishable.

Even as the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants entered its third month on Dec. 7, precisely who would govern war-devastated Gaza after the dismantling of the Palestinian militant group remained unclear.

Talk about the West Bank-based Palestine government taking charge of postwar Gaza’s governance has been doing the rounds, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poured cold water on the idea, saying “the Palestinian Authority is not the solution.”

So, what do experts make of Netanyahu’s statement that the Israel Defense Forces will move to demilitarize Gaza, which is still regarded by the UN as occupied territory?

Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, believes the latest remarks represent no change in Israeli policy.

“Those comments were simply meant to justify what the Israeli military was already doing in Gaza. It is little more than a rhetorical switch, a new way of saying ‘destroy Hamas.’ But it is not one offering a clearer, more tangible image of what that looks like,” he told Arab News.

“So, when they say ‘demilitarization,’ this is nothing new, the Israeli argument across almost the entire political spectrum has been that even were there to be an independent Palestinian state, it would have to be demilitarized.”




Israeli soldiers are seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 22, 2023. (AP)

On Dec. 6, Netanyahu said the IDF alone would be responsible for demilitarizing Gaza, claiming that international forces would be incapable of achieving success.

Speaking in Hebrew, he said: “Gaza must be demilitarized, only the IDF can take care of this. No international force can. We saw what happened elsewhere when international forces tried this. I am not willing to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”

Borck rejected the notion that Netanyahu was warning external actors to stay away, since neighboring Arab states have already called Gaza a mess of Israel’s own making and therefore one it alone would be required to clear up.

As it stands, that “mess” amounts to over 17,700 civilians killed in the two-month assault, a further 7,800 still unaccounted for, more than 46,000 injured, and Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities alleging that the “war on hospitals and the enclave’s medical facilities is ongoing and does not stop.”




Palestinians crowd together at a food distribution center in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 8, 2023. (AP)

In the midst of such destruction, Palestinian author and journalist Ramzy Baroud said he saw little likelihood of Israeli success in efforts to demilitarize Gaza, noting that for Netanyahu to achieve this would first require him to have control over it.

“To do so, he would have to defeat the resistance. Even if Netanyahu’s army penetrates parts of Gaza, from the north, center or south, subduing Palestinians in one of the most rebellious regions on earth is not only a difficult task but it is virtually impossible,” he told Arab News.

“This isn’t just about firepower, it is about the collective mood among Gazans, in fact, all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”

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Similarly skeptical about the prospect of Gaza’s complete demilitarization, Osama Al-Sharif, a Jordanian analyst and political columnist, told Arab News such an outcome would only be possible with Gaza’s total destruction.

“To believe that Israel can disarm Gaza means that it will have to level the entire 365 sq. km area to the ground and evacuate all the population, but the window of opportunity for the military operation is closing soon,” he continued.

“So, both goals will not be achieved unless the US allows for a biblical-like catastrophe where millions of people are driven into the desert under unprecedented and relentless bombing, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.”




Smoke rises among destroyed buildings in northern Gaza on December 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Together with the escalating death toll, by the end of November some 98,000 buildings in Gaza had reportedly been destroyed, with estimates suggesting that 40 percent of the entire enclave was now existent only in a state of rubble.

Pointing at this, Borck stressed that what Al-Sharif defined as the only possible means of demilitarization was already playing out.

“All of this revolves around Israel’s understanding of Hamas, which tells Israel that Hamas is a terrorist military. This is an important distinction from simply being a terrorist organization as it means Hamas is capable of a combined arms maneuver,” he said.

“This is exactly what we saw on Oct. 7, with an air and land attack on Israel. So, it is a not an unjustified view, but it does mean that Hamas is the military presence in Gaza. The IDF is trying to destroy all of Hamas’ military capacity and, once that is achieved, Gaza is demilitarized.”




Children stand alongside fighters from the Al-Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 29, 2023, on the 6th day of a truce in battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP/File)

Were Israel though to follow through and successfully achieve its aim of demilitarization, Borck said that there was only one outcome for Gaza.

“There is a significant collective of Israelis around Netanyahu that see the future of Gaza as a reflection of the West Bank, which means a Palestinian leadership put in place to run schools, hospitals, and to collect garbage, ideally also running domestic policing,” he said.

Bloomberg News reported this week, citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, that American officials were working with the PA on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over.




Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his cabinet pray for the victims killed during the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (AFP/File photo)

The preferred outcome of the conflict would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Ramallah-based Shtayyeh said.

However, according to Borck, a replication of the West Bank governance model in Gaza is far from ideal. “It would be replete with the Israeli-run checkpoints that you find all across the West Bank and would be a total reordering of the way Gazans live,” he said. “Yes, in Gaza there was this force keeping them hemmed in, but within that space they could move with greater freedom than Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Stressing that he did not consider it “a good idea in any shape or form” and rather just what he saw as playing out, Borck said this also likely meant Israel would occupy the least populated part of Gaza “so it could move in and out whenever it perceived a threat.”

Concurring, Al-Sharif said Israel appeared to be working to create a buffer zone in the north while pushing the majority of Gaza’s 2.1 million population to the south and along the border with Egypt, adding “even then, this goal will not be easy to sustain.”




The Israeli military offensive has displaced, left, more than 1.7 million Palestinians, most of them women and children. (AP)

Such a move could put it into the path of a direct confrontation with the Biden administration, which has been clear in its desire for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza when the fighting ends.

Al-Sharif added: “Ramallah has put its own conditions for this to happen; none of which Netanyahu will accept. The US is against any forced transfer of Gazans, the partition of the enclave, or reducing its pre-war area.”

And, despite its continuing veto usage in UN calls for a ceasefire, there is increasing pushback from within the Democratic administration over the way in which the conflict has been unfolding and a seeming retraction of what had been seen as total and unconditional support for Israel’s response to Oct. 7.

On Thursday night, the administration’s top diplomat was seen to have come his closest yet to an outright criticism of the way the Netanyahu government had been handling the war as he sought to re-emphasize the primacy of civilian safety.

Stood alongside UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “It remains imperative Israel put a premium on civilian protection. And there does remain a gap between ... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Baroud said the Israelis would be wise to learn from “one of Israel's great military generals, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” who was responsible for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.

“Under pressure from the Palestinian resistance that fought the Israeli army, which had occupied Gaza in June 1967, in every neighborhood and every street corner, Israel pulled out,” Baroud said, reiterating his position that demilitarization was an impossible task.

“Back then, the resistance fought with very few tools compared to its current military capabilities, yet Sharon knew he could not win in Gaza, thus ordering his army to retreat, or ‘redeploy,’ under the pressure of relentless resistance, carried out mostly by ordinary people.”

 


Iran says ‘concluded’ retaliation against Israel, summons Western envoys

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Iran says ‘concluded’ retaliation against Israel, summons Western envoys

  • Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi warns Israel and its allies against any ‘reckless’ actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack
TEHRAN: Iran on Sunday urged Israel not to retaliate militarily to an unprecedented attack overnight, which Tehran presented as a justified response to a deadly strike on its consulate building in Damascus.
“The matter can be deemed concluded,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a post on social media platform X just a few hours after the start of the operation late Saturday.
“However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission warned.
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi warned Sunday Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack, which marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israeli territory.
“If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behavior, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.
After numerous countries condemned the attack, Tehran’s foreign ministry summoned the French, British, and German ambassadors “following the irresponsible positions of certain officials of these countries regarding Iran’s response,” a statement said.
Late Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps announced that they had launched “dozens of drones and missiles” toward military sites on Israeli territory.
“Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus” earlier this month, the Iranian mission to the UN said, dubbing it “legitimate defense.”
Israel’s army said it had shot 99 percent of the drones and missiles with the help of the United States and other allies, declaring Iran’s attack “foiled.”
The Iranian army chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri said the attack has “achieved all its objectives.”
Bagheri said Iran’s retaliation targeted an “intelligence center” and the air base from which Tehran says the Israeli F-35 jets took off to strike the Damascus consulate on April 1.
“Both these centers were significantly destroyed and put out of order,” he said, though Israel maintains that the attack only resulted in minor damage.
“There is no intention to continue this operation,” he said.
Experts have suggested that Saturday’s slow-moving drone attack was calibrated to represent a show of power but also allow some wiggle room.
“It appears that Iran telegraphed its attack on Israel to demonstrate it can strike using different capabilities, to complicate the (Israeli army’s) ability to neutralize the assault but also to provide an off-ramp to pause escalation,” said Nishank Motwani, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Washington.
“Tehran can escalate if it chooses to across a range of vectors,” said Motwani, including via Lebanon’s Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah, sea attacks, “or hitting soft Israeli targets globally.”
Over the last two weeks, the Iranian authorities had repeatedly vowed to “punish” Israel after the death of seven Guards including two generals of the Quds Force in the attack that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus.
Iran has blamed Israel for the attack.
In the days after the strike, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel will be “slapped for that action.”
Since a revolution in 1979 in Iran which toppled the US-backed Shah, Israel has been the sworn enemy of the Islamic republic.
Iran has often called for the destruction of Israel, with support of the Palestinian cause one of the pillars of the Islamic revolution.
However, until Saturday Tehran had also refrained from a direct attack on Israel.
Instead, it has backed members of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” against Israel, including Hezbollah and Yemen’s Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels, since the outbreak of war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.
Hours before the strikes on Saturday, Iran seized an Israeli-linked container ship in the Gulf which Washington called “an act of piracy.”
During the night, Tehran also warned the United States, urging it to “stay away” from its conflict with Israel.
“If necessary,” Tehran “will not hesitate to take defensive measures to protect its interests against any aggressive military action,” Iran’s foreign ministry said.
“The next slap will be fiercer,” warned a new mural unveiled overnight in Tehran’s Palestine Square, where several thousands gathered, shouting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”
Before Tehran launched its attack, Israel warned Iran that it would suffer “the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further.”
Israel has not revealed what a potential response would look like.
An Israeli attack on Iran’s territory, possibly targeting military or nuclear sites, could not be ruled out, according to experts.
As a precaution, Iran’s Imam Khomeini international airport and the Mehrabad airport, which is mainly dedicated to domestic flights, will remain closed until Monday at 06:00 am (0230 GMT), according to ISNA news agency.
Several international airlines have suspended flights over Iranian airspace.
Countries including Russia and France have asked their citizens to avoid traveling to Iran and Israel.

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Updated 53 min 40 sec ago
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Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday embarking on an official visit at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

Discussions during Al-Sudani's visit will encompass various aspects of the bilateral relationship between the US and Iraq, including security and defense partnership and economic ties.

This emphasis on economic cooperation comes amidst ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad concerning the future of the US-led military coalition in Iraq. As both parties engage in dialogue, the visit presents a significant opportunity to bolster economic collaboration and deepen the longstanding ties between the United States and Iraq.


Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

Updated 46 min 55 sec ago
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Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon reopen airspace after Iran attacks

  • Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities
  • Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights

CAIRO: Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon have reopened their airspace on Sunday after closing it late on Saturday as Iran launched drone and missile attacks against Israel, the three countries said on Sunday.

Jordan’s state TV said the country had resumed air traffic operations, citing aviation authorities. The opening of its airspace came more than three hours earlier than scheduled. 

Jordan announced the closure of its airspace to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights temporarily starting from 20:00 UTC, 11:00pm local time on Saturday, for several hours. 

The commission said at the time that the decision was taken to ensure the security and safety of civil aviation in the Jordanian airspace.

Iraq’s aviation authority said security risks had now been overcome.

Many flying objects were spotted over Jordan with images and videos circulated on social media showing air-defense systems shooting them down over the capital Amman and the northwestern regions on the borders with Syria and Israel.

Following a cabinet meeting early on Sunday, Jordanian government called for self-restraint and de-escalation, the Jordanian news agency, Petra, reported.

The government also said that Jordan dealt with some “flying objects” over the Kingdom on Sunday night and shot them down, adding that some shrapnels fell on uninhabited areas and no injuries were reported.

Lebanon said its airport will resume its activities after the overnight closure, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Mehrabad airport and airports in several other Iranian cities have canceled domestic flights until Monday morning due to Middle East tensions, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Sunday, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.

Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday — its first direct attack on Israeli territory in a retaliatory strike that raises the threat of wider regional conflict.

Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drones or missiles that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.

US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Israel’s Channel 12 reported.

Iranian airports cancel flights until Monday morning

Several Iranian airports including Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International have canceled flights until Monday, Iranian state media reported on Sunday, as tensions flared in the Middle East with Iran’s attack on Israel overnight.

“All flights from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport have been canceled until 6 a.m. (0230 GMT) following an announcement by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization,” the airport’s executive told the Iranian Student News Agency.
Domestic flights from Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and airports in Shiraz, Isfahan, Bushehr, Kerman, Ilam, and Sanandaj have also been canceled until Monday morning, according to Iran’s Airports and Air Navigation Company, as the country’s western airspace remains off limits to flights.
Major airlines across the Middle East have announced the cancelation of some of their flights, while having to reroute others.

 


Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

Updated 14 April 2024
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Israel’s Netanyahu vows victory after Iran strikes, fears of wider conflict grow

  • Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday his country would achieve victory after the military said it shot down almost all the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran in a sharp escalation of the Middle East conflict.
Tehran’s attacks late on Saturday, launched after a suspected Israeli air strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 that killed officers of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.
Iran had relied on its proxies across the region to attack Israeli and US targets in a show of support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza war with Israel, which shows no sign of easing despite numerous mediations efforts.
“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” Netanyahu posted on X.
The Israeli military said the armed forces had shot down more than 99 percent of the Iranian drones and missiles and were discussing follow-up options.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has ratcheted up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi warned Sunday Israel and its allies against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack in retaliation for a deadly strike on its Damascus consulate.

“If the Zionist regime (Israel) or its supporters demonstrate reckless behavior, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.

’Push toward escalation'
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah — which has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began — said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.
Drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, which has attacked shipping lanes in an around the Red Sea to show solidarity with Hamas, British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement.
Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter, the United States. Regional power Egypt urged “utmost restraint.”
Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, called Iran’s actions “very grave,” telling a televised briefing they “push the region toward escalation.”
Iran launched dozens of ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, including more than 10 cruise missiles, and most were intercepted outside Israeli borders, Hagari said.
The Iranian salvo caused light damage to one Israeli military facility, he said.
The Israeli military said it was not advising residents to prepare to take shelter, revising an earlier alert in an apparent signal of the end of the threat.
UN Security Council to meet
Iran had vowed retaliation for what it called the Israeli strike on its embassy compound that killed seven Revolutionary Guard officers, including two senior commanders. Tehran said its strike was punishment for “Israeli crimes.” Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.
“Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to “stay away.” However, it also said Iran now “deemed the matter concluded.”
US President Joe Biden, who spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would convene a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major economies on Sunday to coordinate a diplomatic response to what he called Iran’s brazen attack.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to act to protect US forces and support defense of Israel.
The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday after Israel requested it condemn Iran’s attack and designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.
Iran’s Fars news agency quoted a source as saying Tehran was closely watching Jordan, which might become the next target is case of any moves in support of Israel.
Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Israel reopened its airspace at 0430 GMT on Sunday, its airports authority said. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.
Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.
The European Union, Britain, Japan, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Norway condemned Iran’s attack.


Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel with hundreds of drones, missiles

Updated 14 April 2024
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Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel with hundreds of drones, missiles

  • Iran launches first ever direct attack on Israel, risking major escalation as US pledges support for Tel Aviv
  • Iran has vowed retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1

JERUSALEM/DUBAI: Iran launched a swarm of explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday in its first ever direct attack on Israeli territory, risking a major escalation as the United States pledged “ironclad” backing for Israel.
Sirens wailed and journalists in Israel said they heard distant heavy thuds and bangs from what local media called aerial interceptions of explosive drones. The ambulance service said there was no immediate word of casualties.
Israel’s military said more than 100 drones were launched from Iran, with security sources in Iraq and Jordan reporting dozens seen flying overhead and US officials saying the US military had shot some down.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.

Iran’s state news agency cited a source saying its military had also launched a wave of ballistic missiles. Israel’s military also said missiles were fired, but there was no immediate report of these striking in Israel.
Iran has vowed retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Guards officers including two senior commanders and said its strike was a punishment for “Israeli crimes.” Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.
“Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to “stay away.” However, it also said Iran now “deemed the matter concluded.”
US President Joe Biden, who on Friday had warned Iran against an attack, cut short a visit to his home state of Delaware to meet national security advisers in the White House Situation Room, an official said. He pledged to stand with Israel.
The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, now in its seventh month, has driven up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.
British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement that drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.
Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter the United States, with regional power Egypt urging “utmost restraint.”
US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Channel 12 reported. Three US officials said the US military had shot down drone aircraft without saying how many.

Escalation
“This is a severe and dangerous escalation. Our defensive and offensive capabilities are at the highest level of readiness ahead of this large-scale attack from Iran,” said Israel’s military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose official jet took off shortly after the attack began, convened the war cabinet at a military headquarters in Tel Aviv, his office said.
Israel’s military said sirens would sound in any threatened areas and that its defenses were poised to deal with the drones, which it said were “explosive.”
“We are used to having around 20 seconds to get to shelters when missiles come in. Here, the warning comes hours ahead of time. It naturally raises the anxiety level among the Israeli public,” said Nir Dvori, a Channel 12 TV correspondent on social media.
Israel’s military told residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to stay close to bomb shelters, putting the area on standby for possible impact from drone strikes.
Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.
Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.

Condemnation
The European Union, Britain, France, Mexico, Czechia, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands all condemned Iran’s attack.
Israel has been bracing for an Iranian response to the Damascus consulate strike since last week, when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel “must be punished and shall be” for an operation he called equivalent to one on Iranian soil.
Biden said on Friday that his only message to Iran was “Don’t,” but added that “we are devoted to the defense of Israel.”
Iran’s main ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah that has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began on Oct. 7, said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that a Guards helicopter had boarded and taken into Iranian waters the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries.
MSC, which operates the Aries, confirmed Iran had seized the ship and said it was working “with the relevant authorities” for its safe return and the wellbeing of its 25 crew.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC is responsible for all the vessel’s activities. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Iran of piracy.

'IRGC seize commercial ship'

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 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.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the crew was made up of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian and Estonian nationals and urged Iran to release them and the vessel.
IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.
A Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, provided video of the attack to The Associated Press in which Iranian commandos are seen rappelling onto a stack of containers on the vessel’s deck.
The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The commandos rappelled from what appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used before to raid ships.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization. Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” Katz said.
The US, Israel’s main backer, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and wounding over 76,200 more. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.
The Pentagon said Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats ... and made clear that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”