US pushes Israel for restraint

The United States helped Israel thwart an aerial attack from Iran. World leaders urge Israel not to retaliate.

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World News

April 15, 2024 - 3:44 PM

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Monday after more than a month without any interaction. Photo by FILE PHOTO

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Sunday highlighted its role in helping Israel thwart Iran’s aerial attack as President Joe Biden convened leaders of the Group of Seven countries in an effort to prevent a wider regional escalation and coordinate a global rebuke of Tehran.

The U.S. assisted Israel in shooting down dozens of drones and missiles fired by Iran on Saturday in what was the first time it had launched a direct military assault on Israel. Israeli authorities said 99% of the inbound weapons were shot down without causing any significant damage.

U.S. officials said that despite the high interception rate, Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation across the Mideast. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an effort to contain tensions, that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran, and the president made “very clear” to Netanyahu “that we do have to think carefully and strategically” about risks of escalation.

The push to encourage Israel to show restraint mirrored ongoing American efforts to curtail Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which is now in its seventh month, and to do more to protect civilian lives in the territory.

While the U.S. and its allies were preparing for days for such an attack, the launches were at the “high end” of what was anticipated, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles from Iran were in the air simultaneously with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said. Biden and senior officials monitored the firings and interception attempts in real time in the White House Situation Room. The officials said there was “relief” in the room once they saw that the missile defense efforts had succeeded.

The Pentagon said U.S. Central Command and European Command forces destroyed more than 80 attack drones and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen.

“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 in a statement late Saturday. “Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

Administration officials said the call demonstrated that despite differences over the war in Gaza, the U.S. commitment to Israel’s defense was “ironclad” and that the U.S. would mount a similar effort again if needed.

The officials rejected the notion that Iran intentionally gave Israel and the U.S. time to prepare for an attack, but said they took advantage of the time Iran needed before it was ready to launch the assault to prepare their response. The officials said Iran passed word to the U.S. while the attack was unfolding late Saturday that what was seen was the totality of their response. The message was sent through the Swiss government since the two countries don’t have direct diplomatic ties.

Biden, in a Saturday evening call with Netanyahu, urged that Israel claim victory for its defense prowess as the president aimed to persuade America’s closest Middle East ally not to undertake a larger retaliatory strike against Iran, the officials 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,” Biden said in his statement after the call.

Biden had a call Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in which the king said any “escalatory measures” by Israel would lead to a broader conflict in the region, according to the Royal Court. The White House said the situation in Gaza was discussed, and the leaders reaffirmed their cooperation “to find a path to end the crisis as soon as possible.”

The president also spoke with some of the U.S. forces involved in shooting down the Iranian drones.

Later Sunday, Biden spoke with the leaders of the House and Senate, emphasizing the urgent need for the House to pass additional wartime funding for Israel and Ukraine.

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