Iran signals no retaliation against Israel after drones

Iran says three drones were destroyed by air defence systems over the central city of Isfahan.

Iran says three drones were destroyed by air defence systems over the central city of Isfahan. Photo: AAP

Explosions echoed over an Iranian city in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged towards averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from air defences hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan in central Iran. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators”, rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more towards infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Jonathan Lord, head of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, a US think tank, said that “seems to indicate that Iran is seeking to step down off the ledge, minimise the impact of the attack, and perhaps walk back down the escalation ladder from here”.

Israel said nothing about the incident and its ally Washington refused to be drawn. Asked about it repeatedly at a press conference in Italy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would not comment apart from to say that the United States was committed to Israel’s security but not involved in any offensive operations.

“Israel tried to calibrate between the need to respond and a desire not to enter into a cycle of action and counter reaction that would just escalate endlessly,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

Violence between Israel and Iranian proxies across the Middle East has intensified throughout six months of bloodshed in Gaza, raising fears the longstanding foes’ shadow war could spiral into a direct conflict.

Israel had said it would retaliate after Saturday’s strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran, which caused no deaths after Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Tehran launched those attacks in response to a presumed Israeli air strike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Allies including the United States had pressed all week to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke more escalation. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel.

In a sign of pressure within Israel’s hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister posted a single word on X after Friday’s strikes: “Feeble”.

Countries around the world called for calm.

“In light of reports of strikes on April 19th, we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation,” foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised democracies said in a statement at the end of a meeting in Italy attended by Blinken.

They also called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, the release of hostages held there by Hamas, an influx of aid for civilians in Gaza, and for Israel to hold off from attacking Rafah, the last refuge for more than a million Gazans.

In Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale of the attack.

Some Israelis suggested the aim was to demonstrate the capability to attack without causing harm.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Hamas Islamists attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military offensive has killed 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict was growing into a wider regional war.

Topics: Iran, Israel
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