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Observers divided over missile strike on Iran: escalation or an act of restraint?

19 April 2024


An Iranian Muslim cleric chants slogans during an anti-Israel rally in Tehran on Friday after the missile strike on Iran

An Iranian Muslim cleric chants slogans during an anti-Israel rally in Tehran on Friday after the missile strike on Iran

CONCERN about an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East grew after a strike on Iranian territory early on Friday. Israel has not accepted responsibility, but US officials said that an Israeli missile was responsible for damage in the city of Isfahan, in the centre of Iran.

Church figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have previously urged restraint on both sides, as tensions mount between Iran and its proxies and Israel (News, 17 April).

By Friday afternoon, however, perhaps because there were no reported casualties, the missile strike was being interpreted as an exercise in restraint, and Iranian officials appeared to be downplaying the incident.

BBC News reported that a spokesman for Iran’s National Centre of Cyberspace, Hossein Dalirian, had said that Iran had shot down an unnamed number of Israeli drones. Iranian state television quoted a general who said that there had been no damage.

The US news channel CBS had earlier reported that an Israeli missile had struck Iranian territory in the early hours of Friday morning, Speaking at the G7 meeting in Capri, Italy, on Friday, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that US forces had not been involved in the attack, and gave no further details.

Friday’s attack is the third incident in an exchange of hostilities between Israel and Iran in recent weeks. On 1 April, an attack on a Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria, reportedly killed more than a dozen people, including senior military commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Israeli government did not acknowledge responsibility for the strike, but it has previously targeted Iranian facilities in Syria, and few doubt its involvement.

In apparent retaliation for the attack, Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel on Sunday. Israel, along with its allies and other regional military powers, was able to shoot down the vast majority of the missiles and drones, and just one injury was reported in connection with the attack.

On Monday, Archbishop Welby said that the Iranian retaliatory strikes had been “wrong”.

“They risked civilian lives and they escalated the already dangerous tensions in the region. I pray for the peace and security of Israel’s people at this time, and I appeal to all parties both for restraint and to act for peace and mutual security,” he wrote in a social media post.

The danger of further escalation was cited by a number of Middle Eastern politicians in the aftermath of the attack. The Jordanian foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said in a statement: “We condemn all actions that threaten dragging the region into war.”

On Friday, Mr Blinken said that, although there was a lot of attention on the mounting conflict between Israel and Iran, the US remained concerned about the conflict in Gaza. More humanitarian aid needed to reach the territory, he said; and while access for aid trucks and distribution lines had improved in recent weeks, such improvements needed to be sustained.

On the prospects of a ceasefire, he said: “The only thing standing between the Gazan people and a ceasefire is Hamas. It has rejected generous proposals from Israel. It seems more interested in a regional conflict than in a ceasefire which would immediately improve the lives of the Palestinian people.”

But Mr Blinken also told reporters that the US “cannot support a major military operation in Rafah”; and he reiterated the US government’s commitment to “achieving a Palestinian state with necessary guarantees for Israel”.

Also on Friday morning, the United States’ representative at the United Nations vetoed a request by Palestine to be admitted as a full member. The UK and Switzerland abstained in the vote, while the 12 other countries in the UN security council voted in favour.

The deputy US ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said that the US “did not object to Palestinian statehood”, but this could only come about through “negotiations between the parties”.

The British ambassador to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said that “we must start by fixing the immediate crisis in Gaza”, and asserted that the Gaza Strip “must be a part of a future Palestinian state”.

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