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Iran has launched an attack on Israel in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike in Damascus that killed several senior Iranian commanders, pushing the Middle East closer to a full-blown regional war.  

Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said Iran had launched drones that would take several hours to reach the country, adding that the Israeli military was “prepared and ready on all its systems, in offence and defence, for a variety of scenarios that we prepared in advance”.

“We’re working in close co-ordination with the US and our partners in the region in order to operate against these launches and intercept them . . . we have another layer of defence [provided] by the US military,” Hagari said in a televised press conference.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed “dozens” of missiles and drones had been launched against Israel. A post published by the account of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on the social media platform X said: “The evil regime shall be punished.”

Israel’s strike on the consulate in Damascus on April 1 was a significant escalation of the hostilities that have engulfed the Middle East since the war between Hamas and Israel erupted in October.

In the past six months Israeli forces have traded near-daily fire with the Iran-backed Hizbollah militant group in Lebanon, while other Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have also fired missiles and drones at Israel.

But until now, Iran and Israel have avoided a direct confrontation. Despite their long history of enmity, the two countries have never exchanged fire using strikes launched from their own soil. Only once before — in 2018 — did Iranian forces based in Syria fire on Israel directly.

A graphic explaining how Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system works

But Iran’s leadership vowed to exact revenge in the wake of the strike on the consulate in Damascus, which Iranian officials said they considered “sovereign territory” and which claimed the lives of a senior Iranian general and six other military officers.

In recent days, Israel has been bracing for the response. Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli military announced limits on public gatherings and shuttered schools for the next two days. It was also set to close its airspace to all commercial travel. Hagari said that GPS disruptions would be experienced in some parts of the country.

In a recorded statement earlier on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he appreciated the US “standing by Israel’s side”, and the support of the UK, France and other countries.

The long-serving premier also issued a direct threat to Iran. “I established a clear principle — whoever hurts us, we hurt him. We will protect ourselves from any threat and we will do so with composure and determination,” he said.

US President Joe Biden cut short his weekend in Delaware and hastily returned to Washington earlier on Saturday for consultations with his national security team.

The US National Security Council said that the president was “being regularly updated on the situation” and that the “attack is likely to unfold over a number of hours”.

“President Biden has been clear: our support for Israel’s security is ironclad. The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defence against these threats from Iran,” an NSC spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington

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