The White House says it will provide unspecified support for Israel’s defence against an ongoing airborne attack from Iran.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a Saturday statement that “Iran has begun an airborne attack against Israel.” She added: “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defence against these threats from Iran.”

Before the attack was announced, a FlyDubai flight from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to Tel Aviv, Israel, turned around as it was over Saudi Arabia, flight-tracking data showed.

A US official briefed on the attack said Iran had launched “dozens” of drones. The official could not publicly discuss details of the attack and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Saturday, the Israeli military said it was cancelling school and limiting public gatherings to no more than 1000 people as a safety precaution.

Briefing reporters, Hagari said Israel is “prepared and ready” with defensive and offensive actions. He also said there was “tight” cooperation with the US and other partners in the region.

The head of the US Central Command, General Erik Kurilla, has been in Israel in recent days to coordinate with Israel about the Iranian threats.

Israel has a number of layers of air defence capable of intercepting everything from long-range missiles to UAV’s and short-range rockets. Hagari said Israel has an “excellent air defence system” but stressed it is not 100 per cent effective and urged the public to listen to safety announcements.

President Joe Biden was set to convene a principals meeting of the National Security Council on Saturday to discuss the unfolding attack, the White House said. Biden cut short a weekend trip to his beach house in Delaware to return to the White House and monitor the situation.

A woman walks by an Israeli flag amid fears of Iran attack after it blamed Israel for a strike on its consulate in Syria.

A woman walks by an Israeli flag amid fears of Iran attack after it blamed Israel for a strike on its consulate in Syria.Credit: Getty

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.

Also on 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 defence 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 organisation. 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’ October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.

The Pentagon said Saturday that defence 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.”

Amid concerns about the increased tensions, Lufthansa Group on Saturday extended its suspension of flights between Frankfurt and Tehran through Thursday and said its planes would avoid Iranian airspace. The German carrier also said that, until at least Tuesday, flights to and from Amman will be operated as “day flights” so crews won’t spend a night in the Jordanian capital.

Dutch airline KLM said it will no longer fly over Iran or Israel but will continue flights to and from Tel Aviv.

AP, Reuters, Bloomberg

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