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Tensions Explode as Israel Strikes Iran After Drone Attack



The simmering conflict between Israel and Iran has erupted into open warfare, with two U.S. officials confirming to CBS News that Israel carried out a missile strike against targets inside Iran early Thursday morning. The dramatic escalation comes just days after Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack against Israeli territory in retaliation for a deadly airstrike on its forces in Syria. 

Though details remain sparse, the retaliatory Israeli strike marks a dangerous new phase in the long-simmering hostilities between the two nations and raises fears of all-out war in the tinderbox Middle East region. Israeli officials have yet to publicly acknowledge the operation, but signs point to a carefully calculated strike meant to answer Iran’s drone and missile barrage while attempting to keep the confrontation from spiraling into a broader conflict.

Iranian state media reported air defense systems were activated across multiple provinces early Thursday, including the firing of missiles around a major air base in the city of Isfahan. The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies also reported explosions being heard in the area, which has been associated with Iran’s nuclear program and other strategic sites.  

While Iranian authorities insisted all sites were “fully safe,” the reports indicate the Israeli strike may have targeted Isfahan and its surrounding areas, which are home to military bases, nuclear facilities like the underground Natanz enrichment site, and Iran’s fleet of aging American-made F-14 Tomcat fighter jets purchased before the 1979 revolution.

Notably, several international airlines began diverting flights around western Iran around 4:30 am local time, suggesting offensive operations were underway. Iran later grounded all commercial flights in the capital Tehran and across central and western regions due to the incident. Loudspeakers at Tehran’s main airport could be heard informing travelers of an unspecified security situation in videos shared online.

The Israeli retaliation follows Iran’s audacious missile and drone attack on Israeli bases last weekend. That strike, which prompted online videos of air raid sirens across Israel, involved over 170 drones and more than 150 missiles and cruise missiles, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and U.S. officials. While Israeli missile defenses intercepted the drones before they crossed into the country’s airspace, five ballistic missiles managed to penetrate and strike the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, causing some damage but no reported casualties.

The Nevatim base hosts a squadron of Israel’s advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets, which U.S. officials believe may have been involved in a recent deadly airstrike that killed two Iranian Revolutionary Guard generals at a consulate in Syria. Iran’s missile attack appeared calibrated to target the F-35s in retaliation, though Israeli officials insisted the damage was minimal.

In the aftermath, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed a forceful response, declaring “Whoever tries to attack us will pay the price.” Thursday’s missile strike, which could mark the first time Israel has deliberately struck targets within Iran itself, appears to be an attempt to make good on that promise while restraining the latest flare-up from igniting a broader regional war.

Israel has carried out numerous airstrikes against Iranian-linked forces in Syria over the years, as well as suspected attacks on Iran’s nuclear program and covert operations against the Revolutionary Guards. But an overt missile barrage on Iranian soil would be an exceedingly rare move that drastically raises the stakes between the two adversaries.

For Iran’s part, the regime had warned of “fierce revenge” for the Israeli strike in Syria, where the Revolutionary Guards maintain an extensive presence backing the Assad regime. Last weekend’s missile volley against Israel represented one of Iran’s most brazen direct attacks to date, but it wisely avoided targeting Israeli population centers or causing casualties that could have provoked an overwhelming Israeli military onslaught.   

Now, after absorbing Israel’s counterpunch, Tehran will be under intense pressure to escalate once more or appear cowed in the face of Israeli strikes on its homeland. That could set off a dangerous tit-for-tat cycle of violence that Israel may be betting Iran cannot afford amidst ongoing domestic unrest and international isolation over its nuclear program.

Caught in the middle are the United States and its regional allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Biden administration has urged de-escalation from both sides even as it has firmly backed Israel’s right to self-defense against Iran’s forces. American officials even denied cooperating with the Israeli strikes, distancing the U.S. from the latest escalation.  

At the same time, America’s Arab partners in the Gulf view Iran as an existential threat and have tacitly supported Israel’s pushback against its aggression. If the violence spirals, they could be compelled to take active roles against mutual enemy Iran, drawing America deeper into a regional powder keg.

For now, both Israel and Iran have indicated a desire to keep hostilities contained through carefully calculated shows of force meant more as deterrent warnings than opening salvos of a full-scale war. But as is so often the case between these bitter rivals, one miscalculation could quickly ignite an inferno that engulfs the entire Middle East. 

The coming days and weeks will be crucial in determining whether this week’s flare-up represents the bright flash of a brief skirmish, or the spark that set the region ablaze once more. Israel has struck the first retaliatory blow. How Iran responds will likely decide if the latest conflagration rages out of control or sputters out in an uneasy stalemate as both sides lick their wounds and ponder their next moves.

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