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Iran attacked Israel, escalating an already volatile conflict. Here's what to know

The United Nations Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Iran's recent attack against Israel, at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Sunday.
Charly Triballeau
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AFP via Getty Images
The United Nations Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Iran's recent attack against Israel, at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Sunday.

Iran launched a massive barrage of over 300 drones and missiles at Israel over the weekend — in what is believed to be Iran's first direct attack on its regional foe from Iranian soil.

Nearly all of the weapons were intercepted by Israel and its allies, including the United States. However, a few of the Iranian ballistic missiles made it through the defenses, severely injuring a 7-year-old girl and slightly damaging a military base in southern Israel, according to Israeli officials.

Iranian officials said the attack was in response to an airstrike from earlier this month that hit Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria. Seven Iranian military officials, including two generals, were killed.

Israel neither confirmed nor denied being behind the Syria strike, though Iran and the Pentagon said Israel was responsible.

On Sunday, a senior Iranian military official said Iran's "operation" against Israel had ended and there would be no more attacks coming, according to Iranian state media.

But tensions continue to run high in the Middle East. Now, the focus is on how Israel and other countries will respond to Iran's escalation. An Israeli military spokesperson said on Sunday that leaders had "approved operational plans for both offensive and defensive action," without going into further detail.

Here's what to know:

Nearly all aerial attacks were intercepted, Israel says, in large part thanks to Israel's advanced air defense systems

Mohamad Hassouna, 49, points to a hole in the roof of a building caused by a projectile that injured his 7-year-old daughter at their Bedouin village in the southern Negev desert on Sunday.
Ahmad Gharabli / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Mohamad Hassouna, 49, points to a hole in the roof of a building caused by a projectile that injured his 7-year-old daughter at their Bedouin village in the southern Negev desert on Sunday.

In the days leading up to the attack, the U.S. and Israel closely coordinated their air defense preparations. Still, a U.S. official described the Iranian barrage as being at the "high end" of what the U.S. and Israel expected.

About 99% of the aerial attacks launched by Iran and its proxies were intercepted outside Israeli airspace, according to the Israeli military. The U.S., France, Jordan and U.K. forces helpedtake down the Iranian weapons.

Israel's most advanced air defense system, the Arrow 3, provided the main protection against Iran's ballistic missiles. The Arrow 3 has been around for several years, but had never faced such an intense onslaught.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Sunday that the Arrow 3 had "proved itself against a significant number of ballistic missiles."

Still, several people suffered from shrapnel wounds after the attack, including a 7-year old Bedouin girl who underwent surgery due to a head wound, the Times of Israel and Haaretz reported. Hagari confirmedthe reports.

Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said the country notified the U.S. ahead of the attack through Swiss intermediaries, informing that the strike will not target American personnel or bases in the region. U.S. officials, however, said there was no notification from Iran prior to the attack on where weapons would be targeting.

Israel struck a Hezbollah target in Lebanon and urged the U.N. to condemn Tehran

People gather around a destroyed building targeted by Israeli airstrikes on the village of Nabi Sheet in the Baablbek district in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley on Sunday.
/ AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People gather around a destroyed building targeted by Israeli airstrikes on the village of Nabi Sheet in the Baablbek district in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley on Sunday.

On Sunday, Israel said its fighter jets struck an alleged munitions production site in southern Lebanon belonging to the Iran-backed militia Hezbollah.

Israeli's military said the strike was in response to the Iranian air assault over the weekend, adding that Hezbollah was responsible for about 40 rockets targeted at Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire across the border with Lebanon regularly since the surprise Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and Israel's subsequent invasion of Gaza. Iran has long supplied Hamas with funds and weapons but the White House has not directly linked Iran to the Oct. 7 attack.

At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, Iran's ambassador to the U.N., Amir Saeid Iravani, said Iran had no other choice but to "exercise its inherent right to self-defense under international law." Iravani said his county "does not seek escalation or war in the region," and did not want to begin a conflict with the U.S.

At the meeting, Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan called for the U.N. to "impose all possible sanctions on Iran before it's too late." He added: "This attack crossed every red line and Israel reserves the legal right to retaliate."

Israel's war cabinet also gathered to discuss how to respond to the Iranian attacks. The Israeli leadership has not yet indicated what shape its response might take.

Biden told Netanyahu the U.S. won't participate in offensive operations against Iran

In this handout photo provided by the White House, President  Biden meets with members of the national security team on Saturday in the White House Situation Room in Washington, D.C.
/ The White House via Getty Images
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The White House via Getty Images
In this handout photo provided by the White House, President Biden meets with members of the national security team on Saturday in the White House Situation Room in Washington, D.C.

President Biden is urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to proceed with caution in considering how to respond.

According to a U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Biden told Netanyahu that the U.S. remains fully committed to defending Israel, but will not take part in offensive operations against Iran. Since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in Gaza last October, Biden has made clear he does not want the conflict to expand into a broader regional war.

"I think Israel has to think through carefully what it does next," the official said. "Nobody wants to run up the escalation ladder here."

In Congress, House Republicans are making changes to their legislative schedule for this week to consider a yet-to-be-revealed proposal that would further support Israel.

Republicans also aim to include language that "holds Iran and its terrorist proxies accountable," House Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced in a statement released Saturday night.

World leaders call for restraint to avoid a wider regional conflict in the Middle East

In a statement Sunday, G7 leaders said that Iran had further destabilized the region and that they stood in solidarity with Israel. The G7 is made up of the United States, Canada, Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the European Union.

"This must be avoided. We will continue to work to stabilize the situation and avoid further escalation," the leaders said.

On Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he condemned Iran's attack and was "deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation."

Governments in the Middle East, including Qatarand the United Arab Emirates, also issued statements expressing concern and calling for restraint so as not to exacerbate tensions in the region.

NPR's Jane Arraf, Tom Bowman, Greg Myre, Deepa Shivaram, Barbara Sprunt and Hadeel Al-Shalchi contributed reporting.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.
Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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