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The Israeli military has conducted missile strikes against Iran

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For much of the past week, the United States and many of its allies urged Israel to show restraint after Iran fired some 300 drones and missiles at Israel last Sunday. Overnight, Israel appeared to respond. This morning, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to confirm reports that the U.S. was warned about Israel's attack in advance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: I'm not going to speak to that except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations. What we're focused on, what the G-7 is focused on - and again, it's reflected in our statement and in our conversation - is our work to deescalate tensions.

FADEL: The damage from the strikes on Iran appear to be limited. But does this latest move bring the two nations closer to an all-out war? NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Tel Aviv to parse all this out. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So I know that we're learning more every hour, and there's a lot that we still don't know, but at this point, what can we say about what happened overnight?

SCHMITZ: Well, here's what we know. A senior U.S. military official told NPR that Israel launched missiles at Iran overnight, and we've reached out to Israel's military and prime minister's office, but they haven't responded. And we've seen no evidence so far to confirm a missile strike. Sources in Iran, however, paint a slightly different picture. Iran's state news agency, IRNA, spoke to an Iranian brigadier general, Mihan Dost, who reported loud booms heard east of the city of Isfahan, explaining they were Iranian air defense systems intercepting what he called an unknown object and that there were no casualties or damage to report. Iranian media reports that an attack was also thwarted in the city of Tabriz, 500 miles north of Isfahan. Media reports explosions in both cities. State media in Syria, an ally of Iran that borders Israel, reported that Israeli missiles hit air defense positions in southern Syria.

But for wider context here, this is apparently the latest escalation in what has been a very tense tit for tat that began when an airstrike, which Iran blamed on Israel, killed two Iranian commanders in the country's embassy compound in Syria April 1, which was then followed by an unprecedented missile and drone attack that Iran launched on Israel last weekend, which was largely intercepted and caused little damage.

FADEL: Now, you mention Israel's government has yet to weigh in on this incident here, but what's been the reaction in the region this morning?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, here in Israel, the response has been fairly muted. Commercial flights continue in and out of Israel's largest airport, and the country's Home Front Command system - that's responsible for issuing threat alerts to civilians during tense times - did not change its threat level. Over in Iran, flights were temporarily grounded this morning, but just a couple hours later were resumed. So it seemed that life has returned to a semblance of normalcy there as well. But there has been reaction from political insiders. NPR spoke to Meir Litvak, director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, and he said that what's interesting about Isfahan as a target is that it's home to part of Iran's nuclear program. And by the way, the International Atomic Energy Agency says there is no damage to Iran's nuclear sites today. But Litvak says the message to Iran earlier this morning was clear. We have the intelligence, the capability and the will to attack Iran's most sensitive strategic assets if necessary.

MEIR LITVAK: At the same time, the scale of the attack and the location will send a signal that we do not want escalation, that what we want is to end the current round of tit for tat, and we don't want escalation.

SCHMITZ: And, Leila, while that may have been the message from Israel, there's at least one member of Israel's Cabinet that feels a little differently. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted on social media a reaction to the attack, using a Hebrew slang term for weak. There's been an ongoing debate inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war Cabinet over the proper Israeli response to Iran's attack, and far-right politicians like Ben-Gvir are pressing for a bigger response.

FADEL: So, so far, you're describing little damage. Is it possible that this is now the end of the tit for tat, rather than the start of an all-out regional war?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, you know, anything's possible here, but we simply do not know at this stage. You know, what's clear is that the United States has warned Israel to do as little as possible to further escalate tensions in this region. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear all along that he will do what he thinks is the right thing to defend Israel. And whether this is the extent of it remains to be seen.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

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