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Israel will retaliate against Iran, says UK Foreign Minister; PM Sunak urges restraint amid tensions

Cameron's statement marks the starkest warning of a further escalation of tensions in the region after Iran directly attacked Israel on Saturday for the first time in decades. Iran launched some 300 missiles and drones in retaliation for a suspected Israeli attack on an Iranian embassy in Syria.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Jerusalem Published on: April 17, 2024 18:43 IST
Israel, Israel Iran conflict, Middle East
Image Source : REUTERS (FILE) Israel's military displays an Iranian ballistic missile retrieved from the Dead Sea.

Jerusalem: British Foreign Minister David Cameron said that Israel has "clearly decided" to retaliate against Iran for the missile and drone attacks launched last week - despite international concern rising to a boiling point as a wider conflict threatens to break out in the Middle East following a suspected Israeli strike on Iran's embassy in Syria on April 1. Cameron's statement is the sharpest warning of the escalation of tensions after Iran directly attacked Israel for the first time in decades.

More than six months into a war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas that has seen flare-ups in violence across the Middle East and killed tens of thousands of people in Gaza, diplomats are searching for a way to avert a direct battle between Israel and Iran. These efforts were thrown in disarray when Iran launched at least 300 missiles and drones towards Israel on Saturday, in response to the attack in Syria.

The Iranian missiles and drones launched on Saturday were mostly shot down by Israel and its allies, and caused no deaths and only minor damage. However, Israel says it must retaliate to preserve the credibility of its deterrents, despite Western countries calling for a de-escalation. Iran says it considers the matter closed for now but will retaliate again if Israel does.

"It's clear the Israelis are making a decision to act. We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible," Cameron told reporters early in his visit to Jerusalem. Cameron said Britain wanted to see coordinated sanctions against Iran by the Group of Seven big democracies, which are meeting this week in Italy. 

Rishi Sunak urges Netanyahu to exercise restraint

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has advised his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to exercise restraint and let “calm heads” prevail in the wake of Iran’s missile attacks as Cameron landed in Tel Aviv for talks on Wednesday. Sunak reiterated the UK’s “steadfast support” for regional stability and told the Israeli leader that Iran had miscalculated its move, being isolated on the global stage as a result.

“The Prime Minister [Sunak] said Iran had badly miscalculated and was increasingly isolated on the global stage, with the G7 coordinating a diplomatic response...He stressed that significant escalation was in no one’s interest and would only deepen insecurity in the Middle East. This was a moment for calm heads to prevail,” 10 Downing Street said in a readout of the call on Tuesday evening.

Netanyahu is said to have thanked Britain for its “rapid and robust” support in the face of Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel on Saturday. Sunak also said it was deeply disappointing that Hamas blocked a deal at the weekend that would have saved Palestinian lives and secured the safe release of hostages. Hamas had reportedly rejected the latest proposal for a deal to return Israeli hostages and Israel will continue to pursue its objectives in Gaza "with full force", said Netanyahu's office.

Sanctions against Iran likely to be expanded

In the midst of escalating tensions, the US and its allies have planned fresh sanctions against Iran over its unprecedented attack on Israel, seeking to dissuade Israel from a major escalation as its war cabinet was set to meet for a third time on Wednesday to decide a response. Israel's military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised Iran's launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones at Israeli territory "will be met with a response".

Earlier, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States would use sanctions, and work with allies, to keep disrupting Iran's "malign and destabilising activity". European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers, said some member states had asked for sanctions against Iran to be expanded.

Borrell said the proposal would expand a sanctions regime that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia so that it would also include the provision of missiles and could also cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he was "leading a diplomatic attack", writing to 32 countries to ask them to place sanctions on Iran's missile programme and follow Washington in proscribing its dominant military force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist group.

Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 attributed to Israel but has signalled that it now deems the matter closed. However, Tehran warned it could again target Israel if the US and allied nations provoke any aggression. US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel's main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike.

(with inputs from agencies)

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