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Israel strikes Iran with a missile, U.S. officials say, as Tehran downplays Netanyahu's apparent retaliation

Iran appears to downplay Israeli missile strike
Iran appears to downplay Israeli missile strike 02:14

Two U.S. officials told CBS News on Thursday night that an Israeli missile had struck Iran. The strike came less than a week after Iran's unprecedented retaliatory drone and missile attack on Israel, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to respond.

The U.S. officials did not provide any information about the location or extent of the Israeli strike, and the Israel Defense Forces would not comment on the attack when asked by CBS News.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said air defense batteries fired across several provinces, but it didn't elaborate on why the batteries had fired. Iranians did report hearing the sound of explosions in several locations, but there was no urgent meeting called of Iran's ruling High National Council, state television said, and it appeared the Iranian government was trying to downplay the impact of the Israeli attack.

State media and Iranian sources speaking with various news outlets mentioned only small drones flying around a couple sites in the country, without any reference to a missile strike. There were no immediate reports of damage.

Daily life in Tehran after news of Israeli attacks on Iran
People cycle along a street in Tehran, Iran, as daily life continued after explosions were heard in Isfahan and elsewhere in the country, and U.S. officials said Israel had struck Iran with a missile, April 19, 2024. Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu/Getty

Iran's President, Ebrahim Raisi, speaking during a visit on Friday to the city of Damghan, east of Tehran and hundreds of miles north of Isfahan, didn't even reference the Israeli strike. Instead, he spoke of Iran's assault a week earlier against Israel, which he called "necessary, obligatory" and a "sign of the power of the Islamic republic and its armed forces." 

A senior Israeli official told The Washington Post the Israeli counterattack "was intended to signal to Iran that Israel can attack its territory." 

The Reuters news agency cited an unnamed Iranian official as saying there were no plans in Tehran to respond to the Israeli retaliation. 

"I think it's a measured response," Efraim Halevi, an Israeli intelligence expert and former director of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, told CBS News on Friday. "It is in no way proportionate to the attack we had to deal with a couple of days ago, but it is enough to send the message to the leadership in Iran."

Dubai-based airlines Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting flights around western Iran early Friday morning, after news of the Israeli strike. The carriers offered no explanation, though local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

Iran announced that it had grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its western and central regions, but state television later said normal flight operations had resumed.

"No damage to Iran's nuclear sites"

IRNA said Iranian air defenses had fired at a major air base in the city of Isfahan, which has long been home to Iran's fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which were purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Isfahan is also home to several sites associated with Iran's alleged nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site, which has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli attacks.

Iran's state media, however, denied any attack on the country's nuclear facilities and described all sites as "fully safe." 

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency also said it could "confirm that there is no damage to Iran's nuclear sites."

Iran Nuclear
This file photo released November 5, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP

Iran denies having a nuclear weapons program and insists all its enrichment work is for civilian purposes, but it has continued enriching uranium and plutonium to higher levels of purity, pushing it closer to the theoretical ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Israel has vowed never to allow Iran to obtain that capacity.

State television said three small drones were shot down in an area east of Isfahan, and the network ran what it said were live pictures showing calm, normal conditions in Isfahan.

Three Iranian officials told The New York Times the attack on the air base included small drones that may have been launched from inside Iran, saying radar systems had not detect any unidentified aircraft in Iranian airspace.  

Reaction to Israel's strike on Iran

"No one wants a war with Iran at the moment," Natan Eshel, a close associate and former chief of staff of Netanyahu's, said in a statement shared Friday by the prime minister's Likud party. "We have proven to them that we can penetrate and damage their domain and they have not succeeded in ours. The messages are more important than the bickering. We currently have more important tasks as well in Gaza and in Lebanon, the people are blessed to have a leader like Netanyahu."

One of the most hard-line members of Netanyahu's cabinet, however, far-right politician and current National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, posted a one word message on social media as news of the strike on Iran emerged, saying simply: "Lame." 

Netanyahu had been under opposing pressures from the U.S., which had sought a calibrated response based on the minimal impact of the Iranian missile and drone barrage, and ultranationalist members of his government such as Ben-Gvir who have long advocated for tough military action against Iran. 

Iran-Military Parade Marking Iran's Army Day Anniversary
Two members of the Iranian army's air force walk past a massive anti-Israeli billboard after a military parade marking the anniversary of Iran's Army Day at an army base in Tehran on April 17, 2024. Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Oman, which often acts as an intermediary between Tehran and the West, condemned the "Israeli attack" on Friday, according to French news agency AFP.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was "becoming increasingly evident that the tensions that were initially caused by Israel's illegal attack on the Iranian Embassy in Damascus risk turning into a permanent conflict," and urging "all parties to refrain from steps that could lead to a wider conflict." 

Turkey said the international community's priority "should be to stop the massacre in Gaza and to ensure lasting peace in our region by establishing a Palestinian state."

Speaking as he hosted a meeting of his fellow G7 foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Italy's top diplomat Antonio Tajani told journalists on Friday that the U.S. had been informed of Israel's military action at "the last minute, but there was no involvement on the part of the United States — it was simply information that was provided."

Blinken, speaking later, was pressed to confirm the Israeli strike but would say only that the U.S. was "not involved in any offensive operation."  

Tajani said he believed "the small-scale of the event," referring to Israel's retaliation, was "also the result of the efforts of the G7," which along with the U.S. had urged Netanyahu to carry out a measured response.   

In a joint statement, the G7 foreign ministers urged Israel and Iran to avoid any further escalation.

Reports of strikes in Syria and Iraq

Around the time that the sound of explosions were heard in Iran, Syria's state-run SANA news agency cited a military official as saying Israel had carried out a missile strike targeting an air defense unit in the country's south, causing material damage.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition war monitoring organization, said the strike hit a military radar installation. It wasn't clear if there were casualties, the Observatory said. Israel has carried out a number of strikes inside Syria in recent years, often targeting cites associated with Iran-backed groups.

Meanwhile in Iraq, where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents of Baghdad reported hearing explosion sounds, but the source of the noises wasn't immediately clear. 

The background to the Israeli strike

Iran last weekend launched an unprecedented retaliatory strike against Israel in response to a deadly attack on an Iranian consulate in Syria that killed seven officers, including two generals, from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran's attack on Israel included 170 drones, over 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles, according to the IDF and U.S. officials. None of the drones crossed into Israeli territory before they were shot down by Israel and its allies, including the U.S., the IDF said. 

Five of the ballistic missiles struck Israel, with four of them hitting Israel's Nevatim Air Base, where Israeli F-35s are based, U.S. officials told CBS News. The officials believe the base was likely Iran's primary target, as the strike against the consulate in Syria is believed to have been carried out by an F-35.

The U.S. and other Israeli allies had urged Netanyahu to exercise restraint with any response to the Iranian attack, and U.S. officials had said the U.S. would not participate in an Israeli retaliation.

In the aftermath of Iran's attack, which the IDF said caused "very little damage," President Biden pressed the Israeli prime minister, "to think about what that success says all by itself to the rest of the region," according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

— Margaret Brennan, James LaPorta, David Martin, Michal Ben-Gal, Olivia Gazis, Haley Ott, Tucker Reals and Brian Dakss contributed reporting.

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