British envoy says Israel is ‘making a decision to act’ as Iran vows to respond to any incursion

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British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Wednesday that Israel “is deciding to act” in response to Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend, while Iran warned that even the “tiniest” invasion of its territory would bring a “massive and harsh” response. Israel has vowed to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack without saying when or how, leaving the region bracing for further escalation after months of unrest linked to the ongoing war in Gaza. Israel’s closest allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom – which helped it repel the Iranian attack – are trying to limit any further escalation.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi meanwhile warned Israel against any retaliation as he addressed an annual army parade, which had been relocated to a barracks from its usual route and was not carried live on state TV – possibly because of fears that it could be targeted. In remarks carried by Iran’s official IRNA news agency, Raisi said Saturday’s attack was a limited one, and that if Iran had wanted to carry out a bigger attack, “nothing would remain from the Zionist regime.” Both Cameron and Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock were in Israel on separate visits to meet with top officials on Wednesday. The two European countries, which are among Israel’s closest allies, have urged restraint.

Cameron said “it’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act” against Iran, but he hopes it will do so “in a way that is smart as well as tough and also does as little as possible to escalate this conflict.” He spoke after meeting with Israel’s largely ceremonial President Isaac Herzog. Cameron said the main aim of his visit was to refocus attention on the ongoing war in Gaza and the need for a cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas. Baerbock meanwhile called on all sides to prevent the conflict from spreading.

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“I will assure our Israeli partners of Germany’s full solidarity,” she said on Tuesday. “And we will discuss how a further escalation with more and more violence can be prevented. Because what matters now is to put a stop to Iran without encouraging further escalation.” Both ministers said they would push for further international sanctions on Iran. Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel over the weekend in response to an apparent Israeli strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed 12 people, including two Iranian generals.

Israel, with help from the United States, the United Kingdom, neighbouring Jordan and other nations, says it successfully intercepted nearly all the missiles and drones. A seven-year-old girl was wounded in the attack, which did not cause any deaths or major damage. Israel and Iran have waged a shadow war for decades, but the strike over the weekend was the first direct Iranian military attack on Israel. Regional tensions have soared since the October 7 attack on southern Israel launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian armed groups supported by Iran.

The attack killed some 1,200 Israelis, and the militants took around 250 hostages. Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive military onslaughts in recent history, killing nearly 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel has withdrawn much of its forces from Gaza after major offensives that left its two biggest cities – Gaza City and Khan Younis, in ruins. But Israeli officials say the war is not over and that they plan to send ground forces into the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where more than half the territory’s population of 2.3 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

Hamas is still holding around 130 hostages, a quarter of whom are believed to be dead, and international efforts to broker a cease-fire and hostage release have made little progress. Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, another close Iran ally, has traded fire with Israel along the border on a near-daily basis since the war began, in a low-intensity conflict that risks igniting all-out war. Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have also launched attacks, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted international shipping in the Red Sea, portraying it as a blockade of Israel.

President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions on Iran and has worked to coordinate a global rebuke of the attack while urging all sides to de-escalate. US officials said earlier this week that Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran. Israel appears unlikely to attack Iran directly without US support, but it could resort to more covert methods such as targeting other senior Iranian commanders or Iran-backed groups in other countries, or launching a cyber attack. It’s unclear how Iran might respond given the heightened tensions. Any miscalculation by either side risks setting off a regional war.