Why has Iran attacked Israel?

Iran's assault was the first direct military attack launched by Tehran on Israel, despite long-standing enmity between the two nations.

New York, New York, USA. 14th Apr, 2024. New York, New York United Nations Security Council holds emergency meeting on Sunday 14April2024. The subject of the meeting is the attack on Israel.United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (Credit Image: © Bruce Cotler/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the Middle East is 'on the brink'. (PA).

The Middle East is "on the brink" of a "devastating conflict" after Iran's attack on Israel, the head of the United Nations has warned. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres told delegates that now is the time for de-escalation as tensions remain high following the weekend assault.

More than 300 drones and missiles were fired into Israel overnight on Saturday by Iran, in what it called a response to a strike on its consulate in Syria on 1 April. Almost all of the drones and missiles were shot down before reaching their targets.

Watch: Israel hails ‘success’ in blocking Iran’s unprecedented attack

Opening an emergency session of the UN Security Council in New York on Sunday evening, Guterres said: "The Middle East is on the brink. The people of the region are confronting a real danger of a devastating, full-scale conflict.

"Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate. Now is the time for maximum restraint. Neither the region nor the world can afford more war."

At the same meeting, Israel's UN envoy Gilad Erdan called on the council to "condemn Iran for their terror" and impose "all possible sanctions". Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and at least 120 ballistic missiles in an assault that set off air raid sirens across the country.

Israeli government spokesman David Mencer said on Monday that Israel "retains all its options".

He said: "We reserve the right to do everything in our power, and we will do everything in our power to defend this country."

Prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that RAF jets had shot down "a number of" Iranian drones, as he condemned Tehran's strikes as “dangerous and unnecessary”. On Monday, foreign secretary Lord David Cameron urged Israel not to retaliate to Iran's attack and suggested the UK would help counter a further Iranian assault on Israel.

April 15, 2024, London, England, United Kingdom: Foreign Secretary DAVID CAMERON is seen in Westminster before appearing on breakfast shows in the wake of Irans attack on Israel. (Credit Image: © Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron called Iran's assault on Israel a 'failure'. (PA)

“We are a supporter of Israel and a supporter of Israel’s right to self-defence," he told Sky News.

“If there was another Iran attack – Iran has said they’re not going to attack again and after the failure of their attack, I’m not surprised – but absolutely, we’ll always keep these things under review.

“We’re trying to avoid escalation and the action we took alongside the Americans and others clearly has helped to stop that escalation because the Iran attack was an almost total failure.”

Cameron urged Israel to be “smart as well as tough” by not escalating the conflict with Iran.

He confirmed that British RAF jets shot down “a small number” of drones fired by Iran.

Downing Street said there are “no current plans to publish legal advice” on the UK action, since British forces are operating within existing permissions and defined geographic area of the Operation Shader mission.

Number 10 also rejected Iran’s assertion that it gave advance warning of its strike, with a spokesman saying: “We were not briefed directly by Iran on their attacks.”

On Sunday, leaders of the G7 warned that an “uncontrollable regional escalation” in the Middle East must be prevented. In a joint statement, countries including the UK and US said they “stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilising initiatives”.

Why has Iran attacked Israel?

Iran's assault was the first direct military attack launched by Tehran on Israel, despite long-standing enmity dating back to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Iran said the attack was launched in response to a strike on 1 April widely blamed on Israel on an Iranian consular building in Damascus, Syria, earlier this month, which killed two Iranian generals.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the air strike. A total of 13 people were killed, including brigadier general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior figure in the Quds force, the overseas branch of Iran's elite Republican Guards (IRGC).

The IRGC funnels arms and equipment through Syria to Lebanese Shia militants Hezbollah, and several IRGC commanders have been killed in air strikes in Syria in recent months.

Iranian demonstrators chant slogans during an anti-Israeli gathering in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, early Sunday, April 14, 2024. Iran launched its first direct military attack against Israel on Saturday. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian demonstrators during an anti-Israeli gathering in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo)

Israel wants to stop Iran from growing its military presence in Syria and prevent these arms deliveries.

Israel and Iran have engaged in a decades-long shadow war since they stopped being allies after the 1979 revolution.

Iran does not recognise Israel's right to exist and wants its eradication.

Tensions between Iran and Israel have been heightened by the latter's conflict with mikitants Hamas, which claimed the lives of 1,200 people on its surprise wave of attacks on Israel on 7 October. More than 33,000 Palestinians have since been killed by Israeli air strikes.

After the air strike at the beginning of the month on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel would be punished, while Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi said it would “not go unanswered”.

How far is Iran from Israel?

The shortest distance from Iran to Israel is about 621 miles (1,000km) through Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

The distance between Jerusalem and Tehran by plane is 968 miles (1,559km), or 1,153 miles (1,856km) by car.

The route between Jerusalem, Israel, and Tehran, Iran. (Google)
The route between Jerusalem, Israel, and Tehran, Iran. (Google)

Do Iran and Israel have nuclear weapons?

Although it does not declare them officially, international experts are in agreement that Israel does have nuclear weapons.

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which compiles the list of the world's nuclear weapons, Israel is believed to have 90 reserved or undeployed nuclear weapons.

These are warheads that are not deployed on launchers but in storage.

Israel has remained ambiguous about its nuclear weapons. (File photo: Getty)
Israel has remained ambiguous about its nuclear weapons. (File photo: Getty)

Iran, on the other hand, is not one of the world's nine nations that possess nuclear weapons.

However, it has been forced to deny accusations it is planning on becoming a nuclear armed state.

Last year, the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), found uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity, close to weapons grade, at the country's underground Fordo site.

Iran has been enriching uranium to 60% purity for more than two years in breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 2015 accord between Iran and a number of world powers, which Donald Trump controversially withdrew the US from in 2018 during his presidency.

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