Israel and Iran under pressure from all sides to de-escalate

'We don’t seek a war with Iran,' White House says

President Joe Biden meets members of the National Security Council in the White House situation room during Saturday's missile attacks against Israel. White House / EPA
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The US has made it clear that it will not take any offensive action against Iran after it fired hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel.

Saturday's attack marked a critical escalation in the Israeli-Iranian rivalry and has raised the prospect of the Israel-Gaza conflict spiralling into a regional war.

The US, UK and Israel said they shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles that Iran fired in retaliation for Israel's April 1 bombing of the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus that killed two generals.

We don’t seek a war with Iran. We’re not looking for escalation here
John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesman

Iran said its attack was “concluded”, provided Israel did not retaliate, and the White House moved quickly to rein in any Israeli response.

“We don’t seek a war with Iran. We’re not looking for escalation here,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC yesterday.

Though Iran and Israel have been covertly attacking each other for years, Saturday marked the first time Tehran had launched an attack directly from Iranian soil, instead of using proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

President Joe Biden convened a meeting of G7 countries “to co-ordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack”.

The group of democracies issued a statement saying they are working to “stabilise the situation and avoid further escalation.”

“In this spirit, we demand that Iran and its proxies cease their attacks, and we stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilising initiatives,” the statement read.

The UAE called for “the utmost restraint” to avoid dangerous repercussions and the region being dragged to new levels of instability.

The Foreign Ministry called for the resolution of “differences through dialogue and through diplomatic channels, and for adhering to the rule of law and respecting the United Nations Charter”.

Saturday's attack, while a significant escalation, caused little damage, something Washington highlighted as it worked to convince Israel not to respond.

“Our aim is to de-escalate regional tensions,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

“We do not want a broader regional conflict, our focus has been to contain this crisis to Gaza, that's been a focus since October 7, that remains the focus.”

The official said Israel had made clear that “they are not looking for a significant escalation with Iran … They're looking to protect themselves and defend themselves.”

Mr Kirby said Israel demonstrated its “military superiority” by preventing the vast majority of the over 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran from landing and causing any significant loss of life or infrastructure damage.

“The President doesn't believe that it needs to move in that direction whatsoever,” Mr Kirby said. “What Israel demonstrated last night was an incredible ability to defend itself, just their own military superiority was quite remarkable yesterday.”

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, said the Biden administration is navigating a difficult path.

“They seem to have managed quietly and behind the scenes to hold both sides back, warning Iran against the kind of attack that would inevitably suck the US into the conflict and warning Israel against rushing to a response that would then expand the war,” Mr Vaez told The National.

The administration official said the US had been preparing for Iran's strike for the past 10 days, “to defend Israel to the maximum extent possible and defeat the attack”.

“President Biden is the first American president to directly defend Israel. He followed and directed really every detail with this response, starting nearly two weeks ago, as we began to receive word and indications that Iran was preparing for a large-scale attack,” the official said.

Iran's attack on Israel – in pictures

Updated: April 14, 2024, 6:15 PM