RAF jets deployed to shoot down Iranian drones heading to Israel

Aircraft in Iraq and Syria have been deployed to intercept ‘any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions’, the Ministry of Defence said.

Nina Lloyd
Sunday 14 April 2024 10:19 BST
RAF jets are being used to shoot down Iranian drones (SAC Charlotte Hopkins RAF/MoD/PA)
RAF jets are being used to shoot down Iranian drones (SAC Charlotte Hopkins RAF/MoD/PA) (PA Media)

RAF jets have been used to shoot down Iranian drones after Tehran announced it had launched an attack on Israel in what threatens to become a major regional escalation.

Warplanes in Iraq and Syria have been deployed to intercept “any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions”, the Ministry of Defence said.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said 99% of more than 300 drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles had been shot down outside the country’s borders with aircraft intercepting more than 10 cruise missiles.

He said a few missiles had reached Israel with a seven-year-old girl critically injured in the south of the country and light damage to an army base.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned “in the strongest terms” Iran’s “reckless attack” as he pledged to “continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners”, while US President Joe Biden said he would convene a meeting of G7 leaders on Sunday “to co-ordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack”.

Reports in Israel suggested RAF and US warplanes had shot down some Israel-bound Iranian drones over the Iraq-Syria border area amid the unprecedented attack.

Some restrictions have been lifted in Israel, according to the BBC, with people no longer needing to stay near shelter in some areas.

Video showed a group of Iranians gathered outside the British embassy in Tehran celebrating the attack.

It brings the two archenemies to the brink of all-out conflict as the war in Gaza inflames decade-old tensions in the Middle East, with the US vowing to back Israel.

In a late-night statement on Saturday, the MoD said: “In response to increased Iranian threats and the growing risk of escalation in the Middle East, the UK Government has been working with partners across the region to encourage de-escalation and prevent further attacks.

“We have moved several additional Royal Air Force jets and air refuelling tankers to the region. These will bolster Operation Shader, which is the UK’s existing counter-Daesh operation in Iraq and Syria.

“In addition, these UK jets will intercept any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions, as required.”

Tehran had been threatening to attack since an air strike, which it blamed on Israel, last week killed two Iranian generals in Syria.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken to Mr Biden, who said he had “reaffirmed America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel”.

Mr Biden said the US had helped Israel to “take down nearly all” of the drones and missiles.

He said: “I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel.

“While we have not seen attacks on our forces or facilities today, we will remain vigilant to all threats and will not hesitate to take all necessary action to protect our people.”

Mr Netanyahu posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, declaring: “We intercepted. We repelled. Together we will win.”

Mr Hagari, who described the attack as a “major escalation” said the army would do “whatever is required to protect the security of the state of Israel.”

Following Saturday’s development, Prime Minister Mr Sunak said: “I condemn in the strongest terms the Iranian regime’s reckless attack against Israel.

“These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilising the region.

“Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard.

“The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq.

“Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilise the situation and prevent further escalation. No-one wants to see more bloodshed.”

Tehran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, despite its targeted killings of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns on Iran’s atomic sites, instead targeting Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces.

But it vowed retaliation for what it said was an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the party supported all measures “designed to restore calm” and prevent a wider regional war.

In a statement, he said: “We condemn the Iranian regime’s decision to subject Israelis to these unacceptable attacks.

“The international community has been united in urging restraint and we regret that yet again Iran has chosen a different, dangerous path.

“Our thoughts are with all those in the region who want peace and security, not the fear and instability being generated by Iran.

“We continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of our other partners in the region, including Jordan and Iraq. We support all measures designed to restore calm as we must do all we can to prevent a wider regional war.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks.

“I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East,” he wrote in a statement.

“I have repeatedly stressed that neither the region nor the world can afford another war.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock also condemned the attacks while French foreign minister Stephane Sejourne said Iran’s action “is risking a potential military escalation”.

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