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What's next with Israel and Iran

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Archfoes Israel and Iran have been trading missile and drone attacks, but the unprecedented attacks on each other's territory appear, for now, not to have sparked an all-out war. Well, let's bring in reporting on how the situation looks from Washington. Hi to national security correspondent Greg Myre...

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And how it looks from the region, NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Jerusalem. Hey there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So you start, Peter, because I want to just get any detail we have on what happened last night. It appears Israel fired missiles at targets inside Iran. That would be for the first time in these two countries' history, right? What do we know?

KENYON: Well, yes. Last night, Israel appears to have fired missiles into a military base in Iran. It doesn't look like the damage was very severe at first glance from what we're hearing. Iran has downplayed the damage from the attack, in fact. That's led some people to have a little bit of hope, at least, that this might be the end of the confrontation, at least for some time.

But it's been a back-and-forth of attacks ever since that airstrike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1. Iran called that tantamount to an attack on its territory. Even the U.N. secretary-general condemned it. The attack killed a top Iranian general, who Israel said was the guy moving weapons from Iran to Lebanon.

Now, Iran has responded to the attack on its diplomatic compound last weekend. There was this massive barrage, more than 300 missiles and drones, almost all of them shot down by Israel with the help of the U.S. and other countries. That was the first time Iran had ever launched a direct attack on Israel, having always used regional proxies in the past, like Hezbollah and Hamas.

KELLY: OK, so unprecedented attacks by each of these two countries. So far, not all-out war, as we stated. Greg, what is the Biden administration saying about all this?

MYRE: Well, as little as possible. And that's actually very telling. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Italy today. He gave a press conference where he said only that the U.S. wasn't involved and wanted to see a deescalation, a word he used multiple times in his press conference. Now, the administration has been counseling Israel, telling them they didn't have to hit back against Iran, and that while the U.S. would help Israel defend itself, it would not take part in any offensive operations against Iran. So this general principle is very much in keeping with what President Biden has been stating repeatedly during the past six months of upheaval in the region, that the U.S. doesn't want to see a wider war.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, this is in line with the U.S. urging restraint in Gaza as well and the war there. What is the latest?

KENYON: Well, 34,000 dead, of course. The attacks happen every day. The casualties are mounting. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet have said they will attack the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering. Israel says several Hamas battalions are still in the city, has sworn to destroy them. The U.S. has been urging Israel not to attack the city and cause what aid workers warn could be a humanitarian catastrophe. It's asked Israel to share its plans a for evacuating the civilian population and be for its other efforts to protect civilian lives. But so far, U.S. officials say they haven't received one.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, Greg Myre, as we know, there has been daylight recently between the U.S. and Israel over Gaza specifically. Now we have this additional strike in Iran, which, as we've noted, the U.S. was begging Israel not to directly respond, not to escalate in any ways. Are we going to see tensions between the U.S. and Israel increase?

MYRE: You know, it's certainly possible. We don't know what the U.S. is saying privately to Israel in the wake of this latest attack. But we do know the U.S. has real concerns. One concern, of course, that we've already mentioned, is this possibility of a regional escalation. But another is simply to make sure that U.S. troops in the region - and they number in the tens of thousands - know something like this is coming so they can prepare and defend themselves if Iran were to strike back at perhaps a U.S. target. The U.S. reportedly got a last-minute heads up from Israel for this strike, but that's all we seem to know at the moment.

The U.S.-Israel collaboration to blunt Iran's attack over the weekend was considered an example of very close cooperation. It included others as well - Britain, France, Jordan. And that did seem to improve the atmosphere after the recent disagreements over Gaza. And it also took attention away from Gaza, at least temporarily. So we'll have to see where this goes next. But there are still unresolved issues, particularly in Gaza, not to mention elsewhere in the region.

KELLY: Going into the weekend, what are we watching for?

MYRE: Well, the hope - and it's just that, a hope - is that Israel and Iran will both feel they've delivered blows and can now deescalate and pull back from shooting directly at each other. But there's no guarantee that will happen. And there are lots of other possibilities. Israel and Iran could certainly return to the shadow war that they've carried out with covert and indirect attacks for many years. Iran could turn to its proxies, as Peter mentioned, like Hezbollah, and tell them to step up attacks on Israel.

And regardless of what happens, Mary Louise, there are a couple key takeaways here. Israel and Iran have crossed a line and set a precedent, with both countries carrying out long-range aerial attacks on the homeland of the other. And second, we're seeing Israel engaged on three separate fronts simultaneously with Hamas in Gaza, with Hezbollah in Lebanon and now with Iran. All these conflicts date back decades, but we've never had all three so active at the same time.

KELLY: NPR's Greg Myre in Washington and NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Thanks so much to you both.

MYRE: Sure thing, Mary Louise.

KENYON: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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