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Iran launches attack drones toward Israel

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Iran has launched an attack on Israel tonight. More than 100 drones and, Iran says, ballistic missiles all headed toward Israel. The first waves of the attack have already reached Israeli airspace and have been intercepted over many parts of the country. In addition to that, a U.S. defense official tells NPR that U.S. forces in the region are shooting down Iranian drones as well. Iranian state TV says the strikes are retaliation for an attack on its embassy compound in Syria earlier this month that it blamed on Israel. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Tel Aviv. Rob, what do we know at this hour?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, Scott, according to Israel's military, Iran has launched more than 100 drones in successive waves toward Israel. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says it has launched not only these drones, but also what it said were dozens of ballistic missiles toward Israel. We first heard official news about this around 11:00 p.m. local time. That was about three hours ago. And here in Tel Aviv, we've seen multiple flashes of light in the air that appear to be Israel's air defense system intercepting an incoming attack. Air raid sirens have gone off in Jerusalem, also in Israel's north and south. Israel says it currently has air force jets in the air to try and intercept these drones before they reach the airspace, but obviously, some are coming through.

DETROW: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: Israel, Iraq and Jordan have closed their airspace to air traffic. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a recorded statement, addressed his nation on television, saying that Israel's defense systems are deployed and are prepared for any scenario, both defensively and offensively. And just as a side note here, here on the ground in Tel Aviv, Israel's government has scrambled GPS systems to try and mess with the trajectory of these incoming drones and missiles. And I'm joining you from the basement of our hotel in Tel Aviv. And my phone's map application thinks I'm at the Beirut airport.

DETROW: Better a basement than the airport at this point, I think.

SCHMITZ: Yeah.

DETROW: How significant is this attack, Rob?

SCHMITZ: Well, this is significant. It's the first attack toward Israel from Iranian soil. And for that alone, it's most definitely a significant attack. You know, for years, Iran has attacked Israel, but it's done so usually through proxy militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen. And now we're seeing an attack directly from Iranian soil. And I think the big question here is, how will Israel respond? Because the severity of Israel's response could determine whether this will mark the beginning of a bigger regional war.

DETROW: Right. This is, as we mentioned before, a response to an earlier airstrike. We saw a statement from Iran essentially saying they view the matter as concluded. But obviously, Israel might might disagree. The other question, Rob, is what the role the U.S. is likely to play in all of this. I did mention at the beginning of the report that we've been told that that U.S. forces were shooting down some of these drones.

SCHMITZ: That's right. And, you know, the U.S. has been providing intelligence reports and monitoring from satellites and from ground-based radar in Saudi Arabia. Defense officials also tell NPR that the U.S. has ships in the eastern Mediterranean that can shoot down ballistic missiles. We've already heard that they claim to have done that. You know, the U.S. has shifted some aircraft around in the region in anticipation of this attack. And these include warplanes, surveillance aircraft and attack drones that could help in an operation. And we're watching all this very closely.

DETROW: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us live from Tel Aviv. Rob, thank you so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. 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.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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