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On 13 April 2024, Iran launched more than 330 drones and missiles against Israel in what it said was in retaliation for an attack on its consulate in Syria. The Israeli Defence Forces say that 99% were intercepted and that minimal damage was inflicted. One Israeli civilian was severely injured.

Since the 7 October 2023 assault on Israel by Hamas (officially designated a terrorist organisation by the United States and the UK), Iran-supported armed and terrorist groups have carried out attacks against Israel and US bases in the Middle East. The 13 April action was Iran’s first direct attack on Israel since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979.

The UK, alongside the United States, European partners and the G7 group condemned the Iranian attack as escalatory and called for restraint. The UK, US and France provided military support in intercepting Iran’s attack.

This briefing provides background to the attack, existing and new sanctions against Iran, debates over proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group in the UK, and information on the Israeli response.

Why did Iran launch the attack?

On 1 April 2024, Iran’s consulate in Damascus was attacked. Iran accused Israel of conducting the strike, which Israel has neither confirmed nor denied. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a 200,000-strong armed force of the Iranian state which also works overseas to support Iranian proxies and other allied groups and coordinate military action.

Iran has a long-standing presence in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian civil war and to maintain a corridor to provide Hezbollah in Lebanon with weapons to threaten and attack Israel. Israel has conducted several attacks on Iranian targets in Syria in recent years. Attacks escalated in late 2023 following the Hamas assault of 7 October and missile and other fire from Hezbollah against northern Israel. Iran’s Government said it would respond to the strike. This took the form of the Iranian missile and drone attack on 13 April.

How has the UK responded?

The UK already has RAF and other military assets in the Middle East region as part of Operation Shader (against Islamic State/Daesh) in Syria and Iraq. Additional UK forces have been deployed since 7 October 2023 to deter conflict in the region from escalating. The UK Government says some of these additional RAF jets and refuelling aircraft intercepted several drones targeting Israel during the attack on 13 April, alongside the United States and Israel. Jordan also destroyed some projectiles over its airspace.

The Government said it will implement the “strongest” sanctions against Iran, including new trade sanctions against Iran to limit its drone production. The UK Government has said it “does not support a retaliatory strike by Israel” (except in self-defence). It has called for de-escalation and has urged Israel to focus on securing the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

How are the US, G7 and UN responding?

President Biden says US support for Israel is “ironclad” and convened a G7 meeting to establish a “united diplomatic response” to Iran.

G7 leaders have issued statements condemning the Iranian attack, committing to further sanctions and other measures against Iran, and calling for countries to stop supplying Iran’s missile and drone programmes. European Union leaders will implement further sanctions against Iranian drones. The US is applying new sanctions and called for further UN action.

The UN Security Council met on 14 April. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, condemned the escalation by Iran and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. No statements or resolutions were debated.

Risks of further escalation

On 13 April, the Iranian Government said it now considered the issue “concluded” but if Israel retaliates Iran’s next action will be “much stronger”. Iran maintains a network of proxy and aligned groups in the Middle East: Hezbollah in Lebanon continues to launch attacks against northern Israel and the Houthis in Yemen are targeting shipping in the Red Sea. Militias have also been attacking US military bases in Iraq and Syria since October 2023.

On 19 April, unnamed US officials said Israel launched a missile against Iran  in response to Iran’s action. No damage or casualties have been confirmed and media reports say Iran has “downplayed the strike”. The Israeli Government has also called for more sanctions against Iran.

The Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza continues. Before the Iranian attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his Government had set a date for an offensive in Rafah. Talks on the release of hostages taken by Hamas are ongoing but the UN Security Council resolution calling for their immediate release and a ceasefire during Ramadan has not been implemented.

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