U.S.: Iran's Unprecedented Attack on Israel

The United States played a major role in deflecting Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel on April 13-14, 2024, reflecting its growing role in the escalating tensions between the Islamic republic and Israel. President Joe Biden had vowed that the U.S. commitment—militarily and diplomatically—was “ironclad.” The Pentagon deployed additional warships and air defense systems to the region after an Israeli airstrike hit a diplomatic facility in Damascus, killing three Revolutionary Guards generals and other military officers. Washington also mobilized Arab and European partners to participate in the defensive operation.

After Iran’s Operation True Promise, Biden said that the United States “helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.” U.S. warplanes and air defense systems downed 80 drones launched from Iran and at least six ballistic missiles launched from Iran and Yemen. Specifically, two F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons took down 70 drones. Two destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the USS Carney and USS Arleigh Burke, intercepted four to six ballistic missiles. And a U.S. Patriot system in Erbil, Iraq, downed a missile. British, French and Jordanian forces also participated.

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At the same time, Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would not support an Israeli counterstrike on Iran. U.S. officials emphasized that Washington wanted to avoid further conflict. “The best way to prevent such escalation is an unambiguous condemnation from the [U.N. Security] Council of Iran’s unprecedented, large-scale attack and an unequivocal call on it and its proxies and partners to refrain from further violence,” Ambassador Robert Wood told the U.N. Security Council on April 14. The following are reactions by U.S. officials to Iran’s attack. 

President Joe Biden on April 13

“Earlier today, Iran—and its proxies operating out of Yemen, Syria and Iraq—launched an unprecedented air attack against military facilities in Israel. I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms.

“At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week. Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles. 

“I’ve just spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu to reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel. 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.

“Tomorrow, I will convene my fellow G7 leaders to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.  My team will engage with their counterparts across the region.  And we will stay in close touch with Israel’s leaders.  And 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.”


National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on April 16

Following Iran’s unprecedented air attack against Israel, President Biden is coordinating with allies and partners, including the G7, and with bipartisan leaders in Congress, on a comprehensive response. In the coming days, the United States will impose new sanctions targeting Iran, including its missile and drone program as well as new sanctions against entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s Defense Ministry. We anticipate that our allies and partners will soon be following with their own sanctions. In addition, we continue to work through the Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command to further strengthen and expand the successful integration of air and missile defense and early warning systems across the Middle East to further erode the effectiveness of Iran’s missile and UAV capabilities.

These new sanctions and other measures will continue a steady drumbeat of pressure to contain and degrade Iran’s military capacity and effectiveness and confront the full range of its problematic behaviors. Over the last three years, in addition to missile and drone-related sanctions, the United States has sanctioned over 600 individuals and entities connected to terrorism, terrorist financing and other forms of illicit trade, horrific human rights abuses, and support for proxy terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Kataib Hezbollah. The pressure will continue. We will not hesitate to continue to take action, in coordination with allies and partners around the world, and with Congress, to hold the Iranian government accountable for its malicious and destabilizing actions.


National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby on April 15


Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 14

“The United States condemns Iran’s attack on Israel in the strongest terms.  While we do not seek escalation, we will continue to support Israel’s defense, and as the President made clear, we will defend U.S. personnel.  I will be consulting with allies and partners in the region and around the world in the hours and days ahead.”

Secretary of State Blinken on April 15

“Over the weekend, as you know, Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel.  This was an attack unprecedented in its scope and in its scale – in its scope because it represented the first direct attack by Iran on Israel; and in its scale because, as I said, there were more than 300 munitions fired, including ballistic missiles as well as land attack cruise missiles and drones.  Thanks to Israeli air defenses as well as support from other countries, including U.S. military assets, virtually all of the incoming projectiles were destroyed and shot down.

“As President Biden underscored to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is committed – committed to Israel’s defense.  And I think what this weekend demonstrated is that Israel did not have to and does not have to defend itself alone when it is the victim of an aggression, the victim of an attack.  In the 36 hours since, we have been coordinating a diplomatic response to seek to prevent escalation.  Strength and wisdom need to be the same sides – the – different sides of the same coin.  I’ve been in close communication with counterparts in the region, and we will continue to do so in the hours and days ahead.  We don’t seek escalation, but we’ll continue to support the defense of Israel and to protect our personnel in the region.”


Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on April 13

“At the direction of President Biden, U.S. forces in the Middle East on April 13 intercepted dozens of missiles and UAVs en route to Israel, launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Our forces remain postured to protect U.S. troops and partners in the region, provide further support for Israel's defense, and enhance regional stability.

“We condemn these reckless and unprecedented attacks by Iran and its proxies, and we call on Iran to immediately halt any further attacks, including from its proxy forces, and to deescalate tensions. We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defense of Israel.

“I am grateful for the professionalism and the skill of the brave U.S. troops who took part in today's actions and who continue to stand guard to prevent further conflict or escalation. I will continue to monitor the situation closely and to consult with our allies and partners.”



U.S. Central Command on April 14

“On April 13 and the morning of April 14, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces, supported by U.S. European Command destroyers, successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAV) and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen.

“This includes a ballistic missile on its launcher vehicle and seven UAVs destroyed on the ground in Iranian-backed Houthi controlled areas of Yemen prior to their launch.

“Iran's continued unprecedented, malign, and reckless behavior endangers regional stability and the safety of U.S. and coalition forces.

“CENTCOM remains postured to support Israel’s defense against these dangerous actions by Iran. We will continue to work with all our regional partners to increase regional security.”


Ambassador Robert Wood on April 14

“The United States condemns in the strongest of terms the unprecedented attack on the State of Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its militant proxies and partners.

“Iran’s intent was to cause significant damage and death in Israel. It launched over 300 munitions, including more than 100 ballistic missiles and land attack cruise missiles at Israel, as well as explosive unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Iran’s reckless actions not only posed a threat to populations in Israel, but also to other UN Member States in the region, including Jordan and Iraq.

“The Security Council has an obligation to not let Iran’s actions go unanswered.

“Indeed, for far too long, Iran has flagrantly violated its international legal obligations, notably through the actions of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC.

“By arming Hezbollah in violation of Security Council Resolution 1701. By arming, facilitating, and enabling Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and, more recently, merchant, and commercial shipping in the Red Sea in clear violation of Resolution 2216 and in defiance of Resolution 2722.

“And, of course, Iran transferred Shahed one-way attack drones to Russia – the same drones it used in last night’s attacks against Israel – at a time when such transfers were in clear violation of Resolution 2231.

“In recent years, Iran also has repeatedly violated international law by targeting with mines and seizing commercial ships in international waters of the Persian Gulf and surrounding waterways – just as it did on April 12 when it seized a Portuguese flagged ship near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran continues to detain both the ships and its crew compromised of citizens from five countries, including Russia.

“Iran also was, in a broad sense, complicit in the October 7 attack on Israel because it has provided significant funding and training for the military wing of Hamas. This Iranian support contributed to the current crisis in Gaza.

“Colleagues, these and other reckless Iranian actions, are not inherently defensive actions against other Member States. Given the threats Iran’s aggressive actions pose for international peace and security, we have a collective responsibility as member of the Security Council to ensure that Iran complies with the Council’s resolutions and ceases its violations of the Charter.

“In the coming days, and in consultation with other Member States, the United States will explore additional measures to hold Iran accountable here at the United Nations.

“More immediately, the Security Council must unequivocally condemn Iran’s aggressive actions and call for Iran and its partners and proxies to cease their attacks.

“The United States also supports Israel’s exercise of its inherent right to defend itself in the face of this attack, and as President Biden stated, we will remain in close contact with Israel’s leaders.

“And let me be clear – if Iran or its proxies take actions against the United States or further action against Israel, Iran will be held responsible. We note Secretary-General Guterres’ statement warning that the region is at risk of plunging into a deeper and wider war on multiple fronts.

“The United States is not seeking escalation. Our actions have been purely defensive in nature. The best way to prevent such escalation is an unambiguous condemnation from the Council of Iran’s unprecedented, large-scale attack and an unequivocal call on it and its proxies and partners to refrain from further violence.

“Our goal is to de-escalate, and then get back to the issue at hand – securing and end to the conflict in Gaza, by getting a ceasefire in Gaza through a hostage deal, as well as surging humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in need.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on April 15

GEN. RYDER: First of all, as you saw over the weekend, at the direction of the president and in support of Israel's defense, U.S. forces in the Middle East intercepted dozens of missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles after Iran and its proxies launched more than 300 air threats on the evening of April 13 and the morning of April 14 from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in route to Israel, to include over 110 medium-range ballistic missiles, over 30 land attack cruise missiles and over 150 UAVs. 

U.S. Central Command highlighted in their press release that CENTCOM forces supported by the U.S. Navy destroyers, USS Arleigh Burke and USS Carney, currently assigned to the European Command AOR, successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack UAVs and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen. 

This included a ballistic missile on its launcher vehicle and seven UAVs destroyed on the ground in Iranian-backed Houthi controlled areas of Yemen prior to their launch.

Secretary Austin is grateful for the professionalism and skill of the brave U.S. troops who took part in the defense of Israel and who continue to stand guard to prevent further conflict or escalation. 

Throughout the weekend and into today, Secretary Austin has held multiple calls with international partners and allies, as well as with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff, Senior DOD leaders and the CENTCOM and EUCOM commanders to actively monitor the situation and reinforce U.S. and international resolve in the face of Iranian aggression. 

Secretary Austin has also been in frequent contact with his Israeli counterpart, Minister Gallant, speaking to him three times over the weekend. During their most recent call yesterday, the two leaders reviewed the successful combined operation by the United States, Israel and their partners to defend Israel from these unprecedented attacks by Iran and its proxies. And emphasized that, while the United States does not seek escalation, we will continue to take all necessary action to defend Israel and U.S. personnel. 

Q: General Ryder, were you given a heads-up about the scope and scale of this attack?

GEN. RYDER: So, I think what you're asking was did Iran give us a heads up? No, they did not.

Q: But were you given a heads up through allies?

GEN. RYDER: We were not given specifics by Iran. And to my knowledge, any specifics in terms of exact times, dates. You know, we obviously have a robust intelligence network that provides indications and warning. But to answer your specific question, no, Iran did not tell us when and where they were going to attack. 

Q: And just in terms of — is the U.S. concerned that U.S. forces in the region would be jeopardy if Israel retaliates for Saturday night? And is that why the U.S. is not participating in a potential retaliation? 

GEN. RYDER: Well look, I don't want to get into hypotheticals at this point, whether or not Israel responds to Iran's attack, of course, is something for Israel to discuss and to decide. 

As Secretary Austin has said, both publicly and privately, we don't want to see escalation, but we, obviously, will take necessary measures to protect our forces in the region. And as was demonstrated over the weekend, we'll take necessary measures to defend Israel. 

Q: I think officials have said last week that additional asset — U.S. asset, military assets have been sent to the region. Are those assets still in place or have they been moved out now? 

GEN. RYDER: As of right now, those assets are still in place. 

Q: And you talked previously about Iran not seeking conflict with the United States. Is that still accurate? Do you today believe that Iran is not seeking conflict with the United States or Israel?

GEN. RYDER: Are you asking me if Iran is speaking? I'm not going to speak for Iran. I mean, certainly from the United States, we do not seek conflict with Iran. 

Q: Thank you, General. I have two questions. How critical was U.S. support to defend Israel against this response by Iran? 

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think as our actions demonstrated, the U.S. support for the defense of Israel is robust. And it also demonstrates the longstanding security cooperation — relationship that the United States has, not only with Israel but with countries throughout the region when it comes to addressing regional threats. And those kinds of things don't happen overnight that those kinds of relationships and the ability to work together, to interoperate together, all played out and saved many lives.

Q: And second question, this is not hypothetical. The Chief of the General Staff of Israel, General Halevi, made it clear today that Israel will respond. The Secretary made it clear, the U.S. is not seeking escalation. The President made that clear as well. When Israel responds, do you think this will be counterproductive to your efforts for de-escalation? And will the U.S. support an Israeli response? 

GEN. RYDER: We take slight exception with your question because to my knowledge right now, there has been no Israeli response, so that is a hypothetical. So again, you know, we're going to continue to stay in close consultation with our Israeli partners as we have done throughout the weekend. Again, we don't seek a wider regional conflict. And I'll just leave it there. 

Q: So, Saturday night was biggest aerial attack of this magnitude. We've seen quite some time. It's the first big test of this collective integrated air and missile defense system that we seem — that we've been work – that DoD has been working on with its allies in the region. Can you talk about any lessons that were — we learned from this attack about Iran's capabilities, about our own capabilities? And were there any surprises? 

GEN. RYDER: Now, to your point, we will learn a lot from this. And we have learned a lot from this. As I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to be in a position to do an after action report from the podium today other than to say, it's pretty telling that Iran launched over 300 air threats, as I highlighted. And 99 percent of those were knocked down. So it is demonstrative of that close coordination and synchronization between the United States and coalition partners when it comes to addressing air defense threats in the region. 

So again, we'll obviously continue to look at this and study this. Importantly, we'll continue to work closely with Israel when it comes to the defense of Israel and threats from countries like Iran going forward. But I'm sure we'll have much more to learn. 

Q: As you said, General, missiles from Iraq were fired at Israel. Can you tell us from where in Iraq and which group was responsible? 

GEN. RYDER: I can't. I don't have any information to provide in terms of point of origin, other than one of those missiles was a ballistic missile that was taken down in the vicinity of Erbil that was enroute toward Israel. And then that's all the information I have to provide. 


State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller on April 15

“This weekend, Iran launched an unprecedented air attack on Israel.  Ultimately, the defensive effort to intercept Iran’s drones and missiles was effective, successfully preventing what could have been a significant loss of life.  This was a shared success, and the United States is proud to have played a critical role in it.
Over the past two days following the attack, the President and the Secretary have consulted extensively with partners in the region and around the world.  Secretary Blinken spoke yesterday with the foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and he continues to make calls with foreign counterparts today.

“We will continue to emphasize the importance that the international community act as a united front in condemning such reckless escalatory acts.  Such behavior threatens to destabilize the region and endangers all its people, and Iran’s attack violated the sovereignty of several states in the region.

“I also want to be absolutely clear:  The United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.  Our contributions to Israel’s defense against Iran are a clear manifestation of that commitment.  So too are our efforts to advance a ceasefire of at least six weeks in Gaza, which would secure the release of all remaining hostages and create a pathway to a more enduring peace.  We remain committed to advancing that work and providing lasting peace and security for Israel, for the Palestinian people, and for the broader region, and we will continue to engage regional and international partners urgently on these areas in the coming days.”

Background press call by senior administration officials on April 14

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, last night, as you know, Iran conducted an unprecedented attack on the state of Israel with over 300 munitions, including, remarkably, over 100 ballistic missiles, as well as land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. 

President Biden, probably about 10 days ago now, had instructed all of us — the United States to defend Israel to the maximum extent possible and defeat the attack, ensuring all authorities were in place, all assets were in place.  And now that the attack has concluded, that’s exactly what we did as a country.  

With the support of a number of partners, including the UK and France, the United States enabled Israel to spectacularly defeat this unprecedented attack. 

Despite launching over 300 munitions from Iran and other points in the region, Israel and a coalition of partners were able to defeat 99 percent of these munitions.  There’s virtually no infrastructure damage to Israel at all. 

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

Iran’s intent clearly was to cause significant damage and deaths in Israel.  We believe this requires an unequivocal condemnation from the international community.  The President this morning convened the G7, and they have forcefully condemned the attack.  I think that statement is now out. 

And all the leaders on that call were totally united in the condemnation of Iran and the need to hold Iran to account for this unprecedented and defeated assault, and also the support for the defense of Israel was very much unanimously stated by all the leaders on that call, which I was on here earlier this morning. 

We’ve been mindful in the preparations that led to last night that if successful, this attack could have caused an uncontrollable escalation of broad regional conflict — something we have worked day and night to avoid since October 7th, over the past six months. 

I think the events of the last 10 days have demonstrated that while we may have some disagreements, the United States of America stands with Israel, and there’s no question that we will come to their defense when they are attacked.  Last night demonstrated that fact.  And when the President — what the President calls an ironclad commitment for the United States is just that.  And I think we showed that last night in real time in a truly unprecedented manner. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: …These attacks were launched from locations in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen against Israeli territory.  And it was the first-ever direct attack on Israel from Iran — from Iranian soil… 

Iran’s attack is completely unacceptable and reckless and risks dragging the region into broader conflict.  These attacks also violated the airspace of neighboring Arab countries. 

So, let me be clear: Iran intended to cause significant damage in Israel, and they failed in their mission to do so, which is a testament to Israel’s military superiority and our collective defense. 

It’s undoubtedly a team effort, and with the support of our partners, we — together with the Israelis — were able to defeat this egregious attack.  And that was also made possible by decades’ worth of cooperation and investment in defense technologies. 

Our goal remains to de-escalate immediately and halt any further attacks.  We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defense of Israel.  And the President and the Secretary have been very clear that our support for Israel’s defense is ironclad and our forces remain postured to provide further support for Israel’s defense and to protect U.S. troops in the region.  

I’ll now turn it over to the joint staff for further operational updates. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: … At the direction of the President and the Secretary of Defense, U.S. forces assigned to U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command actively engaged a number of the threats. 

The USS Arleigh Burke and USS Carney, operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, engaged and destroyed between four and six Iranian ballistic missiles during the attack.  U.S. alert aircraft in the region shot down more than 70 Iranian one-way UAVs headed toward Israel. 

A U.S. Army Patriot missile battery shot down one ballistic missile in the vicinity of Erbil, Iraq, assessed to be en route to Israel.  It is assessed that that missile was not targeting U.S. or coalition forces. 

There were no U.S. casualties or damage, and our forces remain postured to provide additional defensive support to protect U.S. forces in the region. 

Q    Can you gentlemen confirm that Iran gave a 72-hour heads-up to other countries in the region about its attack?  And did it do the same to the United States through the conversations that you referenced with regard to Switzerland? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On Iran, no, that is absolutely not true.  We — they did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of, you know, “These will be the targets, so evacuate them.”  They were clearly intending to destroy and to cause casualties.  That was their intent.

And the fact that they didn’t, I think they might want to now say that, “Well, we didn’t mean to.”  But you launch 100 mis- — 100 ballistic missiles, you know, targeting certain locations, that was clearly their — their intent.  They just didn’t succeed.  And so, no, there was no such forewarning or anything like that. 

They were very clear that so- — you know, they would be responding and that was, you know, clearly going to happen.  The level, scope of it was something that was discussed throughout the week.  Their Foreign Minister would say something completely different than others, which is not an uncommon practice with them. 

But no, there was no kind of, like, warning as a way to kind of fire missiles but somehow not hurt anybody.  That was not — that was not their intent. 

Q    Does the U.S. not want Israel to respond to Iran at this point?  Should — should Israel just not do anything and take the defensive success as the win? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m just not going to say that so definitively.  I think it’s a — it’s a calculation the Israelis have to make.  This was an unprecedented attack from Iran against Israel. 

At the same time, we think in the overall exchange here — as I said in my opening, I think that the Israelis came out clearly very much on top and demonstrated their ability to defend their country in coordination with us and others — speaks for itself.  And I think a big question is not only — not only whether but what Israel might choose to do. 

And so, this is a decision — decision for them.  But I’m not going to answer it that specifically.  And I think the conversation between the President and the Prime Minister was really kind of thinking through strategically where we are after having just come through this very intense period of hours last night.  So, I’m not going to say that so definitively, no.

Some of the information in this article was originally published on April 15, 2024.