Iran launched dozens of drones and ballistic missiles towards Israel on Saturday, triggering air attack sirens over Jerusalem in the early hours of Sunday morning. This is the country’s first-ever direct offensive against Israel. The retaliatory attack comes after days of mounting tensions in the region, following an alleged Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria and subsequent warnings from the United States and other nations about the possibility of a broader conflict.

Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, confirmed Iran’s launch of the offensive late on Saturday.

The missile launches from Iran prompted quick reaction from the US and Jordanian military, who assisted Israel in intercepting the initial barrage of incoming weapons. Despite this intervention, air raid sirens blared over Jerusalem around 2 am local time.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations defended the attack, stating that it was in response to what they termed as “aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus by the Zionist regime.” The Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Damascus on 1 April killed Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior figure in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, along with eight other officers. Israel was widely presumed to be behind the strike.

Tehran claimed that the matter is now concluded.

However, Iran also issued threats of further, more severe action in response to any future Israeli aggression, cautioning both the US and Jordan against assisting Israel. The US embassy in Jerusalem issued a security alert, instructing all US government employees to shelter in place until further notice.

Iran later announced this as the first wave of ballistic missiles which caused explosions across Israel, including in commercial capital Tel Aviv, the disputed city of Jerusalem, and Dimona, home to Israel’s nuclear plant.

According to Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari, the Iranian strikes caused minor damage to an Israeli military base, with only slight damage to infrastructure reported. Most of the missiles were intercepted outside Israel’s borders, but a limited number breached the country’s airspace, resulting in reports of injuries.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps seized an Israeli-affiliated container ship in the Strait of Hormuz, just 50 nautical miles off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The Italian-Swiss group MSC revealed that Iranian authorities boarded the ship by rappelling from a helicopter.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson urged Iran to release the ship and its crew immediately.

US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend trip to Delaware and returned to Washington upon signals of an imminent Iranian attack. The Iranian weapons were launched shortly after the White House announced Biden’s return. The president’s return to the White House on Saturday came after his statement on Friday, where he anticipated an Iranian attack on Israel “sooner rather than later” and issued a last-minute warning to Tehran, which, evidently, went unheeded.

President Biden convened a high-level meeting in the Situation Room, bringing together key officials to assess the situation. Attendees included top officials such as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Gen Charles Brown, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Earlier in the day, Defence Secretary Austin had engaged in urgent discussions with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, highlighting the pressing regional threats in the Middle East. The Pentagon confirmed support of the United States for Israel’s defence during this conversation.

US House Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced adjustments to the House of Representatives’ schedule to consider legislation aimed at supporting Israel and holding Iran accountable for its actions. However, the specifics of this legislation remained unclear, with questions arising about whether it referred to a stand-alone bill aiding Israel or the US$95 billion supplemental spending bill, which includes provisions for various global issues including support for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and humanitarian assistance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the ongoing attacks, claiming Israel’s preparedness for a direct assault by Iran. He emphasised the deployment of defensive systems and expressed gratitude for the support received from allies including the US, Britain, France, and other nations.

In Gaza, Israel killed at least 19 Palestinians and wounded over 200 wounded in six major attacks, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory. Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers, protected by the Israeli army, continue their assaults on Palestinians and their homes, causing injuries to at least 19 Palestinians.

Israel has killed at least 33,686 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded 76,309 in Gaza since 7 October.