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US Works to Prevent Mideast Escalation 04/15 06:21

   The United States on Sunday highlighted its role in helping Israel thwart 
Iran's aerial attack as President Joe Biden convened leaders of the Group of 
Seven countries in an effort to prevent a wider regional escalation and 
coordinate a global rebuke of Tehran.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States on Sunday highlighted its role in 
helping Israel thwart Iran's aerial attack as President Joe Biden convened 
leaders of the Group of Seven countries in an effort to prevent a wider 
regional escalation and coordinate a global rebuke of Tehran.

   The U.S. assisted Israel in shooting down dozens of drones and missiles 
fired by Iran on Saturday in what was the first time it had launched a direct 
military assault on Israel. Israeli authorities said 99% of the inbound weapons 
were shot down without causing any significant damage.

   U.S. officials said that despite the high interception rate, Iran's intent 
was to "destroy and cause casualties" and that if successful, the strikes would 
have caused an "uncontrollable" escalation across the Mideast. U.S. officials 
said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an effort to 
contain tensions, that Washington would not participate in any offensive action 
against Iran, and the president made "very clear" to Netanyahu "that we do have 
to think carefully and strategically" about risks of escalation.

   The push to encourage Israel to show restraint mirrored ongoing American 
efforts to curtail Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, which is now in its 
seventh month, and to do more to protect civilian lives in the territory.

   While the U.S. and its allies were preparing for days for such an attack, 
the launches were at the "high end" of what was anticipated, according to the 
officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on 
condition of anonymity.

   At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles from Iran were in the air 
simultaneously with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said. 
Biden and senior officials monitored the firings and interception attempts in 
real time in the White House Situation Room. The officials said there was 
"relief" in the room once they saw that the missile defense efforts had 
succeeded.

   The Pentagon said U.S. Central Command and European Command forces destroyed 
more than 80 attack drones and at least six ballistic missiles intended to 
strike Israel from Iran and Yemen.

   "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," Biden said in a statement late Saturday. "Thanks to these 
deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel 
take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles."

   Administration officials said the call demonstrated that despite differences 
over the war in Gaza, the U.S. commitment to Israel's defense was "ironclad" 
and that the U.S. would mount a similar effort again if needed.

   The officials rejected the notion that Iran intentionally gave Israel and 
the U.S. time to prepare for an attack, but said they took advantage of the 
time Iran needed before it was ready to launch the assault to prepare their 
response. The officials said Iran passed word to the U.S. while the attack was 
unfolding late Saturday that what was seen was the totality of their response. 
The message was sent through the Swiss government since the two countries don't 
have direct diplomatic ties.

   Biden, in a Saturday evening call with Netanyahu, urged that Israel claim 
victory for its defense prowess as the president aimed to persuade America's 
closest Middle East ally not to undertake a larger retaliatory strike against 
Iran, the officials said.

   "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," Biden said in 
his statement after the call.

   Biden had a call Sunday with Jordan's King Abdullah II in which the king 
said any "escalatory measures" by Israel would lead to a broader conflict in 
the region, according to the Royal Court. The White House said the situation in 
Gaza was discussed, and the leaders reaffirmed their cooperation "to find a 
path to end the crisis as soon as possible."

   The president also spoke with some of the U.S. forces involved in shooting 
down the Iranian drones.

   Later Sunday, Biden spoke with the leaders of the House and Senate, 
emphasizing the urgent need for the House to pass additional wartime funding 
for Israel and Ukraine.

   Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Sunday with foreign ministers from 
Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to underscore the "importance of 
avoiding escalation and coordinating on a diplomatic response," a department 
spokesman said.

   After the G7 videoconference Sunday, the leaders issued a joint statement 
"unequivocally condemning in the strongest terms" the direct attack by Iran 
while expressing "our full solidarity and support to Israel" and reaffirming 
"our commitment towards its security."

   The group of advanced democracies -- the U.S., Italy, Japan, Germany, 
France, Britain and Canada -- also said that Iran, "with its actions, has 
further stepped toward the destabilization of the region and risks provoking an 
uncontrollable regional escalation." They said their nations "stand ready to 
take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives."

   A senior U.S. administration official said some of the countries discussed 
listing Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and 
unlocking further sanctions against Tehran, though no final decisions were made.

   The Israel-Hamas war was referenced in the G7 statement, with the leaders 
saying they will bolster "our cooperation to end the crisis in Gaza, including 
by continuing to work towards an immediate and sustainable ceasefire and the 
release of hostages by Hamas, and deliver increased humanitarian assistance to 
Palestinians in need."

   The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday to 
discuss the attack. "Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate," U.N. 
Secretary-General Antnio Guterres said. "Now is the time for maximum 
restraint."

   Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the attack "an unprecedented 
escalation," while Iranian Ambassador Saeid Iravani said, "Iran's operation was 
entirely in the exercise of Iran's inherent right to self-defense."

   After the meeting ended without any council action, U.S. deputy ambassador 
Robert Wood said, "There has to be a Security Council response to what happened 
last night."

   The U.S. and Israel had been bracing for an attack for days after Iran said 
it would retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike this month on an Iranian 
consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including two senior Iranian 
generals in the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force.

   Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence 
Committee, criticized the White House for "leaking it to the press" that Biden 
told Netanyahu to take the win and not retaliate.

   Rubio told CNN's "State of the Union" that it was "part of the White House's 
efforts to appease" people calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

 
 
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