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An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel on April 14.Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel is vowing to strike back at Iran after the unprecedented launch of drones and missiles by Tehran in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Israel’s war cabinet and military planners continue to weigh options for whether, where and how to answer the attack that set fire to the country’s night sky. The United States has raised alarm about the possibility of war with Iran and urged the Israeli leadership to be satisfied with its success in shooting down the incoming projectiles – nearly 350 in total – alongside a coalition of American, British, French and Jordanian forces.

But Israel says Iran’s actions cannot go unanswered.

“The launch of so many cruise missiles and drones into Israeli territory will be met with a response,” Herzl Halevi, Israel’s military chief of staff, said on Monday, speaking from the Nevatim base that saw minor damage from Iranian missiles.

Iran said it acted to avenge the death of seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They were killed April 1 by a strike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Syria.

How Israel responds to the barrage stands to push the Middle East closer to a regional war or pull it back from a descent into open warfare with Iran, whose attack was largely foiled by air defence systems.

After a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet Monday, broadcaster Channel 12 said a decision had been made to respond “clearly and forcefully,” with the intent of setting a line in the sand that the country “will not allow an attack of that magnitude against it to pass without a reaction.”

The U.S. and other Western countries have employed intensive diplomacy to dissuade Israel from a counterattack that could provoke Iran to make good on its promise of returning fire in even greater measure.

“We want to see calmer heads prevail,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron said, “We will do everything to avoid a conflagration.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said she had told her Israeli counterpart to “please take the win, and make sure that we can work together to bring back peace in the region.”

Her language echoed a message delivered by President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, as the U.S. seeks to assure Israel that it has no need for further action to prove its resolve or buttress its deterrence.

“Israel today is in a far stronger strategic position than it was only a few days ago,” White House national security communications spokesperson John Kirby said. Before Sunday, he said, “it was presumed that 100 ballistic missiles might overwhelm even the best defensive systems. That was Iran’s intent, and – as you all saw for yourself – it didn’t work.”

Iran, he said, “failed utterly.”

But the U.S., after dispatching fighter jets to help shoot down the Iranian attack, has distanced itself from how Israel chooses to respond. “We’re going to leave it squarely with them,” Mr. Kirby said. “We are not involved in their decision-making process.”

The U.S. said it used naval destroyers and terrestrial defence systems to shoot down 80 Iranian drones and at least six ballistic missiles.

Israel’s military said only ballistic missiles made it into the country’s airspace in the attack, which launched 60 tonnes of explosives and kept people from sleep across Israel and Jordan amid the shattering sound of interceptions overhead. Every Iranian drone and cruise missile was shot down before reaching Israel’s borders.

Footage released by Israel’s military showed small craters at the Nevatim base after it was hit by several missiles. One landed near a runway, two in open spaces and a fourth near a building still under construction.

“All of these hits will be corrected in the next few days,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said in a briefing from the base.

Tehran, meanwhile, is conducting its own diplomatic offensive, seeking to make the case that it was within its right to launch such a wide-scale attack on Israel as a “legitimate defence” against the strike on its diplomatic building in Syria.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in a post on X that he had spoken with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and his counterparts in Britain, Germany, China, Russia and the European Union.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned that Israel risked misreading what it called “the restraint” it exercised in its massive attack.

Iran, Mr. Amir-Abdollahian said, “will act decisively” if Israel attacks.

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