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Iran Fires at Israeli Drones  04/19 06:37

   An apparent Israeli drone attack on Iran saw troops fire air defenses at a 
major air base and a nuclear site early Friday morning near the central city of 
Isfahan, an assault coming in retaliation for Tehran's unprecedented 
drone-and-missile assault on the country.

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- An apparent Israeli drone attack on Iran 
saw troops fire air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site early 
Friday morning near the central city of Isfahan, an assault coming in 
retaliation for Tehran's unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country.

   No Iranian official directly acknowledged the possibility that Israel 
attacked, and the Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment. 
However, tensions have been high since the Saturday assault on Israel amid its 
war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and its own strikes targeting Iran in Syria.

   Speaking at the G7 meeting in Capri, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani 
said the U.S. received "last-minute" information from Israel about the attack 
on Isfahan.

   United States officials declined to comment as of early Friday, but American 
broadcast networks quoting unnamed U.S. officials said Israel carried out the 
attack. The New York Times quoted anonymous Israeli officials claiming the 
assault, which came on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 85th 
birthday. Israeli politicians also made comments hinting that the country had 
launched an attack.

   Air defense batteries fired in several provinces over reports of drones 
being in the air, state television reported. Iranian army commander Gen. 
Abdolrahim Mousavi said crews targeted several flying objects.

   "The explosion this morning in the sky of Isfahan was related to the 
shooting of air defense systems at a suspicious object that did not cause any 
damage," Mousavi said. Others suggested the drones may be so-called quadcopters 
-- four rotor, small drones that are commercially available.

   Authorities said air defenses fired at a major air base in Isfahan, which 
long has been home to Iran's fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcats -- purchased 
before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

   Tasnim also published a video from one of its reporters, who said he was in 
the southeastern Zerdenjan area of Isfahan, near its "nuclear energy mountain." 
The footage showed two different anti-aircraft gun positions, and details of 
the video corresponded with known features of the site of Iran's Uranium 
Conversion Facility at Isfahan.

   "At 4:45, we heard gunshots. There was nothing going on," he said. "It was 
the air defense, these guys that you're watching, and over there too."

   The facility at Isfahan operates three small Chinese-supplied research 
reactors, as well as handling fuel production and other activities for Iran's 
civilian nuclear program.

   Isfahan also is home to sites associated with Iran's nuclear program, 
including its underground Natanz enrichment site, which has been repeatedly 
targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks.

   State television described all atomic sites in the area as "fully safe." The 
United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also 
said "there is no damage to Iran's nuclear sites" after the incident.

   The IAEA "continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and 
reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military 
conflicts," the agency said.

   Iran's nuclear program has rapidly advanced to producing enriched uranium at 
nearly weapons-grade levels since the collapse of its atomic deal with world 
powers after then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord in 

   While Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, Western nations and 
the IAEA say Tehran operated a secret military weapons program until 2003. The 
IAEA has warned that Iran now holds enough enriched uranium to build several 
nuclear weapons if it chose to do so --- though the U.S. intelligence community 
maintains Tehran is not actively seeking the bomb.

   Dubai-based carriers Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting around western 
Iran about 4:30 a.m. local time. They offered no explanation, though local 
warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

   Iran then grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its 
western and central regions. Iran later restored normal flight service, 
authorities said.

   Around the time of the incident in Iran, Syria's state-run SANA news agency 
quoted a military statement saying Israel carried out a missile strike 
targeting an air defense unit in its south and causing material damage. The 
Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, 
said the strike hit a military radar for government forces. It was not clear if 
there were casualties, the Observatory said.

   That area of Syria is directly west of Isfahan, some 1,500 kilometers (930 
miles) away, and east of Israel.

   Meanwhile in Iraq, where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, 
residents of Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of 
the noise was not immediately clear.

   The incident Friday in Iran also sparked concerns about the conflict again 
escalating across the seas of the Middle East, which have been seeing attacks 
by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen on shipping over the war in Gaza.

   The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center 
warned ships in the region that they could see increased drone activity in the 

   "There are currently no indications commercial vessels are the intended 
target," it wrote.

   The Houthis have launched at least 53 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel 
and sank another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

   Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted 
by a U.S.-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and as shipping through the Red Sea 
and Gulf of Aden has declined over the threat.

   The apparent attack also briefly spooked energy markets, sending benchmark 
Brent crude above $90 before it fell again in trading Friday.

   However, Iranian state-run media sought to downplay the incident after the 
fact, airing footage of an otherwise-peaceful Isfahan morning. That could be 
intentional, particularly after Iranian officials for days have been 
threatening to retaliate for any Israeli retaliatory attack on the nation.

   "As long as Iran continues to deny the attack and deflect attention from it 
and no further hits are seen, there is space for both sides to climb down the 
escalation ladder for now," said Sanam Vakil, the director of the Middle East 
and North Africa program at Chatham House.

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