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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

people rest on the beach in tel aviv
Tel Aviv on Sunday

By Dedi Hayun Rami Amichay

The first direct attack on Israel by arch foe Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.

While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Iranian-backed Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.

Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.

But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought the Palestinian Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

“I think it was quite scary when in the middle of the night we started hearing booming and we didn’t know what it was, I mean we knew what it was, we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.

“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet and we hope it would continue that way.”

Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected

Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 which killed 13 people including two Iranian generals. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.

Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.

Iran warned Israel and the United States on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its overnight mass drone and missile attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.

The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the United States into the conflict has put the region on edge.

Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation but with the stakes so high they are nervous, despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.

“I really hope there won’t be a big war, none of us in Israel wants a big war so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.

“I imagine Israel will respond because I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”

Prior to the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and the closure of some beach and travel sites.

“We didn’t want the war with Hamas, they attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.

“We don’t want a war with Iran, they, somehow they can’t accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland, it’s written in the Bible.”

The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according the Gaza health ministry figures.

The war – by far the bloodiest and most destructive of many such assaults over the years – broke out after Hamas attacked Israel in a cross-border raid on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures.

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