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U.S. shoots down Iranian drones; Biden pledges support for Israel

WHITE HOUSE PHOTO VIA AP
                                President Joe Biden, along with members of his national security team, receive an update on an ongoing airborne attack on Israel from Iran, as they meet in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington Saturday. From l-r., facing Biden are, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
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WHITE HOUSE PHOTO VIA AP

President Joe Biden, along with members of his national security team, receive an update on an ongoing airborne attack on Israel from Iran, as they meet in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington Saturday. From l-r., facing Biden are, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

WASHINGTON >> President Joe Biden and his national security team monitored Iran’s aerial attack against Israel on Saturday as U.S. forces joined efforts to down explosive-laden drones launched by Tehran.

With tensions at their highest since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago, Biden pledged that American support for Israel’s defense against attacks by Iran and its proxies is “ironclad.”

U.S. forces shot down some Iran-launched attack drones flying toward Israel, according to a U.S. defense official and two other U.S. officials who spoke Saturday on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. The U.S. and Israel had been bracing for an attack for days after Iran vowed to 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.

“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.”

Biden had cut short a weekend stay at his Delaware beach house to meet with his national security team at the White House on Saturday afternoon, returning to Washington minutes before Israeli officials confirmed that they had detected drones being launched toward their territory from Iran.

He convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room to discuss the unfolding situation, the White House said, before speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Saturday.

The attack marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, risking a wider regional conflict.

Biden said that he would convene a meeting of the Group of Seven advanced democracies on Sunday “to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.”

The Pentagon reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats … and made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a Saturday statement that “Iran has begun an airborne attack against Israel.” She added: “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran.”

Biden on Friday said the United States was “devoted” to defending Israel and that “Iran will not succeed.” Asked by reporters what his message was for Iran, the president’s only reply was: “Don’t.”

He ignored a question about what would trigger a direct U.S. military response, and when asked how imminent an Iranian attack on Israel was, Biden said he did not want to get into secure information, “but my expectation is sooner than later.”

The U.S., along with its allies, have sent direct messages to Tehran to warn against further escalating the conflict.

During the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group along the Israel-Lebanon border. U.S. officials have recorded more than 150 attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria on U.S. forces at bases in those countries since war started on Oct. 7.

One attack in late January killed three U.S. service members in Jordan. In retaliation, the U.S. launched a massive air assault, hitting more than 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria.

Meantime, on Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.

Watson, the NSC spokesperson, said the U.S. strongly condemned the seizure and urged Iran to release the ship and crew immediately.

“We will work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its actions,” she said.

Also Saturday, the Israeli-occupied West Bank also saw some of the worst violence since Hamas’ attack on Israel.

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Price reported from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Mike Balsamo in New York contributed to this report.

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