Iran launches drones toward Israel, IDF says

Iran launched drones from its territory toward Israel late Saturday, the Israeli military said, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was “ready for any scenario.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in brief remarks Saturday evening it would take several hours for the drones to reach Israel. Israeli forces were responding according to plan, he said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday Israel was “closely monitoring a planned attack” by Iran and its allies, as the military declared its forces on full alert and restricted large gatherings and educational activities.

President Biden, who warned that Iran would attack Israel “sooner than later,” also cut short a beach weekend Saturday to return to the White House and meet with his team amid the growing threat.

“We are determined to defend our citizens against this terrorism, and we will know how to respond to it,” Gallant said in a statement. He spoke Saturday with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “to discuss urgent regional threats,” according to a Pentagon readout of the call.

“Secretary Austin made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies,” the readout said.

The IDF said Saturday evening that dozens of combat planes were airborne as part of the state of readiness. And its Homefront Command, which is responsible for civil defense, issued new guidance late Saturday that limited gatherings nationwide to a maximum of 1,000 people and banned all educational activities, including school trips.

Netanyahu was also convening his war cabinet tonight, according to local media reports.

Israel and the United States have braced for an Iranian attack since an Israeli strike earlier this month killed seven people, including two senior members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Damascus.

The United States is worried a counterattack might also target U.S. troops in the Middle East and began last week to dispatch more ships and warplanes to the region.

Earlier Saturday, Revolutionary Guard naval forces seized the MSC Aries, an Israeli-affiliated ship near the Strait of Hormuz and diverted the vessel to Iranian territorial waters. Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, shared footage showing a person rappelling from a helicopter to board a ship, which it said was Portuguese-flagged and “connected to” Israel.

The Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) confirmed that the MSC Aries vessel was “boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter” as the ship passed the Strait of Hormuz and has been diverted toward Iran.

The company chartered the vessel, which is owned by Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of shipping company Zodiac Maritime. The latter is owned in part by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

“Israeli-owned shipping is advised to reconsider transiting the Strait of Hormuz," British marine safety firm Ambrey said in a note.

On Saturday, Israel Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Iran of “conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law.”

But even as Israel faced threats from abroad, turmoil also erupted at home, with settlers on Saturday rampaging violently across parts of the occupied West Bank. The groups, angered over the death of an Israeli teen, who the IDF said was murdered by “terrorists,” stormed Palestinian villages, burned homes, and attacked motorists, killing one man in the village of al-Mughayyir.

The boy, identified as 14-year-old Binyamin Achimair, lived in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and went missing while shepherding on Friday. Gallant appealed to the settlers to halt their attacks, saying Saturday that actions of “revenge” would “make it difficult” for security forces to track down the suspects.

Also Saturday, a group of Washington Post reporters traveling in the West Bank came across the immediate aftermath of one of several attacks unfolding in the area.

A few miles north of the city of Ramallah, two heavily damaged cars were partly blocking traffic, both with shattered windows and heavy body damage. The driver of one vehicle, Rida Badran, 27, described a violent encounter that had happened minutes before.

He had been driving away from Ramallah when he came across a group of men, which he described as Israeli settlers, throwing rocks at cars.

When he encountered the group, Badran said he quickly reversed direction and headed back toward Ramallah, along with other vehicles. Almost immediately, their way was blocked by several cars parked across the road. Several men jumped from the cars and attacked Badran and the other cars with stones, sticks and axes, he said.

Badran threw his car into reverse in an attempt to escape and collided with another vehicle attempting to do the same. Both cars fled for more than a mile before pulling over.

“I have no words,” he said.

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Here’s what else to know

- Jordan is temporarily closing its airspace to all incoming, departing and transit aircraft beginning at 11 p.m. local time, state-run media said Saturday. The report did not specifically mention the possibility of an Iranian attack but came as the region braced for potential military action either by Tehran or its proxy forces.

- Jacob Toukhy, a staff member of the USAID mission in the West Bank and Gaza, was killed near his home in Jaffa, according to an internal memo seen by The Post. The U.S. Agency for International Development is working with the U.S. Embassy to ascertain details about the death, the agency said Friday.

- At least 33,686 people have been killed and 76,309 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants and says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and says 260 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

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Andrew Jeong, Alon Rom, Dan Lamothe, Bryan Pietsch, Lior Soroka and John Hudson contributed to this report.

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