White House praises coordinated response to Israel’s successful defense against Iran

A senior White House official urged Israel to think ‘carefully and strategically’ before responding to Iran’s attack, but stopped short of telling Israel not to strike back

Adam Schultz/The White House via Getty Images

In this handout photo provided by the White House, President Joe Biden meets with members of the National Security team regarding the unfolding missile attacks on Israel from Iran, on April 13, 2024 in the White House Situation Room in Washington, D.C.

Hours after the United States helped defend Israel against an unprecedented Iranian missile attack on Saturday night, top Biden administration officials lauded Israel’s proven “military superiority” but urged Israel’s leaders to think “carefully and strategically” before taking any further military action against Iran. 

In a Saturday night phone call from the White House Situation Room, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon after the onslaught that Israel “really came out far ahead in this exchange,” a top White House official said Sunday — not just on Saturday, but also when Israel killed several top commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Damascus, Syria, near an Iranian diplomatic complex earlier this month.  

Biden “reaffirm[ed] America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel,” the president said in a Saturday statement after talking to Netanyahu. “I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel.” 

“Take the win,” Biden told Netanyahu, according to a report in Axios

The senior White House official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to share sensitive details of the military operation, stopped short of directly telling Israel not to strike back at Iran. 

“I’m just not gonna say that so definitively. I think it’s a calculation the Israelis have to make,” said the official, noting that the U.S. would not take part in any retaliatory attack on Iran. “I think the Israelis came out clearly very much on top and demonstrated their ability to defend their country, in coordination with us and others, [which] speaks for itself. And I think a big question is not only whether but what Israel might choose to do.”  

A U.S. military official shared in stark terms the details of Iran’s assault and stated plainly that the attack — though successfully halted by the combined missile-defense capabilities of Israel and the U.S. — was designed to cause significant casualties. The Islamic Republic fired over 300 munitions at Israel, including more than 100 ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles and one-way attack drones. The missiles were launched not just from Iran but also from Iraq, Syria and Yemen. It was the first time Iran ever directly attacked Israel from Iranian soil. 

Officials from the Biden administration spoke with palpable relief and even awe as they discussed Saturday’s events and the close cooperation between — and stunning success of — the U.S., Israel and other allies.

“I think the kind of spectacular success, and I don’t use that word lightly, really became known in the light of day, when you can really see that there was almost no damage at all, it took down almost all of these things. It’s extraordinary,” said the senior White House official. The U.S. and Israel estimated that 99% of the munitions were shot down. The U.S. received support from the United Kingdom and France in defeating the attack, and Jordan also shot down some of the drones directed at Israel. 

“Iran’s intent clearly was to cause significant damage and deaths in Israel. We believe this requires an unequivocal condemnation from the international community,” said the administration official. The U.S. pledged to take action against Iran at the United Nations this week. On a Sunday morning call, the leaders of the so-called G7 nations — the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. — discussed whether some of those countries would now designate the IRGC a terrorist group, and possibly coordinate sanctions. The U.S. official declined to share further details. 

The White House made clear on Sunday its preference that the conflict not escalate, but officials from across the administration avoided explicitly calling on Israel to stand down against Iran. 

“We’ll keep helping Israel defend itself even if that means, as we proved last night, that U.S. forces have to get involved in that self-defense,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told Israel’s Channel 13 News. “We don’t see a war with Iran as inevitable.”

Iran’s threat of retaliation against Israel after its attack on the IRGC in Syria touched off more than a week of close coordination and tense conversations between American and Israeli leaders. Over the past 10 days, U.S. military leadership made adjustments to its force posture in the region to be better equipped for an Iranian attack. 

However, despite the preparations of the past few days, the U.S. had no “forewarning” of the attack, the administration official said — contrary to earlier reporting on Sunday that Iran had shared its plans three days in advance via diplomatic back channels. “That is absolutely not true. They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of, you know, these will be the targets, so evacuate them. They were clearly intending to destroy and to cause casualties,” said the official. 

The attack came as the U.S. attempts to negotiate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, and as Israel remains in Gaza seeking to defeat Hamas. The U.S. official reiterated that while Washington and Jerusalem may have policy disputes over Israel’s actions in Gaza, Saturday’s actions illustrated the U.S.’ core commitment to Israel.

“I think the events of the last 10 days have demonstrated that while we may have some disagreements, the United States of America stands with Israel. And there’s no question that we will come to their defense when they were attacked,” said the official. “Last night demonstrated that fact: What the president calls an ironclad commitment for the United States is just that. And I think we showed that last night in real time in a truly unprecedented manner.” 

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