RAF jets downed attack drones in Iranian assault on Israel, Sunak confirms

Additional RAF aircraft were deployed this weekend to bolster the UK’s presence in the region.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak records a statement inside 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak records a statement inside 10 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

RAF jets shot down “a number of” Iranian drones after Tehran launched its unprecedented attack on Israel, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Prime Minister condemned the strikes as “dangerous and unnecessary”, warning that the fallout in regional stability would have been “hard to overstate” if they had been successful.

The UK joined the US overnight into Sunday in deploying warplanes to help intercept missiles after Iran launched its first direct assault on Israeli soil.

Speaking to journalists in Downing Street on Sunday, Mr Sunak called for “calm heads to prevail” in the aftermath.

He said: “I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones. I want to pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our pilots flying into the face of danger to protect civilians.

“If this attack had been successful, the fallout for regional stability would be hard to overstate, and we stand by the security of Israel and the wider region, which is of course important for our security here at home.”

Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran (Tomer Neuberg/AP)
Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran (Tomer Neuberg/AP) (Tomer Neuberg/AP)

The PM is joining other G7 leaders for urgent talks this afternoon amid fears of further escalation in the event of a possible Israeli counter-strike.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said he had “formally condemned” the attack and made clear Tehran must “stop these reckless attacks” in a call with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, on Sunday.

Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and at least 120 ballistic missiles in an assault that set off air raid sirens across the country.

By Sunday morning, Tehran said the attack was over and Israel reopened its air space.

The assault was launched in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel on an Iranian consular building in Syria earlier this month, which killed two Iranian generals.

It is the first direct military attack launched by Tehran on Israel, despite long-standing enmity dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

The latest development brought years of shadow war between the two foes out into the open as the conflict in Gaza inflames decades-old tensions in the Middle East.

Britain and the US have offered staunch support for Israel, although Tehran has threatened a “heavier” response if Washington cooperates in any further military action.

Attack drones were intercepted by the RAF in Syria and Iraq, where it was already operating as part of the Operation Shader mission against the Islamic State group.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said later on Sunday that “multiple” one-way attack drones launched by Iran and its proxies had been intercepted by Britain.

Additional RAF aircraft were deployed this weekend to bolster the UK’s presence, he added.

Israeli military spokesman rear admiral Daniel Hagari said 99% of more than 300 drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles had been shot down outside the country’s borders, with aircraft intercepting more than 10 cruise missiles.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Rescuers said a seven-year-old girl was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a strike, although they said police were still investigating the circumstances of her injuries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French foreign minister Stephane Sejourne and German foreign minister Annlena Baerbock joined a growing chorus of western leaders urging against escalation.

The US President said he would convene a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced democracies on Sunday “to co-ordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack”.

The language indicates that the Biden administration does not want Iran’s assault to spiral into a broader military conflict after Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant suggested the incident was “not over yet.”

A top US official said the US had informed Israel it did not plan on striking Iran itself.

All eyes will be on the response from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, with countries in the region and elsewhere urging restraint to avoid intensifying the conflict.

Meanwhile, Labour called on the UK to impose “further sanctions” on drones following the G7 call on Sunday afternoon and made clear the party would back such a move.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy suggested the Opposition had been kept abreast on Privy Council terms of the Government’s action overnight but said it was important for the PM to give a statement to Parliament on Monday.

Speaking to journalists, the frontbencher said: “I hope as a result of the G7 call today that the Government come forward with further sanctions, and certainly Labour will support them if they choose to do that.

“I’m very concerned that the Shahed 136 drone has been used overnight. It’s a drone that has also been sold by Iran to Russia.

“It’s time that we stepped up sanctions on those drones, and I hope the Government will be coming forward with more plans for that tomorrow.”