Watch: RAF shot down ‘a number’ of Iranian attack drones, Sunak confirms

Royal Air Force pilots shot down “a number” of Iran’s drones during the overnight attack on Israel, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed.

Mr Sunak said that “the fallout for regional stability would be hard to overstate” had Iran’s attack on Israel been successful.

The Prime Minister said he had chaired a Cobra meeting with Cabinet ministers on Friday to “agree a plan of action” over Iran’s attack on Israel, and confirmed that additional RAF pilots were sent to the region.

“This is a dangerous and unnecessary escalation which I have condemned in the strongest terms,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

“Thanks to an international coordinated effort, which the UK participated in, almost all of these missiles were intercepted, saving lives not just in Israel but in neighbouring countries like Jordan as well.”

“I can confirm that our plans did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones,” he added.

Iran launched its first ever direct attack on Israel on Saturday evening, in retaliation to a deadly strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1. The Israeli military said “very little damage” was caused by the strikes, and that over 99 per cent of the 300 drones and missiles were shot down by Israel and its allies.

No fatalities have been reported, although a 10-year-old girl was wounded by shrapnel. Injuries were also reported at Nevatim air base in the south of the country, which remained operational after sustaining minor damage.

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, said “very little” harm had been caused. An unnamed Israeli official told local media that Tehran’s attack had been a “strategic failure”, adding: “Now they can get ready and not sleep in peace.”

Once the attack had subsided, Joe Biden reportedly signalled to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, that there were limits to US support and he would not join a retaliatory attack on Iran.

The US President fears being dragged into a wider Middle East conflict, according to NBC News, while officials are nervous that Israel could respond aggressively to the attack without considering the wider consequences.

On Saturday night, British fighter jets took off from Cyprus in order to intercept the drones and missiles launched from Iran towards Israel.

RAF jets helped defend Israel from the barrage and are reported to have shot down drones near the Syria-Iraq border. Most of the bombardment was launched from inside Iran itself, but some came from its proxy groups based in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

When asked about the missile strikes, the Ministry of Defence did not comment.

Multiple RAF transport aircraft were in the air over the eastern Mediterranean shortly after the attack was first reported.

RAF A400 took off from Brize Norton at 4.53 UK time and headed for Syria before GPS dropped.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Iran’s “reckless” action in the “strongest terms”. The strikes risked “destabilising” the Middle East and that the UK would work with its allies to “prevent further escalation”, he added.

In a speech on Saturday evening, Mr Biden said the US and Israel had shot down “nearly all” of the Iranian barrage. American forces, including warships stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, intercepted 70 drones and at least three ballistic missiles, according to CNN.

Mr Biden told Mr Netanyahu 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.”

Mr Netanyahu appeared to nod to Israel’s international support in a brief statement after the barrage, saying: “We intercepted, we stopped. Together we will win.”

Iran’s foreign ministry said it targeted a number of Israeli military bases, having been driven to “forcefully defend its sovereignty” by an air strike on its consulate in Damascus.

“The... resort to defensive measures in exercise of its right of self-defence demonstrates Iran’s responsible approach toward regional and international peace and security,” it added.

According to Israeli officials, Iran launched multiple waves of attacks on Saturday, sending a total of 185 drones, 110 ballistic missiles and 36 cruise missiles in an effort to overwhelm Israel’s air defences.

It sets up a direct military confrontation between the regional foes in a major escalation that raised the risks of a wider war.

The IDF said: “The air defence fighters successfully intercepted using the ‘Arrow’ system and, together with the strategic partner countries, most of the launches before they crossed the territory of the country.

“Individual injuries were detected, among them at a military base in the south of the country with minor damage to the infrastructure.”

Washington feared an attack could be imminent and rushed warships into position on Friday, including moving the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and three other warships closer to Israel in the northern Red Sea.

In a statement released on Saturday night, Rishi Sunak said: “The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq.

“Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilise the situation and prevent further escalation. No one wants to see more bloodshed.”

When the UK launched a series of air strikes against the rebel Houthi group earlier this year, Britain used its Akrotiri base in Cyprus to launch four Typhoon combat planes.

Israel shut down its airspace on Saturday night, reopening it seven hours later after the waves of drone and missile attacks had subsided. The decision has left British travellers facing disruption.

Flight times are expected to be longer as airlines avoid Iranian airspace and air fares are also expected to increase.

Israel’s El Al Airlines was reported to have cancelled 15 flights scheduled over Saturday and Sunday, and Austrian Airlines was also reported to have cancelled all its flights to Iran until April 18.

United Airlines said it had cancelled its service to Tel Aviv.

“We have cancelled Saturday’s planned flight from Newark to Tel Aviv and its associated return flight due to restrictions on Israeli airspace,” a spokesman said.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and will make decisions on upcoming flights with a focus on the safety of our customers and crews.”

A Lufthansa spokesman, on behalf of the firm including its subsidiary Austrian Airlines, said: “We have temporarily stopped overflying Iranian airspace until April 18. Security is our number-one priority.”

Qantas had already paused its non-stop flights from Perth to London in a bid to avoid Iranian airspace due to fears of the impending attack on Israel.

The route has now been changed and has a stop in Singapore in place due to the situation.

A Qantas spokesman said: “We’re temporarily adjusting the flight paths for our flights between Perth and London due to the situation in parts of the Middle East. We’ll reach out to customers directly if there’s any change to their booking.”

The UK along with the US were among the countries issuing a travel warning to those looking to travel to the region, along with France, Canada and Australia.
Dutch airline KLM also said it would no longer fly over Iran or Israel, according to Dutch press agency ANP on Saturday.

KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, said the move was a precaution, but it indicated it would continue flying to Tel Aviv.