Military air base at Isfahan said targeted in drone strike

Iranian air base reportedly attacked in ‘limited’ Israeli reprisal strike

Iran downplays apparent retaliation and Israel keeps mum in sign both sides are looking to climb back from brink of war following international pressure for restraint

Illustrative: Iranian soldiers take part in a military parade during a ceremony marking the country's annual army day in Tehran on April 17, 2024. (Atta Kenare / AFP)
Illustrative: Iranian soldiers take part in a military parade during a ceremony marking the country's annual army day in Tehran on April 17, 2024. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

Explosions were heard near the Iranian city of Isfahan early Friday as Israel reportedly launched a heavily anticipated reprisal strike for an Iranian attack on Israel days earlier, defying international pressure to stand down.

There was no official confirmation of a strike from Israeli authorities; state-run media in Iran reported only that air defenses were activated, downplaying claims of an attack on a military site in the city some 315 kilometers (196 miles) south of Tehran and describing the incident as business-as-usual.

But unnamed Israeli and American officials told US news outlets that Israel had carried out a strike. And the New York Times said three Iranian sources confirmed that a military air base in Isfahan had been struck. The scope of the damage was not clear.

The apparently limited nature of the strike, reportedly carried out with drones rather than missiles or airstrikes, and the lack of official acknowledgment will likely give the regime in Iran the strategic deniability needed to wriggle out of its bellicose threats to attack Israel a second time, providing an early indication that both Israel and Iran may be seeking to step back from the brink of war.

The attack had been widely expected, with Israel providing indications throughout the week that it would not let an unprecedented Iranian barrage of over 300 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones early Sunday pass without a response, leading to fears of spiraling tit-for-tat attacks giving way to all-out war.

However, there were also indications that the Israel Defense Forces had moderated its attack plans in response to international pressure for restraint.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir a hardliner who has pushed for wide military action against Iran, commented on X with a simple “lame.”

Iranian state TV said that shortly after midnight “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky.”

A tower of Iran’s Uranium Conversion Facility is seen just outside the city of Isfahan, south of the capital Tehran, August 8, 2005. (Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA/AP)

The broadcaster later said the situation in Isfahan was normal and no ground explosions had occurred. Iranian officials initially grounded flights and cleared its airspace, but lifted restrictions on flights later Friday morning.

Gen. Siavosh Mihandoost, a local army commander, told state TV the incident caused “no damage” around Isfahan.

An Iranian analyst told state TV that the mini drones shot down by air defenses in Isfahan were flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran.”

One source told Reuters the US was not involved but was notified by Israel before the attack.

According to CNN, quoting a senior US official, Israel told the US the attack was not targeting Iranian nuclear facilities. Both CNN and Fox News quoted officials describing the attack as “limited.”

An Israeli source was quoted telling the Washington Post that the attack was meant to serve as a warning that Israel’s military has the ability to reach Iran.

Israel’s Home Front Command said there were no special instructions for staying near bomb shelters, indicating no Iranian response was expected.

Isfahan is home to sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site, which has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks.

A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on April 19, 2024, following reports of explosions heard in the province in central Iran. (IRANIAN STATE TV (IRIB) / AFP)

State television described all sites in the area as “fully safe.”

Tasnim later published a video from one of its reporters, who said he was in the southeastern Zerdenjan area of Isfahan, near its “nuclear energy mountain.” The footage showed two different anti-aircraft gun positions, and details of the video corresponded with known features of the site of Iran’s Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan.

“At 4:45, we heard gunshots. There was nothing going on,” he said. “It was the air defense, these guys that you’re watching, and over there too.”

The facility at Isfahan operates three small Chinese-supplied research reactors, as well as handling fuel production and other activities for Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/ AP/ File)

The air base in Isfahan has been home to Iran’s fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcats — purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

Alongside the strike in Iran, Israel was also accused of carrying out an attack overnight on a Syrian military radar installation in the south of the country.

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