Senior US official: 'The Israelis came out very much on top'

‘Not seeking war’: White House stresses US won’t join Israeli counterstrike on Iran

NYT reports Biden dissuaded PM from launching response when they spoke after Iranian attack; senior American official: Israel ‘made clear’ it’s not seeking ‘significant escalation’

US President Joe Biden (right) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023. (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden (right) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would not participate in any Israeli counteroffensive against Iran, a senior administration official said on Sunday.

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in response to a suspected Israel attack on Iran’s Syria consulate on April 1 that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including two generals.

In a statement issued late on Saturday following the attacks, Biden said he told Netanyahu that Israel had “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.”

Biden did not say in the statement whether he and Netanyahu discussed a possible Israeli response or potential US involvement, though the Axios news site reported immediately after the call that the US president said he would oppose any counterattack by Israel and that the premier should “take the win.”

“We intercepted. We blocked. Together we will win,” Netanyahu said Sunday morning in a brief statement, without mentioning a potential Israeli response.

A report by The New York Times said Biden dissuaded Netanyahu from greenlighting an immediate retaliatory strike against Iran. According to the report, several members of Israel’s war cabinet had been in favor of launching a response, but the lack of serious damage caused by Iran, in addition to Netanyahu’s conversation with Biden, led to it being called off.

Interceptor missiles are fired at Iranian drones and missiles launched at Israel, as seen over Tel Aviv, on April 14, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In a briefing Sunday with reporters, a senior administration official confirmed that Biden had told Netanyahu that Israel had won this latest round against Iran.

“Israel really came out far ahead in this exchange. It took out the IRGC leadership in the Levant, Iran tried to respond, and Israel clearly demonstrated its military superiority, defeating this attack, particularly in coordination with its partners,” the official said.

The official said Biden told Netanyahu that Israel must “think carefully and strategically about the risk of escalation,” as it weighs how to respond to Iran’s drone and missile attack.”

The administration official was careful not to say that the US opposes an Israeli military response to Iran’s attack. However, he stressed in a briefing with reporters that the US would not join Israel in such a strike.

“Israel has made clear to us that they’re not looking for a significant escalation with Iran. They’re looking to protect themselves and defend themselves,” the senior administration official said.

How Israel responds to the Iranian strike is “a calculation the Israelis have to make. This was an unprecedented attack from Iran against Israel. At the same time, we think in the overall exchange here, the Israelis came out very much on top,” he said.

US President Joe Biden meets with his top Cabinet and National Security officials to discuss Iran’s attacks on Israel, at the White House, April 13, 2024. (White House)

“We are committed to defending Israel, [but] we would not be a part of any response,” the official clarified.

The official noted that Hamas hoped Iran’s attack would advance the goal the terror group has had since its October 7 onslaught of igniting a regional war, but “we’re going to ensure that they do not succeed.”

“We have disagreements with Israel on a number of things, including in particular on Gaza. Those are things we’re continuing to work through, but when it comes to the defense of Israel against Iran the commitment truly is ironclad,” the official added.

The official also said Iran sent a message to the US via Switzerland informing Washington that its attack on Israel had ended, while denying reports that Tehran gave a 72-hour heads-up to Washington, insisting the Islamic Republic sought to cause “significant damage in Israel” but failed.

“They might want to now say that what we didn’t mean to [cause casualties], but if you launch 100 ballistic missiles targeting certain locations — that was clearly their intent, they just didn’t succeed,” the official said.

“If successful, this attack could have caused an uncontrollable escalation of broader regional conflict — something we have worked day and night to avoid since October 7.”

An Iranian drone is seen shortly before being shot down by an Israeli Air Force fighter jet, April 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Despite the lack of notification from Iran, US intelligence determined an attack was imminent and Washington managed to get assets in place and coordinate with partners to help Israel thwart the attack.

“Our goal remains to de-escalate immediately and halt any further attack… [But] if Iran takes action against us, we’re fully prepared to defend our people, our interests and to hold Iran accountable,” the official declared.

Earlier Sunday, John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson, told ABC’s “This Week” program that the United States will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war with Iran.

Asked if the United States would support retaliation from Israel in Iran, Kirby said that “our commitment is ironclad” to defending Israel and to “helping Israel defend itself.”

“And as the president has said many times, we don’t seek a wider war in the region. We don’t seek a war with Iran. And I think I will leave it at that,” Kirby added.

“We don’t seek escalated tensions in the region. We don’t seek a wider conflict,” Kirby said.

White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby speaks during the daily press briefing in the White House in Washington, DC, April 4, 2024. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

The Biden administration’s effort to encourage Israel to show restraint mirrored its ongoing push to curtail the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which is now in its seventh month, and to do more to protect civilian lives in the territory.

US Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who has been one of Israel’s most vocal Democratic defenders throughout the fighting in Gaza, criticized the administration’s stance on an Israeli military response to Iran.

“It’s astonishing that we are not standing firmly with Israel and there should never be any kind of conditions [on military aid],” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“We should follow and have Israel’s back in this situation,” Fetterman added.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized the White House for “leaking it to the press” that Biden told Netanyahu to take the win and not retaliate.

Rubio told CNN that it was “part of the White House’s efforts to appease” people calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

A man holds up a placard against the Islamic Republic of Iran as people gather in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on April 14, 2024, in solidarity with Israel after an Iranian attack on the Jewish state. (Odd Andersen/ AFP)

Meanwhile, leaders of G7 nations condemned Iran’s attack on Israel and called for “restraint” from all sides. Biden said Saturday after speaking with Netanyahu that he would use the intergovernmental forum to “coordinate a united diplomatic response” to Iran’s “brazen” attack, indicating a military response was not on the table, while also saying the attack on Israel was only on military facilities.

“We unanimously condemned Iran’s unprecedented attack against Israel,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter, following video talks. “We will continue all our efforts to work toward de-escalation. Ending the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible, notably through an immediate ceasefire, will make a difference.”

In a joint statement published by the Italian G7 presidency following the remote meeting, the leaders said they condemned Iran’s attack “unequivocally condemn in the strongest terms.” The G7 is made up of the US, Italy, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Canada.

“We express our full solidarity and support to Israel and its people and reaffirm our commitment towards its security,” they said. “With its actions, Iran has further stepped toward the destabilization of the region and risks provoking an uncontrollable regional escalation. This must be avoided.”

They also pledged to keep working “to stabilize the situation and avoid further escalation. In this spirit, we demand that Iran and its proxies cease their attacks, and we stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives.”

“We will also strengthen our cooperation to end the crisis in Gaza, including by continuing to work towards an immediate and sustainable ceasefire and the release of hostages by Hamas, and [to] deliver increased humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in need.”

According to the senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters Sunday, there was discussion during the call among some G7 leaders on designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp as a terror group as well as a new coordinated batch of sanctions against Iran.

No decisions were made, however, with European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen saying, “We will reflect on additional sanctions against Iran… specifically on its drone and missile programs.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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