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Explosions, loud noise heard near Iran city

Updated April 18, 2024 - 7:41 pm

Israel launched a retaliatory strike on Iran less than a week after Tehran’s rocket and drone barrage, according to two U.S. officials, raising fears of a widening conflict across the Middle East.

Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning as explosions could be heard near a major air base near Isfahan, the country’s semi-official Fars news agency reported. Nuclear facilities in the city are completely safe, state television reported.

Dubai-based carriers Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting around western Iran about 4:30 a.m. local time. They offered no explanation, though local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

Flights were suspended in Isfahan and the Iranian cities of Tehran and Shiraz as well as airports across the country’s western borders, Iran’s Mehr news agency also reported.

Iranian state television began a scrolling, on-screen alert acknowledging a “loud noise” near Isfahan, without immediately elaborating.

Hossein Dalirian, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian space program, said on the X social media platform that several small “quadcopter” drones had been shot down. A state television reporter in Isfahan said the same in a live report, saying “several small drones were flying in the sky over Isfahan, which were fired at.”

Meanwhile in Iraq, where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents of Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

The details of the blast in Isfahan are unknown, according to Fars, but the city — home to several military bases and facilities — is believed to have been one of several launch sites for Iran’s attack on Saturday.

One Iranian government official and later Iran’s state-run television broadcaster suggested sites may have been targeted by drones.

IRNA said the defenses fired across several provinces. It did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire, though people across the area reported hearing the sounds.

Israeli officials had notified the U.S. earlier Thursday that they planned to retaliate in the next 24-48 hours, according to two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations. Spokespeople for the National Security Council and the Pentagon declined to comment.

Brent crude jumped above $90 a barrel and gold surged past $2,400 an ounce on the reports. The yield on 10-year Treasuries slumped as much as 11 basis points to 4.52 percent, while a gauge of the dollar climbed as much as 0.6 percent to its highest since November.

The reports come after Israel vowed to retaliate against Iran for its barrage of 300 drones and missiles. Iran said it was responding to a strike on its diplomatic building in Syria that killed several Iranian officers on April 1.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement before the strikes were reported.

The two men discussed “regional threats and Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East,” Ryder said. The statement didn’t say if Gallant gave Austin any warning of the strikes.

Iran has been bracing for reprisal by Israel all week.

World leaders from the Middle East to the U.S. urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show restraint in the face of the Iranian attacks, but the Israeli leader and other top officials said the country would have little choice but to respond.

Tehran has routinely accused Israel of attacks and sabotage activities targeting its nuclear and military sites in the past, including in Isfahan, home to some of its key nuclear enrichment and missile facilities. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but Israel and allies accuse it of seeking to develop atomic weapons.

Iran has long vowed to destroy Israel.

Any missile or drone strike on Iranian soil, no matter the target, would be a significant move for Israel. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the first attack in Iran by Israel.

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israeli forces destroyed a drone base in Iran in 2022 under his orders.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned against retaliation for the weekend assault.

“In case the Israeli regime embarks on adventurism again and takes action against the interests of Iran, the next response from us will be immediate and at a maximum level,” he said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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