An anti-Israeli mural depicting fighters with assault rifles along a wall in Palestine Square in Tehran on April 14, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

TEHRAN: Iranians were torn between a fear of war and pride at Iran’s military capabilities, after Tehran’s unprecedented attack on Israel in retaliation for the deadly strike on its Damascus consulate.

“It is normal to be worried in this situation, whether from a social or economic point of view,” said 47-year-old Jafari, an employee with Iran’s judiciary who did not give his full name.

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“But the fact that Iran has been able to reach this level of special ability... is a matter of pride,” he told AFP in downtown Tehran.

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On Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced it had launched hundreds of drones as well as missiles towards military sites in Israel.

Among the main targets were an intelligence centre and an air base in the Negev desert, which Tehran says was used by Israel to strike Iran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1.

Iran had vowed to avenge the strike on its diplomatic mission, which killed seven Guards including two generals from the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Guards.

Israel’s army said it had shot down 99 percent of the drones and missiles with the help of the United States and other allies, with the attack resulting in only minor damage.

Tehran said it had “significantly destroyed” its targets.

“We were extremely happy with this action of the IRGC and in fact, we felt better after a long time,” said 65-year-old retiree Ali Erfanian.

“This was a help and solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza and the West Bank.”

The latest developments took place against the backdrop of the Gaza war, which began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which killed 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Tehran backs Hamas but has denied any direct involvement in its attack on Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against the Palestinian militant group has killed at least 33,729 people in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

‘War is no joke’

Iran said its attack, which was carried out in “self-defence”, was “concluded” and that “there was no intention to continue this operation”. However, it also warned Israel not to make “another mistake”.

Goldar, a judge in his late 50s who did not give his full name, said “we feel proud and honoured that a tough ... response was handed to the Zionist regime”.

For Mahdi, a 35-year-old beekeeper, Iran’s response was long overdue.

“There has been sadness and anger in our hearts and we were always waiting for this revenge to be carried out and for the Israelis to be punished for their brutality,” he said.

“We couldn’t believe it when the news came last night.”

Others, like Milad, a private school teacher who also did not give her full name, hoped the “conflict will not continue” because it might lead to a “destructive war” for both Israel and Iran.

“We have not yet completely rebuilt the ruins of the Iran-Iraq war in the country’s southwest,” said the 46-year-old.

“A war is no joke.”

People walk past an Israeli flag with a heart symbol, after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Tel Aviv. Image Credit: Reuters

Israelis fear escalation

The first direct attack on Israel by arch foe Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.

While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Iranian-backed Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.

Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.

But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought the Palestinian Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

“I think it was quite scary when in the middle of the night we started hearing booming and we didn’t know what it was, I mean we knew what it was, we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.

“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet and we hope it would continue that way.”

Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation but with the stakes so high they are nervous, despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.

“I really hope there won’t be a big war, none of us in Israel wants a big war so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.

“I imagine Israel will respond because I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”

Prior to the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and the closure of some beach and travel sites.

“We didn’t want the war with Hamas, they attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.

“We don’t want a war with Iran, they, somehow they can’t accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland, it’s written in the Bible.”