US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend trip to Delaware on Saturday to return to the White House for urgent consultations on the Middle East, the White House said. Image Credit: AP

AMMAN/Berlin: Jordan announced it was closing its airspace on Saturday as regional tensions soared after Iran threatened reprisals against Israel for a deadly air strike on its consulate building in Damascus.

The civil aviation authority in Jordan, which lies between Israel and Iran, said that the measure, initially imposed for “several hours” from 2000 GMT, would be reviewed and updated regularly “in light of developments”, state media reported.

Lebanon also closed its airpace.

Syria, meanwhile, put on high alert its Russian-made Pantsir ground-to-air defence systems around the capital Damascus and major bases in the event of an Israeli strike, army sources said.

They said they expected Israel would retaliate against army bases and installations where pro-Iranian militia were based after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said they launched dozens of drones and missiles against specific targets in Israel.

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Earlier on Saturday, Al Mamlaka quoted Haitham Misto, the chairman of Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission, as saying interference in Jordanian air traffic had affected its GPS system, prompting planes in the area to use alternative navigation systems.

US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend trip to Delaware on Saturday to return to the White House for urgent consultations on the Middle East, the White House said, amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel.

"The President is returning to the White House this afternoon to consult with his national security team about events in the Middle East," the White House said.

Austrian Airlines, the last west European airline flying to Iran, said it was suspending all flights from Vienna to Tehran until April 18 in response to escalating tensions in the region.

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Austria had continued flying for longer than its German parent Lufthansa since Vienna’s closer proximity to Tehran meant it could more easily abort flights or be forced to leave staff in Tehran overnight.

Earlier on Friday, Austria’s foreign ministry followed Germany in urging its citizens to leave Iran.

“Routes that pass through Iranian air space will also be modified,” Austrian Airlines said in a statement. “The safety of our passengers and crews have highest priority.”

Potential scenarios

Speculation about a weekend attack on Israel has mounted as Biden said he expected Iranian retaliation “sooner rather than later.”

Potential scenarios included an unprecedented drone and missile strike on Israeli territory, Bloomberg reported. Tehran signaled to Western countries that it would retaliate in a “calibrated” manner to avoid an all-out regional conflict, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reported.

Restrictions for the sake of Israelis’ safety include a halt to day camps and trips by educational institutions, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters. While Israel’s air force has “dozens of planes in the skies “- prepared and ready,” air defense “is not hermetic” and people need to act responsibly and calmly, he said.

Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said special forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boarded the MSC Aries from a helicopter and directed it toward Iranian territorial waters. IRNA gave no reason for the seizure. The ship’s beneficial owner is Zodiac Maritime Ltd., part of Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The UK’s Joint Maritime Information Center said it’s likely the ship was targeted for its perceived Israeli affiliation. IRNA didn’t give a reason for the seizure.