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Exclusive: Michel hopes apparent Israeli attack on Iran will bring 'end' to escalation

European Council President Charles Michel
European Council President Charles Michel Copyright Dario Pignatelli/
Copyright Dario Pignatelli/
By Shona MurrayMared Gwyn Jones
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The president of the European Council hopes Friday's apparent Israeli retaliation will be the last in the recent escalation with Iran and believes the next "hours and days" will be critical.

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Charles Michel spoke exclusively to Euronews hours after Iran activated its air defences near the central city of Isfahan as it was targeted by a suspected retaliatory attack by Israel, fuelling again fears of a wider regional conflict.

It came just six days after Iran launched a barrage of some 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles in its first-ever direct attack against Israeli territory. This happened on the heels of an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that had killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Whilst the reported retaliation initially seemed to defy Western pleas for de-escalation, the government in Tehran appears to have played down the attack, with an Iranian official indicating it had no "immediate" plan for further reprisals. 

"What is important is the intensity of the reaction," Michel said in an interview on Friday morning. "It's very important to observe in the next days if indeed it's possible to come back to a situation with more stability and to avoid more risks and more tensions."

"I want to be very cautious and careful, but I sincerely hope that what happened (...) is the end of that story," he added. 

Friday's attacks, targeted at a nuclear centre and major air base, were according to US officials launched by Israel but there are conflicting reports about the nature and scale of the offensive. Tehran says the attack involved drones launched from within Iranian territory, while the US has said missiles were involved.

The incident took the West off-guard, with reports that Benjamin Netanyahu's government would withhold from hitting back until after the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir took to social media on Friday morning with a one-word message: "feeble." The provocation indicates deep rifts within Netanyahu's war cabinet on the required scale and intensity of Israel's response to Saturday's attack by Tehran.

Asked about Ben-Gvir's comments, Michel said: "There is a political debate, I suppose, within the government in Israel. This is a coalition and they have discussions and they are making decisions."

"But we have a responsibility because we are a friend of Israel (...) to give advice and tell them what we think," he added.

Isolate Iran, keep focus on Gaza

In his interview with Euronews, Michel also called for the Iran-Israel tensions not to take focus away from the persistent humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, reiterating the joint call from EU leaders for a ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access, as well as the immediate return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas since October 7th.

The president also vowed the bloc would move quickly to slap sanctions on the Iranian regime to further stifle its ability to launch attacks such as last Saturday's.

Brussels is looking to expand the current sanctions regime against Iranian drone technology, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which Tehran sells to Russia to bolster its war efforts in Ukraine, to include the production of missiles and to cover its proxies in the region. 

The Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has frequently traded fire over Israel's northern border with Lebanon since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. Iran's proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have also sabotaged Western and Israel-linked vessels navigating the Red Sea.

The EU could also broach the more legally fraught process of blacklisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

The bloc is moving slower than other Western counterparts, with the US and UK coordinating further sanctions on Iran on Thursday.

"The sanctions – it doesn't have an immediate effect," Michel acknowledged. "But we want to send a signal to Iran that we do not accept this behaviour."

"This behaviour is a threat for the stability in the region (...) But it's also a threat for us. We can see how Iran is using proxies like the Houthis, for instance, putting maritime security in danger," he went on. "And it has an impact at international level, including in terms of supply chains."

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