The United States to Israel: If you respond to Iran, you will do so alone

As Israel on Monday considered its response to this weekend's stunning Iranian attacks, the United States was privately telling officials there: If Israel responds militarily, it will do so alone.

It's an unusual message for a close ally that has spent decades receiving more US military aid than any other country in the world, and whose relationship with America is often described as “tough.”

But after months of Israel acting alone in Gaza — and facing intense criticism from the United States and other allies that its military operations went too far — the Biden administration has made clear that the United States will not engage in offensive military operations against Iran. Fearing a wider war in the Middle East.

A senior US administration official told reporters shortly after the Iranian attack ended: “We believe that Israel has the freedom to act to protect itself and defend itself.” “This is a long-standing policy, and it remains in place.”

When a journalist asked him whether the United States would help Israel confront offensive military operations, the official answered in the negative.

“We can't imagine ourselves participating in something like this,” this person said.

According to a second US official, this message was delivered directly to senior Israeli officials in a private phone call on Sunday between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant.

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In addition to expressing support for Israel's defense, the official said Austin made it clear in a very “direct” manner that the United States did not plan to join a potential counterattack on Israel's behalf.

Iran's attack on Israel late Saturday deeply alarmed world leaders, including US officials who initially believed the Islamic Republic had only prepared a dozen or so ballistic missiles. One senior US official described their hands as “trembling” while taking notes at a meeting when they learned that US intelligence believed more than 100 ballistic missiles were being prepared for launch.

The attack was seen as retaliation for a military strike on what Iran described as its consulate in Damascus, Syria, and is widely believed to have been carried out by Israel.

In the end, US officials estimate that Iran launched about 300 missiles and drones, including more than 100 ballistic missiles and 30 cruise missiles.

Two US officials confirmed to ABC News that about half of these missiles either failed to launch, failed to fly, or crashed before reaching their targets in Israel.

Israeli air defense systems successfully defeated the majority of remaining air threats, with US, British and Jordanian forces coming to their aid.

According to US Central Command, US forces in the region – including two US Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean – shot down about 80 drones and up to six ballistic missiles. A missile was shot down near Erbil, Iraq, by US forces who suspected it was heading towards Israel.

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The senior administration official told reporters afterward that the defensive effort was an “astonishing” success, even if Iran's intent “was clearly to cause massive damage and deaths in Israel.”

Israel's response was not immediately clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his war cabinet on Sunday, and senior officials said a decision could be made as early as Monday.

President Joe Biden had already spoken privately with Netanyahu within hours of the attack. Biden later joined G7 leaders on Sunday in a statement expressing “full solidarity and support for Israel.”

He added: “I think coming together in this very strong way under the umbrella of the United States Central Command, along with the British, along with the French and the regional players, sent a very, very clear message to Iran that you can do this.” “You don't get away with it,” said Israeli Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

This global support for Israel marked a notable shift for Israel after months of criticism for its devastating military operations against Hamas in the wake of the October 7 attacks. Israel defended the offensive operation as necessary to defend itself against future attacks.

US officials said they believe the Iranian attack late Saturday was mostly a failure, and the goal now should be a carefully considered response with broad international support.

The senior US administration official said: “I think Israel should think carefully about what it will do next.”

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ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Luis Martinez and Brett Klinet contributed to this report.

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