UN urges restraint as Iran and Israel trade barbs at Security Council

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges adversaries ‘to step back from the brink’ of a wider conflict.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, delivers the opening remarks during an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East at the UN headquarters in New York City, the US [Charly Triballeau/AFP]

The United Nations has called on Iran and Israel to show restraint, with the threat of a full-scale direct conflict between the pair looming over the Middle East.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the adversaries at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday not to further escalate tension in the region with further attacks, following mutual air attacks over the past two weeks. However, Iran and Israel concentrated on accusing one another of being a threat to peace.

“Neither the region nor the world can afford more war,” Guterres told the meeting. “Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate.

“It’s time to step back from the brink,” he declared.

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel late on Saturday. The war in Gaza has triggered regular clashes between Iran’s regional allies – such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis – and Israel. The direct attack, a retaliation to a strike – still unclaimed by Israel – on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1, marked a serious escalation.

At the meeting, Robert Wood, the deputy US ambassador to the UN, called on the 15-member body to unequivocally condemn Iran’s attack. He insisted that the UNSC has an obligation to not let Iran’s actions go unanswered and that the United States will explore additional measures in the coming days to hold Iran accountable.

“Let me be clear: if Iran or its proxies take actions against the United States or further action against Israel, Iran will be held responsible,” he said.

Heated exchange

Heated words were exchanged between Iran and Israel at the meeting, with their representatives calling on the council to impose sanctions on one another.

Iran’s UN ambassador, Amir Saeid Iravani, said his country’s action against Israel was necessary and proportionate.

He claimed that the UNSC “failed in its duty to maintain international peace and security” because it did not condemn the Israeli attack on its diplomatic mission in Syria.

Tehran “had no choice” but to respond, he declared, adding that his country does “not seek escalation or war” but will respond to any “threat or aggression”.

“It is time for the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility and address the real threat to international peace and security,” Iravani said, urging it to “take urgent and punitive measures to compel this regime [Israel] to stop a genocide against the people of Gaza”.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the meeting that Iran is “the number one global sponsor of terror” and a “pirate state”.

“The mask has come off and so the world’s complacency must also fall,” he continued. “The only option is to condemn Iran … and ensure that it knows that the world will no longer stand idle.”

“This attack crossed every red line and Israel reserves the right to retaliate,” he stated.

Erdan called on the UNSC to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military outfit, a terrorist organisation and to “impose all possible sanctions on Iran before it’s too late”.

The rising tensions between Iran and Israel come against the backdrop of Israel’s six-month-old war on Gaza, which began after Hamas’s October 7 attack in Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,139 people, mostly civilians.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Ministry of Health.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies