Biden urges restraint on Israel after Iran’s attack

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Good morning. US President Joe Biden has urged Israel to show restraint after Iran’s drone and missile attack as Washington seeks to de-escalate Middle East tensions and reduce the risk of a full-blown regional war.

Israel’s war cabinet met yesterday to consider its response to Iran’s attack, but had not yet made a decision on what action it would take, an Israeli government insider said.

The person added it was clear that Israel had to respond, “just unclear when and how big”. 

Iran launched the attack, the first such assault from its own territory against Israel, as retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike in on its consular building in Damascus this month that killed several Iranian commanders.

Biden has counselled Israel to take a measured approach. “The president has been clear. We don’t want to see this escalate,” said John Kirby, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We’re not looking for a wider war with Iran.”

Here are more details — plus the latest FT analysis of the unprecedented strike:

  • Israel’s tough choices: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must weigh US calls not to escalate against far-right allies’ demands for crushing retaliation.

  • Iran’s ‘Operation True Promise’: Tehran’s missile and drone attack on Israel demonstrated aerial might that was visible to all, but fatal to none.

  • Opinion: The concern now is that Israel’s sense it has prevailed in this round may make it less rather than more risk averse, writes Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Here’s what else I’m keeping tabs on today:

  • Monetary policy: China’s central bank is expected to leave the interest rate on one-year medium-term lending facility loans unchanged. (Reuters)

  • Global economy: The IMF and the World Bank kick off their joint spring meeting in Washington.

  • German chancellor in China: As Olaf Scholz continues his three-day visit, Siemens’ chief financial officer told the FT it would take “decades” for Germany’s manufacturers to reduce their dependence on China.

  • Trump ‘hush money’ trial: The first ever criminal trial brought against a former US president begins in New York. The Manhattan district attorney’s case features a colourful cast including Donald Trump, his ex-fixer and a porn star.

Five more top stories

1. A Chinese coastguard vessel has blocked two Philippine government ships for hours in a further escalation of tension between the two nations in the disputed South China Sea. The operation on Saturday night took place just 35 nautical miles from the Philippines’ coastline, and comes as Beijing pushes back against Washington’s high-profile moves last week to bolster Manila against China.

2. Activity on China’s equity capital markets on the mainland and beyond has slumped to multi-decade lows. Chinese companies have raised just $6.4bn in mainland IPOs, follow-on and convertible share offerings so far this year, the lowest level on record, in a sign of low investor confidence and the increasing isolation of China’s financial system.

3. Indian billionaire Gautam Adani is in the advanced stages of setting up a globally focused think-tank with Rs1bn ($12mn) of “seed capital” from the tycoon’s eponymous infrastructure-focused conglomerate. The New Delhi-based institute will focus on climate and international politics, even as other NGOs come under increasing government scrutiny.

4. Ukraine’s top commander has warned that his outmanned and outgunned army is struggling to halt an intensifying Russian offensive, as Kyiv pleads with western partners for more air defences and a critical military aid package remains stalled in the US Congress. Commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrsky wrote on Telegram that the eastern frontline has “significantly worsened” after a visit to the region.

  • Related: Serbia is expected to sign the largest weapons deal in its modern history with France, in a sign how Russia’s war in Ukraine is prompting one of Moscow’s closest allies to diversify its arms purchases.

5. A growing number of health-conscious consumers rejecting beer, wine and spirits represents “a big opportunity”, said the chief executive of Japan’s biggest brewer Asahi. Atsushi Katsuki told the FT that zero- and low-alcohol drinks would generate half of the company’s beverage sales by as early as 2040.

The Weekend Essay

© Weng Fen

Former FT’s Beijing correspondent Yuan Yang has written a deeply personal essay on the untold human stories of China’s economic boom. “It has become increasingly difficult to tell intimately reported stories from China, particularly ones that require deep trust between writer and interviewee,” she writes. Yet these stories are crucial to our understanding of the country’s rapid transformation.

We’re also reading . . . 

  • ChatGPT essay cheats: Students who outsource their thinking to artificial intelligence tools pose a risk to future employers and more, writes Pilita Clark.

  • Lunch with the FT: Hollywood A-lister Michael Douglas discusses playing Benjamin Franklin, why Gordon Gekko is misunderstood — and why acting is all about the hair.

  • The rise of the chief AI officer: More companies are appointing staff to oversee the technology. What do these senior leaders actually do?

Chart of the day

Momentum in economies including the US and India has been picking up in recent months, helping stoke optimism that global growth in 2024 will modestly outpace last year’s reading, according to research for the FT.

Take a break from the news

It took a trip to Japan at the height of the sakura season for FT columnist Jemima Kelly to not just notice but savour London’s cherry bloom. The beauty of cherry blossoms lies in their ephemerality — and that can teach us a lesson in what we should be directing our attention towards, she writes.

© Ben Hickey

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