• China refused to condemn Iran's missile attack on Israel.
  • It is a customer for Iran's oil and has vowed to deepen ties. 
  • China is seeking to position itself as a key power in the region. 

China refused to condemn Iran's missile and drone attack on Israel as it seeks to position itself as a key player in the Middle East.

A readout of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's call with Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian Monday, reported by Chinese state media, characterized the attack as an act of self defense.

The statement was notable because it contained no condemnation of Iran's attack on Israel on Saturday.

The attack was the first time Iran has launched a direct strike on Israel in a move that has intensified fears the region could be on the brink of an escalating conflict.

Amir-Abdollahian reportedly told Wang that in the wake of Israel's April 1 attack on the Israeli consulate in Damascus, Syria, "Iran has the right to self-defense in response to the violation of its sovereignty."

"China strongly condemns and firmly opposes the attack on the consular section of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, regarding it as a serious violation of international law and unacceptable," the readout said.

"China has noted Iran's statement that its action taken was limited and was an act of self-defense in response to the attack against the Iranian consulate in Syria, Wang said."

In recent years, China has abandoned its policy of non-interference in foreign affairs and is seeking to position itself as a power broker in the Middle East.

Last year, China negotiated a rapprochement between longtime regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia in an audacious diplomatic move.

Analysts believe that among China's key interests in the region is to undermine US influence. It has criticized US-ally Israel's campaign in Gaza and formed closer ties with US regional foe Iran.

China is also a major customer of Iran's oil and last year Chinese leader Xi Jinping said he wanted to deepen ties with Iran after meeting Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Beijing.

The suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate on April 1 killed seven people, including senior Iranian commanders, and has led to fears of a direct war between Israel and Iran.

The two countries have long fought a war in the shadows, with Iran backing Palestinian militant groups and Lebanese militia Hezbollah in their war against Israel. But the October terrorist 7 attacks by Hamas and the subsequent Israeli campaign in Gaza have sharply increased tensions in the region.

Western leaders have condemned Iran's missile strikes on Israel, but are urging Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be moderate in his response. The US has sought to enlist China is helping to prevent a bigger regional war, the State Department said.

In the readout, China praised Iran for acting with restraint in its response to Israel's embassy attack.

"China appreciates Iran's stress on not targeting regional and neighboring countries as well as its reiteration on continuously pursuing a good-neighborly and friendly policy," said the readout, citing Wang.

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