Fears ramp up over Iranian attack on Israel

Americans told to avoid travel within Israel, U.S. troops and warships moved to positions in the Middle East, and a warning from President Biden of a “sooner than later” attack has Washington on edge over a possible Iranian retaliation strike on the ally country this weekend, a move that could trigger a regional war.

Western intelligence on Friday assessed that Israel was bracing itself for a major attack from Iran that could come as soon as Saturday, Bloomberg reported, a judgment that appeared to be backed by U.S. troops and warships moved to positions in the Middle East and a warning from Biden.

Asked Friday about how imminent an attack on Israel may be, the commander in chief said he didn’t want to get into classified information but that his “expectation is sooner than later.”

The State Department also issued updated security warnings for U.S. government employees in Israel, restricting them and their families from personal travel outside of the greater Tel Aviv area, Jerusalem and the southern city of Be’er Sheva.

The stark alarms come after an April 1 Israeli airstrike on an Iranian Embassy compound in Syria’s capital of Damascus killed seven Iranian military advisers, including three senior members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, eliciting vows from Tehran to respond.

Jewish officials are reportedly expecting an attack to come directly from Iranian soil, most likely via missiles and armed drones, a prediction shared by some experts.

The Middle East Institute’s Iran program Director Alex Vatanka told The Hill he predicts an Iranian strike on “a military or strategic asset not too close to Jerusalem or even Tel Aviv,” but likely somewhere in the north or south of the country.

“We know Iran has the military capacity, they have the missiles to strike Israel, they can do huge amount of damage, I’m sure,” he said. But he added that Tehran will likely be careful to not create a scenario where the United States could get pulled into the issue any further, given its military might.

Case in point, Washington this week moved forces and warships into position — including two destroyers, at least one of which carries the Aegis missile-defense system — in the region to protect American and Israeli forces in the event of an attack, The Wall Street Journal reported.

National security communications adviser John Kirby seemed to confirm the movements when he told reporters Friday that the U. S has “made some adjustments” to U.S. posture in the region given the “viable” and “credible” threat from Iran.

And Washington earlier dispatched to Israel its top military officer in the Middle East, U.S. Central Command head Gen. Erik Kurilla, who met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Friday.

“We are prepared to defend ourselves on the ground and in the air, in close cooperation with our partners, and we will know how to respond,” Gallant’s office said after the meeting, adding that the officials discussed “readiness for an Iranian attack against the State of Israel, which may lead to regional escalation.”

That follows assurances Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave Gallant on Thursday night when the two spoke by phone, with Austin relaying that “Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against Iranian attacks,” according to the Journal.

It’s unknown exactly how and where Tehran looks to strike Israel, but the scenario seemed all but guaranteed, as voiced by U.S. officials and lawmakers on Friday.

“Barring some last-minute development, Iran is going to attack [Israel]. The response and risk of escalation will depend on what and how they attack,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio wrote on the social platform X.

The size of a response is also in flux, as two unnamed U.S. officials told CBS an Iranian attack could include more than 100 drones and dozens of missiles aimed at military targets on Israeli soil, but a smaller-strike could also be implemented to avoid a wider regional conflict.

“The Iranians have lots and lots of options, but the most obvious option is to strike an Israeli diplomatic facility somewhere not in Israel,” predicted Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency official dealing with the Middle East who is now with Brookings think tank.

“After all, the Israelis struck an Iranian embassy in Syria, it didn’t strike Iran. So to now strike Israel seems to me to be very risky and also increases the likelihood the Americans will be involved right from the beginning,” he added.

Riedel told The Hill that a much more nuanced response would be for Iran to strike an Israeli embassy in Africa or South America, a strike that could still kill any Israeli defense attaché placed there. He also pointing to Israel state media earlier announcing it had evacuated several unnamed embassies around the world.

“They’ve never said which embassies were evacuated, but it’s not hard to believe that they will be the most vulnerable embassies in places like South Africa or East Africa, maybe in South America,” he said.

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