Top US military officer visits Israel amid fears of Iranian attack

U.S. Central Command head Gen. Erik Kurilla is in Israel to speak with officials as fear grows about a possible attack on Israel by Iran and the militant groups it backs, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.

“Gen. Kurilla is in Israel. He’s, as I understand it, traveling throughout the region,” press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

“My understanding was he had a scheduled trip to Israel,” but “due to recent developments he moved up his trip to meet with key [Israel Defense Forces] leadership and discuss the current security threats in the region,” Ryder said.

Axios first reported on Kurilla’s trip, noting he is expected to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, among others.

Iran is vowing to retaliate against Israel after a strike last week on a building adjacent to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus killed 12 people, including two top commanders.

Among those killed was Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior Iranian Quds Force officer who led Iran’s military operations in Lebanon and Syria.

Tehran claims the building struck was a consulate, while Israeli officials say it was used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for military operations and was not a diplomatic facility.

Iranian officials have since threatened retaliation, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday warning that attacks on embassies are regarded as an assault on a nation’s soil.

“The evil regime made a mistake, and it should be punished and will be punished,” he said, according to state-run media.

Gallant, in turn, said that any country that attacks his “will be faced with strong defense” and a “strong response.”

Fears have grown that a major Iranian response on Israeli soil could pull the U.S. further into a regional conflict and set off a major war.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Gallant on Monday and again on Thursday to discuss the current situation and “reaffirm the U.S. ironclad commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies,” Ryder said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Gallant on Wednesday to reiterate that same message, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at the time.

And President Biden publicly warned Tehran on Wednesday during a White House Rose Garden press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“We also want to address the Iranian threat to launch a … significant attack on Israel. As I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” Biden said.

Asked whether the U.S. might respond to possible Iranian attacks inside of Israel, Ryder said he would not address hypothetical scenarios but that Washington’s objectives are to protect U.S. forces and citizens in the region while supporting those of Israel.

“As we monitor potential threats … we’ll continue to take appropriate steps to include any necessary force protection measures if our forces are threatened,” he added.

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