US Centcom head visits Israel as Iran warns of an 'imperative' to strike

Israel has been on high alert since April 1 killing of several senior members of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria

Rescue workers at the destroyed Iranian embassy compound in Damascus. AP
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The head of the US military's Central Command met top military leaders in Israel on Thursday, as Iran appeared poised to take retaliatory action for last week's Israeli strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus.

Gen Michael Kurilla had a previously planned visit to Israel but it was brought forward due to recent developments, Pentagon press secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said.

The Centcom chief “moved up his trip” to meet Israeli military leaders and “discuss the current security threats in the region”, Maj Gen Ryder told reporters.

The visit came the same day as Iran said it has an “imperative” to attack Israel and accused the UN Security Council of bearing some responsibility for not taking action after the strike.

Israel has been on high alert since its April 1 killing of several senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon. The attack risks a massive broadening of the Israel-Gaza war.

“Had the UN Security Council condemned the Zionist regime’s reprehensible act of aggression on our diplomatic premises in Damascus and subsequently brought to justice its perpetrators, the imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime might have been obviated,” the Iranian mission to the UN said on X.

The UN Security Council did not condemn the April 1 strike but Russia said it had drafted a press statement condemning the Israeli attack.

We were “stopped by the insistence of our Anglo-Saxon colleagues”, Moscow's UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya told reporters.

Speculation is mounting that an Iran retaliation to the embassy attack might be imminent.

A US official told Reuters late on Thursday that Washington expects that Iran will carry out an attack on Israel, but not one that would be big enough to draw the US into the war.

According to US and Iranian sources quoted by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Tehran has drawn up plans for an attack which could be carried out within the next two days.

“The strike plans are in front of the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and he is still weighing the political risk,” the Journal quoted an adviser to the Iranian leadership as saying.

Iran's supreme leader said on Wednesday that Israel “must be punished and it shall be” for the attack, using his Eid Al Fitr sermon to renew threats of retaliation.

Mr Khamenei also said the intensified bombing of Gaza during Ramadan had left a “bitter taste” in the mouths of Muslims and criticised western governments for their support of Israel.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said Iran is “threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel”.

“As I told Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” Mr Biden said.

Washington has denied any involvement in the strike on the Iran embassy compound, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying on Thursday that the US has “warned Iran not to use this attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region or attack us facilities or personnel”.

Some Republicans, however, are calling for the US to get more involved if Iran does launch a counterstrike.

“Israel is under threat of imminent attack by Iran. President Biden needs to warn the ayatollahs immediately that the United States will back Israel to the hilt and the joint American-Israeli retaliation for any attack will be swift and devastating,” said Tom Cotton, a Republican senator.

The US State Department on Thursday issued a warning to American workers and their families in Israel not to travel outside Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Iranian threats to carry out a missile strike against Israel were “unacceptable”, as he reaffirmed the UK’s support for the country's right to defend itself.

“We, like the Americans, fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against that,” he said on Thursday.

Russia and Germany on Thursday urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian to urge “maximum restraint” to avoid further escalation.

Russia's Foreign Ministry told citizens they should not travel to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

“Right now it's very important for everyone to maintain restraint so as not to lead to a complete destabilisation of the situation in the region, which doesn't exactly shine with stability and predictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.

Iran's supreme leader says Israel 'will be slapped' for suspected air strike on Damascus embassy

Iran's supreme leader says Israel 'will be slapped' for suspected air strike on Damascus embassy
Updated: April 12, 2024, 6:38 AM