Biden predicts Iran attack on Israel ‘sooner than later,’ renews warning: ‘Don’t’

US president: ‘We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed’; report warns Tehran could launch major drone and missile attack within hours in retaliation for strike on IRGC

US President Joe Biden speaks to the National Action Network Convention remotely from the South Court Auditorium of the White House, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US President Joe Biden speaks to the National Action Network Convention remotely from the South Court Auditorium of the White House, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As regional tensions reached a fever pitch Friday, US President Joe Biden said he expected an Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel “sooner [rather] than later.”

Speaking during a press conference, Biden implied this was based on classified information which he said he would not go into.

Asked by reporters about his message to Iran, Biden repeated the one he’d offered Tehran last October: “Don’t.”

He underscored Washington’s commitment to defend Israel. “We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed,” he said.

Citing two unnamed US officials, CBS reported Friday that a major attack could be imminent and may include more than 100 drones and dozens of missiles aimed at military targets inside the country. They warned Israel would be challenged to fend off an assault of that scale.

The officials said it was possible Tehran may still opt for a smaller-magnitude strike in order to avoid a dramatic escalation.

Israel has been on high alert amid multiple threats and intelligence assessments that Iran would launch a strike on Israeli targets in a bid to avenge the April 1 airstrike on a building in the Iranian embassy compound in the Syrian capital of Damascus, which killed several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, including two generals.

Both Tehran and Damascus have blamed Israel for the strike and vowed revenge, although Jerusalem has not commented on the matter.

While Iranian sources told Reuters Thursday that Tehran has signaled to Washington it will respond in a way that aims to avoid major escalation, Axios reported Friday that the Islamic Republic has also cautioned against American intervention in any conflict.

Three unnamed US officials told the news site that Tehran conveyed the message through Arab countries in recent days, saying US forces in the region would face attack if Washington takes action against Iran.

A handout picture provided by the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office shows him speaking during the Eid al-Fitr prayer ceremony in Tehran on April 10, 2024. (KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)

“The Iranian message was we will attack the forces that attack us, so don’t fuck with us and we won’t fuck with you,” one source told the outlet.

At the same time, US intelligence analysts cited by The New York Times said they did not expect Iran to target Americans in its initial response to Israel.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the US was looking at its own force posture in the region in light of Tehran’s threats and was watching the situation very closely. An unnamed American defense official told Fox News that the US was moving “additional assets” to the region “to bolster regional deterrence efforts and increase protection for US forces,” without providing specifics.

Amid concerns an Iranian attack on Israel could spark a broader conflagration in the Middle East, CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla met Friday in Israel with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi. Gallant’s office said the two discussed “readiness for an Iranian attack against the State of Israel, which may lead to regional escalation.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi meets with CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla at the IDF HQ in Tel Aviv, April 12, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Our enemies think that they can pull Israel and the United States apart, but the opposite is true, they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties. We stand shoulder to shoulder,” Gallant said in a statement after the meeting.

“I am certain that the world sees the true face of Iran, the terrorist body that incites terror attacks across the Middle East, and funds Hamas, Hezbollah, and additional forces [proxies], and now also threatens the State of Israel,” he continued.

“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 added.

Before meeting with Kurilla, the IDF said Halevi held a “comprehensive” assessment of the military’s “readiness for all scenarios.”

“The IDF is well prepared in attack and defense against any threat. We are at war and have been on high alert for about six months. The IDF continues to closely monitor what is happening in Iran and in the various arenas, while constantly preparing to deal with existing and potential threats in coordination with the United States armed forces,” Halevi said following the assessment, in remarks published by the IDF.

“Our forces are prepared and ready at any time and against any scenario,” he added.

File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Washington, DC, on March 26, 2024. (Drew ANGERER / AFP)

After the talks between Halevi and Kurilla, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the two “held a joint assessment of the situation, to ensure that our coordination is tight.” Hagari added there were still no changes in instructions to civilians amid the heightened alert of a potential Iranian attack.

“If there are any changes, we will update [the public] immediately,” Hagari said, stressing that civilians should still remain vigilant, as Israel’s air defenses are “among the best in the world, but not hermetic.”

“We have been at war for the past six months, and we have dealt with all the existing threats. Our defense is ready, and knows how to handle each threat individually. We are also ready for attack, with a variety of capabilities, to protect the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Hagari accused Iran of “escalating the situation in the Middle East” amid the war in Gaza. “We will know how to operate wherever needed,” he said.

Meanwhile, US officials quoted by Saudi news outlet Al-Hadath said Washington will respond to any Iranian attack that targets American soldiers, bases or interests.

The unnamed officials echoed previous US comments that Washington has sent a clear message to Tehran that it was not involved in an April 1 airstrike in Damascus. The Saudi paper reported that US officials were confident that Iran had received the message, having been told, “We are not Israel and Israel is the one that launched the attack.”

Also Friday, India advised its citizens against traveling to Iran and Israel until further notice in view of the “prevailing situation in the region.”

The Indian foreign ministry said visitors to the two countries should observe “utmost precautions about their safety and restrict their movements to the minimum.”

France on Friday warned its citizens to “imperatively refrain from travel in the coming days to Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.” Poland also advised against travel to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.

On Thursday, the US said it had restricted its employees in Israel and their family members from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba areas amid Iran’s threats “out of an abundance of caution.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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