Army says no new instructions but public should be vigilant

IDF says it’s on high alert for Iranian attack, as world warns Tehran of consequences

Iran said to tell US it will avoid a major escalation; US restricts employees in Israel and families from personal travel outside key cities; Gallant: We’ll hit Iran, if it hits us

A banner displaying pictures of Israeli army officials with their faces encircled by a red crosshair icon hangs in Tehran on April 2, 2024, following a suspected Israeli strike in Damascus that killed the top IRGC officer in Syria. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
A banner displaying pictures of Israeli army officials with their faces encircled by a red crosshair icon hangs in Tehran on April 2, 2024, following a suspected Israeli strike in Damascus that killed the top IRGC officer in Syria. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Tensions surrounding a potential Iranian attack on Israel appeared to reach new heights Thursday as the Israeli military said it was fully prepared for an incoming strike and as multiple international actors warned Tehran against a major assault on the Jewish state.

Israel is “on alert and highly prepared for various scenarios, and we are constantly assessing the situation,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a press conference.

“We are ready for attack and defense using a variety of capabilities that the IDF has, and also ready with our strategic partners,” he said, referring to the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla, who arrived in Israel on Thursday morning to hold an assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on the ongoing security challenges in the region.

Meanwhile, the United States 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.”

Iran has threatened to attack Israel following an April 1 airstrike on an Iranian consulate building 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.

Apparently seeking to lower the flames, Iranian sources told Reuters Thursday that Tehran has signaled to Washington it will respond in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily.

Iran’s message to Washington was conveyed by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during a visit on Sunday to the Gulf Arab state of Oman, which has often acted as an intermediary between Tehran and Washington, the sources said.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment. A source familiar with US intelligence was not aware of the message conveyed via Oman but said Iran has “been very clear” that its response to the attack on its Damascus embassy compound would be “controlled” and “non-escalatory” and planned “to use regional proxies to launch a number of attacks on Israel.”

Israeli and US officials across various agencies have been in contact over the last few days to prepare for an attack they believe is imminent, with Kurilla’s visit to the region the latest show of cooperation between the two countries in the face of Iranian threats.

“Our strategic relationship with the US armed forces is strong and tight,” Hagari said to the press,” adding that “an attack from Iranian territory would be clear proof of Iranian intentions to escalate the situation in the Middle East, and to stop hiding behind the proxies.”

The IDF will “know how to operate wherever is needed,” Hagari said, adding that in recent months, it has “upgraded and improved” its attack capabilities.

File: IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari gives a statement on an IDF operation at the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza City, March 18, 2024, following ‘concrete’ intelligence on Hamas terror activity in the compound. (Screenshot)

He stressed, however, that even as the defense establishment prepares for what intelligence reports estimate will be an attack launched either by Iran itself or by its regional proxies, the instructions issued to the public have not changed.

“We have a multi-layered [air] defense capability that has proven itself amid the war, with thousands of successful interceptions,” he said. “But the defense is never going to be hermetic,” he continued, adding that civilians should continue to follow the existing and unchanged Home Front Command guidelines, and remain vigilant.

“We are braced and ready, on high alert, defensively and offensively,” he added.

While Hagari stressed that there had been no change to Home Front Command instructions, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Thursday evening that the military’s civil defense body had instructed municipalities around the country to prepare for an attack and ensure that public shelters are fit for use, though without causing panic among civilians.

There was no official confirmation of the report.

Israeli children play outside of a bomb shelter as they celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, in Sderot, southern Israel, more than five months after the October 7 massacre, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Speaking to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday evening, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant emphasized again that Israel will not tolerate an Iranian attack on its territory, and thanked him for the US’s increased cooperation.

In a readout from the call, Gallant’s office said he had told his US counterpart that “a direct Iranian attack will require an appropriate Israeli response against Iran.”

In addition to the US, Israel’s other allies have also warned Iran against striking Israel, saying it could destabilize the region even further, after six months of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron told Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana on Thursday that France had warned Iran not to attack, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke on the phone with her Iranian counterpart about “the tense situation in the Middle East,” the German foreign ministry said.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, called threats by Tehran “unacceptable,” and pledged that “we, like the Americans, fully support Israel’s right to defend itself against that.”

Sunak added that Britain had already “highlighted Iran as a significant risk to regional security,” including to the UK.

Following Sunak’s comments, British Foreign Minister David Cameron said he had made clear to his Iranian counterpart Amir-Abdollahian that Iran should not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict, following threats made by Iran toward Israel.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential for miscalculation leading to further violence. Iran should instead work to de-escalate and prevent further attacks,” he wrote on X.

Russia too, despite its somewhat dented ties with Israel in the wake of the Gaza war, warned all parties to show restraint, saying that Iran and Israel must not “destabilize the region, which is already not gifted with stability or predictability.”

Iran, for its part, claimed on Thursday that the “imperative” to retaliate for the attack on its embassy compound might have been avoided had the UN Security Council condemned the strike.

“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,” Tehran’s mission to the United Nations wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

A display showing killed Iranian military figures and allied Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists next to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is set up as the Iranian embassy in Beirut receives condolences for the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria, and six other IRGC members, April 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

At the same time as Israel’s defense establishment braced for conflict with Iran, some are concerned that it could also further delay any agreement with Hamas for a temporary truce and hostage release.

According to unnamed sources in Jerusalem quoted by Channel 12 on Thursday evening, Israel believes that Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar is delaying the group’s response to the latest proposal on the table in the hope that Iran will attack Israel and help spark a wider conflict he sought to trigger on October 7.

“Sinwar has not given up on his ambition to see a regional war, and he is pinning his hopes on an Iranian attack and an Israeli response, which could bring about a ‘unification of the fronts’ [against Israel],” the TV report quoted the sources saying.

Some 129 of the 253 hostages seized during the October 7 attacks are still in Gaza, not all of them alive. Israel has confirmed that at least 34 are dead, although US and Israeli officials have hinted in recent days that the number could be much higher.

Hamas officials have publicly reiterated demands for an Israeli commitment to end the war and to allow northern Gazans to return home, but have not issued a definitive rejection of the latest proposal.

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