Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday warned Iran against attacking Israel in response to the American killing last week of senior military commander Qassem Soleimani.
“We’re standing steadfast against those who seek our lives. We’re standing with determination and with force. Whoever tries to attack us will receive a crushing blow in return,” he declared at a conference in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu was speaking after Iran fired over a dozen missiles at US bases in Iraq. Iran claimed 80 US troops were killed in the strikes, and warned that it could strike next at Israel; the US said there were no casualties. “Iran is warning that if there is retaliation for the two waves of attacks they launched their third wave will destroy Dubai and Haifa,” Ali Arouzi, NBC’s Tehran correspondent, reported on Twitter, where he was relaying official comments from Iran’s state media.
“Qassem Soleimani was responsible for the death of countless innocent people,” Netanyahu said. “He destabilized many countries. For decades, he sowed fear and misery and anguish. And he was planning much worse.
“President Trump should be congratulated for acting swiftly, boldly and resolutely against this terrorist-in-chief, who was the architect and driver of Iran’s campaign of terror throughout the Middle East and throughout the world,” he added.
“In the Middle East, no day is like any other. The regional upheaval continues. The struggle between extremists and moderates continues unabated,” the prime minister went on.
“On one side is radical Islam led by Iran, which seeks to grasp large sections of the area by means of murderous terrorism, and to grasp, strangle and eliminate us, because they understand that the strongest force of Western culture is here, in the State of Israel. They understand this very well.”
Many leaders in the Middle East agree with him, the prime minister said. The region is split between radical Islamists and a “pragmatic camp” that is threatened by the extremists.
“This camp well understands the campaign for existence, for life and for the future,” Netanyahu said. “The State of Israel is the anchor of stability in these stormy waters. The challenges that we are dealing with are not lessening — on the contrary.”
Netanyahu also reiterated Israel’s full support for the United States in its ongoing military confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
“It’s very important to say that Israel stands completely beside the United States,” he added. “America has no better friend than Israel, and Israel has no better friend than America.”
Before the prime minister spoke, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman briefly addressed the Iranian attack on a US base in Iraq overnight Tuesday-Wednesday.
“We’re all watching closely the event in the regions,” he said at the conference at the Begin Center in Jerusalem, organized by the right-wing Kohelet Forum think tank.
“Initial assessments are positive, and we pray those reports are true,” he said.
“Our military is by far the strongest in the world and our cause is just. We pray to God that we will prevail, overwhelmingly and without loss of innocent life.”
A senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has warned that Tel Aviv could also be targeted, while a former head of the IRGC threatened to turn Israeli cities “to dust” if the US attacks targets in Iran.
Iran is unlikely to attack Israel in retaliation for the US airstrike that killed Soleimani in Iraq.
According to several officials who were present at the cabinet meeting and spoke to Hebrew media, several scenarios were presented regarding Iran’s possible response to the attack, with the security officials saying the chances of an attack on Israel were low.
“Israel was not involved in the killing and there’s no reason it will be dragged into it,” one senior official said.
Also on Monday, in the first public comments by a senior Israeli military official on Soleimani’s killing, IDF Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi distanced the Jewish state from the incident and said it was part of the ongoing struggle between Iran and the US for influence in Iraq.
“Soleimani hurt American interests and represented a significant danger to Americans in the region. We must look at the assassination as part of a fight between Iran and the United States over Iraq’s character. That is the story,” Halevi said.
“The assassination also has ramifications for us as Israelis, and we must follow it closely, but we aren’t the main story here — and it’s good that it happened far away,” he said.
Halevi said Israel was ready to launch a “very significant response” if the Islamic Republic’s retaliation for the hit included operations by its Palestinian allies such as Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The US embassy in Israel, however, released a travel advisory to its nationals in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, warning of the possibility of sudden rocket fire at the country.
One of Israel’s leading national security think tanks warned Monday there is a growing risk of large-scale war along Israel’s northern borders in the coming year, in part due to Iran’s increasing “determination and daring.”
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.