PM cuts short Greece trip, defense chiefs convene after Soleimani killing

Israel shuts Hermon site near Syria border hit by missiles in the past; Bennett calls meeting to assess situation; security upped at Israeli missions around world

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and security chiefs during a situational assessment at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 3, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and security chiefs during a situational assessment at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 3, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to Greece Friday and was returning to Israel amid fears of Iran exacting revenge on the Jewish state for the US killing of a powerful Iranian general.

The PMO said the premier was receiving constant updates on the security situation. It also said ministers was instructed not to give interviews in the American assassination.

Netanyahu was in Greece after signing a major deal for a gas pipeline the previous day.

Meanwhile Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called a situation assessment with the heads of the defense establishment at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. There were no immediate details from the meeting.

An Israeli ski resort near the Syrian border that was the site of a previous missile attack was closed to visitors due to concerns of a possible attack. The Israel Defense Forces said it had ordered the Mount Hermon Ski resort in the Golan Heights shuttered for the day “in light of a situational assessment.”

Israelis ski and snowboard after snow mounted on Mt Hermon and the ski site opened for the season, in Northern Israel, January 11, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Hebrew media reported that the Foreign Ministry decided to up security at Israeli embassies and missions around the world.

The moves were made hours after a US airstrike on a pair of cars at Baghdad’s airport killed Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and a major player in placing Iranian troops and pro-Iran proxies in Syria. Other senior members of a pro-Iran militia in Iraq were also killed.

Israeli ministers were instructed by the Prime Minister’s Office not to comment on Soleimani’s killing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif  tweeted that targeting Soleimani was a “foolish escalation.”

“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he wrote.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the Quds force is part of, threatened Friday that Tehran would take “vigorous revenge” on the US for the attack.

Iran’s top security body called an urgent meeting Friday over the “martyrdom” of Soleimani by the United States in Baghdad, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

Iran Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

“In a few hours, an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council will be held to review the murderous attack on the vehicle of General Soleimani in Baghdad that led to his martyrdom,” ISNA quoted its secretariat spokesman Keyvan Khosravi as saying.

Israeli officials had previously expressed concern that Iran or its proxies in Syria could fire missiles at Israel as a form of exacting revenge on the US as tensions simmer.

“There is a possibility — the chances are not high, but it exists — that the Iranians could harm Israel and drag us into this,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio on Wednesday. “It must be clear to them that we will respond with great force to any attack.”

There was no immediate Israeli response to the killing of Soleimani, and the army did not place any other special restrictions on movement.

In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio said police were taking extra steps to protect the city from any potential Iranian attack.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts a rocket over the Mount Hermon ski resort on January 20, 2019. (Screen capture/Twitter)

The Hermon ski resort, Israel’s only ski site, sits on the southern slope of a ridge that extends into Syria and was the site of two separate missile attacks last year.

On January 20, 2019, the Quds Force fired a missile at the Hermon ski area, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The missile was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system as frightened skiers watched from the slopes.

In June, two more rockets were fired at the Hermon ski resort from Syria, though the army did not say who was responsible.

Shrapnel from one of the rocket hit and damaged one of the ski lift cables, which was not in use at the time.

Iran-linked fighters have fired dozens of missiles at Israel over the last several years, though few have managed to reach Israeli territory, according to the IDF.

Soleimani was seen by Israel as a main instigator of the missile attacks.

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