Israel threatens to bomb nuke sites as Iran backs down from direct attack – report

Tehran said reluctant to carry out attack in response to assassination of top general in Damascus, instead likely to retaliate through proxy groups

File - A billboard displays a portrait of slain Iranian general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, with a slogan in Hebrew saying 'You will be punished,' April 3, 2024, at Palestine Square in Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
File - A billboard displays a portrait of slain Iranian general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, with a slogan in Hebrew saying 'You will be punished,' April 3, 2024, at Palestine Square in Tehran. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Following last week’s strike in Damascus and threats of retaliation from Iranian officials, Israel has signaled that it will attack targets in Iran if it were to launch a direct attack, according to an Arab report Monday.

Citing an anonymous “Western security official,” the London-based Elaph News reported that Israel has been conducting air force drills in recent days that include preparing to target Iranian nuclear facilities and other key infrastructure.

Unnamed US intelligence sources told CNN, however, that Iran is unlikely to attack Israel directly out of fear of American and Israeli reprisal, and will instead urge its various proxies in the region to launch attacks on its behalf in the coming days.

Published on Monday night, the CNN report cast doubt on previous assessments by both Washington and Jerusalem that an attack by Iran was “inevitable.”

Israel has been on high alert over the past week amid Iranian officials’ promises of revenge for a Damascus airstrike that killed their top commander in Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi; alongside six other members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and at least one member of Iranian proxy group Hezbollah.

Though Israel has not commented on the matter, both Damascus and Tehran blame Israel for the attack last Monday. The New York Times cited four unnamed Israeli officials as confirming that the country was behind the strike.

At a security cabinet meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly alluded to the strike while vowing to respond to a prospective Iranian attack.

“Iran has been acting against us for years — directly and via proxies. And, therefore, Israel acts against Iran and its proxies — defensively and offensively,” he said.

Zahedi was reportedly responsible for the IRGC Quds Force’s operations in Syria and Lebanon, for Iranian militias there, and for ties with Hezbollah, and was thus the most senior commander of Iranian forces in the two countries. The 63-year-old was the most important Iranian soldier killed since the United States strike on Baghdad airport that killed Quds Force leader General Qassem Soleimani in 2020. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

Analysts saw the raid as an escalation of Israel’s campaign against Iran and its regional proxies that runs the risk of triggering a wider war beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Both Iran and Hezbollah have vowed revenge for the strike. An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened Israeli embassies, telling Iran’s ISNA news agency on Sunday that “the embassies of the Zionist regime are no longer safe.”

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech during a gathering to mark annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemorations in Beirut’s southern suburb on April 5, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

In televised remarks last Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said an Iranian response was coming.

“Be certain, be sure, that the Iranian response to the targeting of the consulate in Damascus is definitely coming against Israel,” he said.

After an assessment on Sunday with top army brass at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel was ready to respond to any attack by the Islamic Republic, and has “completed preparations for a response against any scenario that would develop against Iran.”

Israel is bracing for potential missile and drone attacks by Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — all of which have been carried out amid the ongoing Gaza war — and ballistic missile attacks directly from Iran, which Israel has not yet faced. Israeli officials believe the country’s air defense systems will be able to handle the threat.

Iran has reportedly also put its military forces on “full high alert” ahead of any expected strike.

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