The Defense Ministry has put Israeli embassies and offices on “high alert” worldwide in the wake of the US killing in Iraq of Qassem Soleimani and amid Iranian threats of revenge against the US and Israel, Israeli television reported Friday.
Security has also been bolstered at Israeli missions deemed to be in locations regarded as “sensitive,” according to Channel 13 news.
The Israeli army has also raised its alert levels. The Mount Hermon ski site near the Israel-Syria border is being kept closed, but no special instructions have been issued to northern Israeli residents.
Fighters of the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah, Israel’s bitter foe with which it fought a devastating war in 2006, are deployed on the other side of the border.
Hezbollah has more than 100,000 Iranian-supplied rockets aimed at Israel, while the Iran-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza have thousands more.
Although an Israeli military source said there were no new troop deployments, tanks and soldiers sealed off access to the Hermon site, while an AFP correspondent also spotted a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system. However, it was not clear if this was new deployment.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett earlier Friday convened a meeting in Tel Aviv of security and intelligence chiefs to deal with the possible repercussions of the Soleimani killing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off an official visit to Greece and flew home, expressing support for the overnight US strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad.
The heightened state of alert came after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s killing, the biggest escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed revenge against the United States and Israel.
“We remind enemies of the Islamic Ummah, especially [the] terrorist government of America and the fake Zionist regime, that General Soleimani was not one individual but a never-ending school and belief,” the IRGC said in a statement quoted by the Mehr news agency.
It also threatened the US strike would “open a new chapter in the path of anti-Zionism resistance and fighting occupying American terrorists in the region.”
This was echoed by the leader of Hezbollah.
“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said.
Soleimani, head of the Quds Force in Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, had long also been in Israel’s sights for his alleged links to attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.
Among them were the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and an attack on an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012.
‘Hezbollah could act from Syria’
Yossi Mansharof, an expert on Iran and Shiite militias at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said Hezbollah was unlikely to seek a showdown in Lebanon given the country’s current economic and political crisis.
Hezbollah’s forces in Syria, however, could make a move, he said.
“Hezbollah can act against Israel from the Syrian side,” he told AFP. “They would not dare to drag Lebanon into a military escalation.”
In addition to Hezbollah forces in Syria, the Quds Force and “many, many militias which Soleimani has fostered” are also stationed in the war-torn country, he pointed out.
He said Hezbollah had a worldwide network of operatives, and an attack on American officials, high-ranking military officers or other interests was also possible.
The powerful terror organization has boasted in the past that it “can target New York and Washington,” Mansharof said.
In the Gaza Strip, the Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, condemned Soleimani’s killing but did not make any overt threat.
“Hamas sends its condolences to the Iranian leadership and people,” it said in a statement. “Hamas condemns this American crime which raises tension in the region.”
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group said the Baghdad strike called for “a coordinated, comprehensive and continuous response from resistance forces” against “American and Zionist interests.”