'We are ready... Anyone who hits us, we hit them'

Netanyahu hints at retaliation if Iran attacks, as CENTCOM chief lands in Israel

Premier tells F-15 pilots military is ‘ready to fulfill our responsibilities to Israel’s security, in defense and attack’; Kurilla to meet Gallant, senior IDF officials

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits an Air Force F-15 base on April 11, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits an Air Force F-15 base on April 11, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to reiterate his warning to Iran that Israel would retaliate if attacked, as the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla arrived in Israel reportedly to discuss what US intelligence officials have described as an “imminent” threat from Tehran.

“We are in challenging times. We are in the midst of a war in Gaza that is continuing with full force. In addition, we are continuing with ceaseless efforts to return our hostages, but we are also preparing for challenges from other fronts,” Netanyahu told pilots as he visited an F-15 base.

Iran has repeatedly vowed to retaliate for an alleged Israeli strike last week on a consular building in its Damascus embassy complex, which killed two generals among several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers. That incident came amid spiraling violence on Israel’s northern border due to near-daily attacks by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group since October 8.

“We set a simple principle: Anyone who hits us, we hit them,” Netanyahu said in apparent reference to Iranian threats to carry out strikes against Israel. “We are ready to fulfill our responsibilities to Israel’s security, in defense and attack.”

“I, and the whole of Israel, trust you,” he said to the F-15 pilots, wishing them “much success.”

Israel’s F-15 fleet is the Air Force’s primary weapon for long-range strikes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits an IAF F-15 base on April 11, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Also Thursday, CENTCOM chief Kurilla was expected to meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and senior IDF officials.

The Axios website, which first reported on Kurilla’s expected visit Wednesday, said that US and Israeli officials across various agencies have been in contact over the last few days as the countries prepare for a possible Iranian response to the April 1 strike.

A senior Israeli official told Axios that Israel has asked the US to help limit the Iranian response by sending public and private warnings to Iran and also by using its military presence in the area as a diplomatic lever.

File: US CENTCOM Commander General Michael Kurilla (L) meets Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Israel in a photo released March 4, 2024 (Defense Ministry/Shachar Yurman)

Meanwhile, Army Radio reported Thursday that the Israeli Air Force has recently practiced carrying out long-range strikes during exercises in Cypriot airspace and in coordination with the local military.

The exercise was intended to practice for a strike on Iran, the report said, without citing sources. It marked a return by the IAF to preparing for a confrontation with Iran after being tied up with operations amid the ongoing war with in the Gaza Strip, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, and the resulting skirmishes on the northern border.

A senior IDF official was quoted as saying that the military “knows how and is ready to act in any arena while maintaining independent abilities to act on our own. We don’t rely on anyone.”

The reports came as US President Joe Biden reiterated America’s commitment to Israeli security in the face of threats from Iran.

Speaking at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in the White House’s Rose Garden, Biden told reporters Wednesday that “we also addressed the Iranian threat, as they threaten to launch a significant attack on Israel.”

“As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” said Biden. “Let me say it again, ironclad. We’re going to do all we can to protect Israel’s security.”

An American KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft refuels IAF F-16i fighter jets during an exercise over Israel, November 30, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Bloomberg news agency reported Wednesday the US believes a major Iranian attack on Israel is imminent and could involve high-precision missiles and drones targeting military and government sites in Israel.

Earlier Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told a crowd in Tehran that “the evil regime made a mistake and must be punished, and it shall be,” referring to the attack in Damascus.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers his sermon during Eid al-Fitr prayer ceremony marking the end of the Muslims holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2024. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

One of those killed was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in the Quds Force for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps’ foreign arm, who led its operations in Syria and was said to be a member of a top decision-making panel in Hezbollah. A Hezbollah member was also killed.

Following Khamenei’s speech, Gallant and Foreign Minister Israel Katz both threatened that if Iran launched an attack from its own soil then Israel would strike back inside Iran.

However, unnamed US intelligence sources told CNN in a Monday report 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.

Iran-backed terror groups have entered the fray across the region amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas, including rocket fire from Lebanon by Hezbollah and months of Yemen-based Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

File – Members of the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen march over Israeli and US flags painted on the street in Sanaa during a rally in support of Palestinians amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in Gaza, February 28, 2024. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

War erupted in Gaza on October 7 when Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, amid numerous atrocities. Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas and free the 253 hostages who were abducted during the attack and taken to Gaza, some half of whom remain in captivity.

Meanwhile, CENTCOM said Thursday that its forces had successfully engaged three unmanned aerial vehicles launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen over the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition, or commercial ships, the statement added.

US forces also destroyed eight UAVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, the statement said.

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