PM said to tell his defense chiefs to keep Israel out of Iran-US tensions

Netanyahu convenes security heads to discuss potential escalation, speaks to Pompeo, TV report says; assessment is reportedly that Israel unlikely to be targeted

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists during a visit to inspect a naval Iron Dome defense system in the northern port of Haifa on February 12, 2019. (Jack Guez/Pool/AFP)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists during a visit to inspect a naval Iron Dome defense system in the northern port of Haifa on February 12, 2019. (Jack Guez/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened urgent consultations with Israel’s security chiefs this week amid the escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, and reportedly urged them to do their utmost to ensure that Israel is not dragged into the fraught situation.

At his meeting with the security chiefs, Netanyahu ordered the appropriate precautions be taken to deal with any potential escalation, and also called for ongoing, close intelligence monitoring of the surging tensions between Washington and Tehran, a TV report said Wednesday. But he also told the top officers “to take steps to separate Israel from these developments” and to work “at all cost” to keep Israel out of the situation, Israel’s Channel 13 news reported, citing senior Israeli officials.

Despite various threats by Iranian leaders against Israel, the assessment at the meeting was that there is no immediate concern that Israel will be directly targeted — including by rocket fire from pro-Iranian militias in Syria or Iraq, the report said.

Israel, it added, has been maintaining close contact with the Trump administration in recent days, with Netanyahu speaking by telephone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat liaising with his US counterpart John Bolton.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center right) meets with senior security officials at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 14, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The Prime Minister’s Office did not deny the report but would not comment on it. US officials told the TV station that Netanyahu and Pompeo are in frequent contact, often about Iran.

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami speaks at the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Iran’s defense minister said earlier Wednesday his country would overpower the US-Israel alliance in the region. “We will defeat the American-Zionist front,” Amir Hatami told a gathering of military intelligence officials on Wednesday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Iran’s military preparedness, Hatami said, was “at its highest point,” despite “the most difficult conditions” imposed by US sanctions. “We will be the final victors” in the standoff, he insisted, and “will defeat the United States.”

He blamed the sanctions and heightened tensions on Iran’s “defeat of the heretics” — a reference to the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq, which Iranian officials have claimed was founded and backed by the US.

Tensions in the region have risen sharply in recent weeks as US sanctions on Iran, reimposed gradually in the wake of the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal last year, began to take their toll, pushing the Iranian economy into crisis.

In this Thursday, May 9, 2019 photo released by the US Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Suez Canal in Egypt. (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow, US Navy via AP)

Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.

On Wednesday, US officials announced they were evacuating nonessential American personnel from Iraq, a day after Saudi oil facilities were attacked by Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen, and three days after four oil tankers — two of which were Saudi — were damaged as they lay off the coast of the United Arab Emirates by what Gulf officials described as sabotage. Of the other two tankers, one was Norwegian and the other Emirati.

Israel was reported last week to have warned the US that Iran was contemplating targeting Saudi oil production facilities. An unsourced Channel 13 report said the Iranians were “considering various aggressive acts” against American or American-allied targets. Tehran had looked at targeting American bases in the Gulf, but that had been deemed too drastic. The main target they were interested in was “Saudi oil production facilities,” the TV report said.

Last week, top officials in the Trump administration warned that Washington believed Iran was plotting some sort of attack in the Gulf region, perhaps targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria.

To meet the threat, the Pentagon has accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier task force to the Gulf and accompanied it with several B-52 bombers, a Patriot missile battery and an amphibious assault ship.

The stepped-up deployment and heightened rhetoric has led to fears in capitals around the world of a possible military confrontation breaking out between Washington and Tehran.

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