Russia, Germany urge restraint amid Iran threat; Lufthansa extends Tehran route stay

Moscow advises citizens against travel to Middle East; German FM speaks on the phone with Iranian counterpart about ‘tense situation’

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to attend talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 7, 2023. (Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to attend talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 7, 2023. (Sergei Bobylev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russia and Germany on Thursday urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint and Israel said it was preparing to “meet all its security needs” in a region on edge over an Iranian threat to strike Israel.

Russia on Thursday advised against travel to the Middle East, and German airline Lufthansa, one of only two Western carriers flying to Tehran, extended a suspension of its flights to the Iranian capital.

Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.

Austrian Airlines, which is owned by Lufthansa and flies from Vienna to Tehran six times a week, said it was still planning to fly on Thursday but was adjusting schedules to avoid an overnight layover.

There was no immediate word from other international airlines that fly to Tehran. Iranian air space is also a key overflight route for Emirates’ and Qatar Airways’ flights to North America.

Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike in Damascus which killed a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers, further escalating tensions in a region already convulsed by the Gaza war. The bombing came amid soaring violence on Israel’s northern border due to near-daily attacks by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group since October 8.

Emergency service workers clear the rubble at a destroyed building hit by an airstrike in Damascus, Syria, April 1, 2024. (SANA via AP)

Also Thursday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke on the phone with her Iranian counterpart about “the tense situation in the Middle East,” the German foreign ministry said.

“Avoiding further regional escalation must be in everyone’s interest. We urge all actors in the region to act responsibly and exercise maximum restraint,” the ministry wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was keeping up its war in Gaza, but making security preparations elsewhere.

“Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively,” he said in comments released following a visit to an air force base.

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

Russia’s foreign ministry told citizens they should refrain from traveling to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Moscow also called on Iran and Israel to exercise restraint amid the spiraling tensions.

“It is very important for everybody to exercise restraint in order not to destabilize the region, which is already not gifted with stability or predictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

File: In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state-owned agency Sputnik, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chad’s Transitional President Brice Mahamat Idriss Deby (both not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 24, 2024. (Mikhail Metzel/Pool/AFP)

Russia has previously condemned Israel’s conduct in the ongoing war in Gaza, which erupted on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas and free the hostages, over half of whom remain in captivity.

The next day, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah began attacking along Israel’s border with Lebanon, saying it was acting in support of Gaza. Israel has responded by striking back against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon, and also, allegedly, in Syria.

Moscow had traditionally tried to maintain relations with all major powers in the Middle East, but the Gaza conflict has dented its ties with Israel and it has already been strengthening military and political ties with Iran amid its war in Ukraine.

Peskov said Russia had not been approached as a potential mediator between the two arch-rivals.

Smoke billows from the area of an Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on April 8, 2024. (Rabih Daher/AFP)

The United States and its allies believe major missile or drone strikes by Iran or its proxies against military and government targets in Israel are imminent, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing US and Israeli security sources.

The conflict has spread across the region since the eruption of the Gaza war, with Iran-backed groups declaring support for the Palestinians waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided any direct confrontation itself with Israel or the US, while declaring support for its allies.

Israel has not declared its responsibility for the April 1 attack, for which Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Israel “must be punished and it shall be.”

Billboard in Tehran displaying a portrait of Quds Force commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who was killed in a Damascus airstrike, with a slogan in Hebrew saying, ‘You will be punished,’ on April 3, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday Iran was “threatening to launch a significant attack in Israel,” and that he had told Netanyahu “our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

Iran has in the past openly hit back over the death of a senior military figure. On January 3, 2020, the US assassinated Qasem Soleimani, a top general in the Guard Corps. Less than a week later, Iran launched ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing US troops, causing major damage and some concussion injuries even though soldiers had taken refuge in bomb shelters.

Late on Wednesday, an Iranian news agency published an Arabic report on social media platform X saying all airspace over Tehran had been closed for military drills. The agency then removed the report and denied it had issued such news.

In an apparent response to Khamenei, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Wednesday that Israel will respond with a strike on Iran if it attacks Israel from its own soil. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also vowed “quick decisive action.”

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