Security chiefs reassure ministers Iran unlikely to strike Israel

Defense officials tell high-level cabinet that chances of attack are low, despite US embassy warning and threats by Iranian officials

Israeli troops in the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, January 3, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/ AFP)
Israeli troops in the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, January 3, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/ AFP)

Iran is unlikely to attack Israel in retaliation for the US airstrike last week that killed top general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, security officials on Monday told the high-level security cabinet.

According to several officials who were present at the cabinet meeting and spoke to Hebrew media, several scenarios were presented regarding Iran’s possible response to the attack, with the security officials saying the chances of an attack on Israel were low.

One senior official said Monday, “Israel was not involved in the killing and there’s no reason it will be dragged into it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told ministers they can speak about the killing, but to be circumspect and focus on Israel’s support for the US, Channel 12 news reported.

The US embassy in Israel, however, released a travel advisory Monday to its nationals in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, warning of the possibility of sudden rocket fire at the country.

The advisory came as Iran was expected to target US sites in the Middle East in retaliation for the Friday drone strike that killed Soleimani.

US Marines reinforce the Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq, January 1, 2020. (US Marine Corps/Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot)

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning,” the embassy said.

“In the event of mortar or rocket fire, a red alert siren may be activated,” it added. “Treat all such alerts as real; follow the instructions from local authorities and seek shelter immediately.”

The embassy said it will continue to review the situation and provide further information as needed.

The airstrike on Soleimani, who was head of Iran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, has caused regional tensions to soar.

On Sunday, three rockets landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, home to the US embassy and the seat of Iraq’s government, city residents said. The attack marked the 14th time rockets have been fired toward US installations in Iraq over the last two months.

A senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has threatened that Tel Aviv could also be targeted, while a former head of the IRGC threatened to turn Israeli cities “to dust” if the US attacks targets in Iran.

Mourners step over a US flags with pictures of US President Donald Trump while waiting for the funeral procession of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2020. (AP Photo/ Nasser Nasser)

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization, on Sunday called on Shiite militias to attack US military assets throughout the Middle East — including suicide bombings — and predicted that the Americans will leave the region in “coffins,” taking Israel with them.

He also claimed that Israel had requested that the US kill Soleimani.

“Israel wanted to assassinate the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Syria, but it couldn’t or didn’t dare. It turned to the United States, which did it openly,” Nasrallah said. “Israel saw Soleimani as the most dangerous man since the state was established, since he encircled the country with missiles.”

However, in the first public comments by a senior Israeli military official on Soleimani’s killing, IDF Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Monday distanced the Jewish state from the incident and said it was part of the ongoing struggle between Iran and the US for influence in Iraq.

“Soleimani hurt American interests and represented a significant danger to Americans in the region. We must look at the assassination as part of a fight between Iran and the United States over Iraq’s character. That is the story,” Halevi said.

“The assassination also has ramifications for us as Israelis, and we must follow it closely, but we aren’t the main story here — and it’s good that it happened far away,” he said.

Halevi said Israel was ready to launch a “very significant reaction” if the Islamic Republic’s retaliation for the hit included operations by its Palestinian allies such as Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Mourners holding posters of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani attend a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Also Monday, one of Israel’s leading national security think tanks warned there is a growing risk of large-scale war along Israel’s northern borders in the coming year, in part due to Iran’s increasing “determination and daring.”

INSS researchers determined that while Israel’s assorted enemies do not appear to be interested in a large-scale conflict at this time, there are “factors that could lead to the possibility that a conflict could anyway take place in 2020.”

The think tank pointed to Iran and its proxies as the major threat facing Israel, both in the form of some type of direct clash with Israel and — though less likely for 2020 — the potential development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The 56-page document, which was largely written before the US killed Soleimani, was updated prior to publication in order to include the dramatic event. According to INSS, though the full ramifications of Soleimani’s killing cannot yet be known, it does appear to raise the potential for conflict in the region.

“The killing of Soleimani could lead to a scenario that demands Israeli consideration and coordination with the United States: a large-scale war between Iran and the United States,” it said.

Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, had an outsize role in managing Iran’s network of proxy groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

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