US warns government employees to avoid Golan amid Iran attack fears
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US warns government employees to avoid Golan amid Iran attack fears

Embassy bans officials from traveling to territory without prior approval, as IDF instructs residents to ready bomb shelters

A picture taken on April 9, 2018 shows an Iron Dome missile defense battery, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
A picture taken on April 9, 2018 shows an Iron Dome missile defense battery, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The United States embassy in Israel on Tuesday prohibited American government employees from traveling to the Golan Heights without prior approval, amid heightened fears of an Iranian attack from neighboring Syria.

The Israeli military has been in a state of high alert in the north in readiness for possible retaliation by Iran over alleged Israeli strikes on its sites in Syria. On Sunday, military officials said Iran may be planning to launch missiles at a military target.

“Due to the recent tensions in the region, until further notice, US government employees are required to obtain advance approval if they wish to travel to the Golan Heights,” the US embassy wrote in the security alert posted on its website.

The embassy added that government staff should “consider carefully travel to the Golan Heights until the situation stabilizes, maintain situational awareness, be aware of your surroundings, monitor local media for updates, and follow directions of emergency respondents.”

Shortly after the US message, the IDF warned of irregular Iranian movements in Syria, advising Golan residents to ready bomb shelters and putting its air defenses on high alert.

Israeli officials believe Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are leading efforts to retaliate against Israel, using its proxies in Syria — Hezbollah forces and Shiite militias — to attack the Jewish state.

Security forces are said to be taking steps to mitigate the damage from any potential attack, fearing that a harsh Iranian strike could force Israel’s hand and lead to an unwanted escalation with Tehran.

Israeli soldiers in a military post overlooking the border with Syria, in the Golan Heights following an F-16 plane crash in northern Israel, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said there was no need for panic.

“There are challenges and many threats, but we know how to deal with all the threats and to cope with all the challenges,” he said from the Knesset on Monday. “There is no room for euphoria or pride, but we are ready for any scenario.”

A Shahab-3 long range missile, left, and Zolfaghar missiles, right, are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

Tehran vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid on April 9, killing at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The strike was widely attributed to Israel, though Jerusalem refused to comment on it. T-4 was the base from which Israel said Iran launched an attack drone into Israel in February. Late last month, a second strike, allegedly conducted by Israel against an Iranian-controlled base in northern Syria, was said to have killed more than two dozen Iranian soldiers.

Iran has access to a variety of surface-to-surface missiles, from short-range Fajr-5 rockets to medium-range Fateh 110 missiles, which have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles); to long-range Shahab ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.

To counter those threats, Israel has a multi-tiered missile defense system consisting of the Iron Dome for short-range rockets and mortar shells, the David’s Sling for medium-range missiles, and the Arrow for long-range ballistic missiles.

If these active air defense batteries fail, however, there are concerns that Israel’s passive protection against missiles — bomb shelters — will not provide an adequate solution.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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