US warns of imminent attack on Israeli assets by Iran or proxies

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Iran is 'threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel'. PHOTO: BONNIE CASH/PRESS POOL
US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Iran is 'threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel'. PHOTO: BONNIE CASH/PRESS POOL

Summary

Warning comes as the top American military commander for the Middle East iheads to the region.

WASHINGTON—U.S. intelligence reports show that an attack on Israeli assets by Iran or its proxies could be imminent, U.S. officials said Wednesday, as the top American military commander for the Middle East headed to Israel to coordinate a response.

Iran has publicly threatened to retaliate for a strike in Syria on an Iranian diplomatic building in Damascus last week, presumed to be the work of Israel, that killed top Iranian military officials, including a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

Syria and Iran accused Israel of carrying out the attack, which killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who managed Iranian paramilitary operations in Syria and Lebanon, according to Iranian state media and U.S. officials. Zahedi was the highest-ranking Iranian military official to be killed since the January 2020 U.S. assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

The U.S. has said it wasn’t involved in the strike in Syria and received no previous warning from Israel that it planned to conduct the attack.

It is unclear whether Iran is planning to conduct a direct strike on Israeli targets or use one of its Middle East proxies. In the past, Tehran has appeared eager to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel or the U.S. and worked via proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Iran-backed groups in Iraq.

But U.S. defense officials warned that Iran could use its own military forces this time to demonstrate a forceful response to Zahedi’s death.

President Biden said on Wednesday that Iran is “threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel."

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

Israeli officials have vowed to strike back if the country is attacked by Iran. The rhetoric on both sides has raised concerns about a wider Middle East war six months after Hamas attacked Israel, leaving more than 1,200 people dead, according to Israel, and prompting an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. That offensive has resulted in the death of more than 33,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials, whose figures don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, had planned to travel to Israel before the strike in Damascus, U.S. defense officials said, primarily to iron out logistics for a U.S. temporary pier set to be placed in northern Gaza to expand humanitarian aid deliveries.

He now is expected to leave this week to also discuss a possible Iranian attack and how the U.S. could respond, the officials said. Kurilla is expected to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant.

While the Pentagon doesn’t discuss whether it is currently adjusting forces in response to potential threats, U.S. military forces in the region had already been at a heightened state since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday on X that the strikes in Syria constituted an attack on Iranian soil and that Israel “should be punished, and it will be punished." Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded that if Iran attacks Israel from Iranian soil, Israel would retaliate inside Iran.

Write to Warren P. Strobel at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com, Gordon Lubold at gordon.lubold@wsj.com and Nancy A. Youssef at nancy.youssef@wsj.com

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