Sunday, May 19, 2024

Biden vows ‘ironclad’ US commitment to Israel amid fears of Iran retaliation

US President Joe Biden has vowed that Washington's commitment to defend Israel against Tehran was “ironclad” as concerns rose in the United States that a “significant” Iranian strike could happen within days, in retaliation for the bombing of Iran’s consular building in Syria's Damascus that saw the killing of seven Iranian military advisors.

US and allied officials fear that a strike is imminent and could come in the form of a direct missile launch from Iran. Israel has vowed to respond in kind to such a direct strike, raising the prospect of a regional war, which US officials now believe is more likely than at any point since the beginning of the Gaza conflict on 7 October.

Biden’s pledge of support to Israel at the White House, intended as a deterrent, came a few hours after Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, repeated a threat to strike back against Israel over the Damascus bombing that killed 12 people, including General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and six other guard members.

“When they attacked our consulate area, it was like they attacked our territory,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

“The evil regime must be punished, and it will be punished.”

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, responded in a post on the X social media platform, vowing: “If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran.”

Israel and Iran have been trading blows in Lebanon and Syria for months, but Biden administration officials fear that the 1 April Damascus bombing on an Iranian diplomatic building, which Tehran considers its own territory, has significantly raised the threat of the Gaza war widening into a broader conflict.

Since the Damascus bombing, Tehran has sent Washington messages attributing ultimate blame for the attack on the US and warning the US to stay out of its confrontation with Israel.

Biden’s pledge to Israel on the White House lawn, in a joint appearance with the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, appeared to be a response to that warning, insisting the US would not stay on the sidelines.

“We also want to address the Iranian threat to launch a significant – they’re threatening to launch a significant attack in Israel,” Biden said, adding, “As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad. Let me say it again, ironclad. We’re gonna do all we can to protect Israel’s security.”

The Biden administration is seeking to head off a direct Iranian attack by messaging that Tehran cannot assume that US forces in the region, reinforced significantly since the start of the Gaza war, would stay out of a conflict with Israel.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken reiterated that message on Wednesday in a call with Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, in which he made clear the US would stand with Israel against any threats by Iran, the state department announced.

Among the possible targets are Israeli embassies around the world, and they have been taking extra security precautions in the wake of the Damascus bombing, but US officials also believe that a direct strike on military or government targets on “Israeli territory” is also a significant possibility.

The US and Israeli militaries and intelligence agencies are in constant contact about the threat. Axios reported that the head of US Central Command, Gen Erik Kurilla, is due in Israel on Thursday to discuss coordination with his Israeli counterparts and Gallant.

The ability of the Biden administration to rein in an Israeli response to an Iranian attack would very much depend on the specifics. If Iranian retaliation comes in the form of an assault on an Israeli embassy, or if an incoming Iranian missile or drone is intercepted, it may be possible to prevent escalation, officials stated, but if an Iranian strike caused multiple casualties inside Israel, it would be very much harder.

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