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U.S. restricts staff travel in Israel as Iran attack fears rise

WorldU.S. restricts staff travel in Israel as Iran attack fears rise

The United States has restricted travel for its staff in Israel, as fears grow of an imminent retaliatory attack by Iran.

The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem issued a security alert Thursday restricting its employees and their family members from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice “out of an abundance of caution.”

The warning comes as Israel’s military vowed it would defend the country and respond, with expectations mounting that Tehran will soon strike back for the attack on its embassy in Syria that killed a number of senior commanders. The exchanges have raised fears that the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the Gaza Strip could escalate into a wider conflict.

Israel never claimed responsibility for the airstrike on its rival’s consulate in Damascus, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this week that Israel “must be punished and it shall be,” for what he considered an effective attack on Iranian soil.

The U.S. has promised support for its ally in the face of Iranian threats and worked to persuade Tehran to avoid significant escalation, but Israel has signaled its readiness for whatever retribution may be coming.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that a direct Iranian attack will require “an appropriate Israeli response” against Iran, while an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said that the country was “alert and highly prepared” for a variety of scenarios.

“Whoever harms us, we will harm them,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said Thursday as he visited an airbase. “We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively,” he added.

Netanyahu vowed Thursday that Israel was prepared for scenarios beyond Gaza.
Netanyahu vowed Thursday that Israel was prepared for scenarios beyond Gaza.Israeli Prime Minister’s Office

The growing tensions in the Middle East come as Palestinians in Gaza marked somber Eid celebrations this week amid severe food shortages despite Israeli promises to allow more humanitarian aid into the enclave. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that famine in Gaza was “imminent,” after USAID Administrator Samantha Power said a day earlier that it was “credible” to assess that famine had already begun in the territory.

More than 33,600 people have now been killed in Gaza, the enclave’s Health Ministry said, in the six months of war since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7, which killed an estimated 1,200 people.

The militant group’s political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Hamas was still seeking a cease-fire deal despite the deaths of his three sons in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza earlier this week, but talks to secure a truce and the release of remaining hostages remain deadlocked.

It remained unclear whether Iran’s retaliation would come in the form of a direct attack or through some of the web of Tehran-backed groups who have already waged attacks from Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen in recent months.

Tehran has so far avoided direct confrontation with Israel or Washington. But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Thursday that “legitimate defense with the aim of punishing the aggressor” was a necessity in the wake of the consulate strike, accusing Israel of targeting diplomatic premises in violation of international law, according to Iranian state-run news agency IRNA.

The Pentagon said Thursday that top U.S. commander for the Middle East, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, had moved up his trip to Israel so he could meet with Israeli military leadership and discuss “current security threats.”

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Iran was threatening to launch a “significant attack on Israel,” and that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies remained “ironclad” despite growing criticism from Washington of its ally’s actions in Gaza.

The White House also said Thursday that the U.S. has communicated to Iran that it had no involvement in the strike in Damascus, and warned Iran not to use this attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region, or to attack U.S. facilities or personnel.

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