Apr 10, 2024 - World

Scoop: Senior U.S. general to visit Israel to coordinate on Iran attack threat

Iranian missiles are being displayed at the Azadi (Freedom) square in western Tehran during a rally to mark the 45th anniversary of the Victory of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, on February 11, 2024.

Iranian missiles displayed in western Tehran during a rally to mark the 45th anniversary of the victory of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Feb. 11. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The senior U.S. military commander in charge of the Middle East is expected to go to Israel Thursday to coordinate around a possible attack on Israel by Iran and its proxies, two Israeli officials said.

Why it matters: Iranian officials have publicly threatened to retaliate against Israel for an attack in Syria last week that killed a top Iranian general. An attack on Israel or its bases could lead to another regional escalation.

  • Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of the U.S. Central Command, is expected to meet Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and senior Israel Defense Forces officials.
  • Israeli officials say they are preparing for a possible unprecedented direct attack from Iranian soil using ballistic missiles, drones and cruise missiles against Israeli targets.
  • In such a scenario, Israel will retaliate with a direct attack against Iran, the officials said.
  • A U.S. defense official said it was Department of Defense policy to "not discuss flag officer travel for operational security."

Catch up quick: An Israeli strike on Damascus last week killed Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a top Iranian Quds Force general in charge of Iran's military operations in Lebanon and Syria.

  • Zahedi was the most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer to be killed since the U.S. assassinated Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
  • Zahedi was killed along with other Iranian officers in an Israeli strike on a building adjacent to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus.
  • The Iranians claim the building was a consulate and said the strike is an attack on its soil in violation of international law.
  • Israeli officials claim it was not a diplomatic facility but a building used by the IRGC for military operations.

Driving the news: Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Israel made a mistake by attacking the Iranian Consulate in Damascus and killing the general.

  • "Israel must be punished, and they will pay for their mistakes," he said.
  • Gallant responded during a visit to an Iron Dome missile defense unit in Israel and said, "Whoever tries to attack us will be faced with strong defense and right after with strong response in his territory."

Behind the scenes: U.S. and Israeli officials across agency levels have been speaking over the last few days to prepare for the Iranian response, officials on both sides told Axios.

  • On Monday, Gallant spoke to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the Iranian threats. On Tuesday, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer held a call on this issue with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, an official said.
  • Blinken spoke with Gallant on Wednesday and "reiterated the United States' support for Israel's security and made clear that the U.S. will stand with Israel against any threats by Iran and its proxies," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

A senior Israeli official said Israel asked the U.S. if it could help limit the Iranian response by sending private and public warning messages to the Iranians and projecting its force in the region.

  • Israel and the U.S. have also been coordinating in recent days on joint air and missile defense in the region ahead of a possible Iranian attack, the Israeli official said.
  • The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Iraq spoke today on the phone with Iran's foreign minister and discussed regional tensions, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.
  • A source with direct knowledge said the Arab foreign ministers spoke to their Iranian counterpart after they received calls from White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk, who asked them to convey a message to Iran of the need to de-escalate the situation.

What they're saying: President Biden sent a public warning to Iran during a press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday.

  • "We also want to address the Iranian threat to launch a ... significant attack on Israel. As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad," Biden said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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