Updated Apr 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden returns to the White House as imminent Iranian attack on Israel is possible

Biden boarding Air Force One

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 12 as he departs for Rehoboth, Delaware. Photo: Samuel Corom/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden decided to cut short his weekend vacation and return to the White House on Saturday for consultations ahead of a possible Iranian attack against Israel, the White House said.

Why it matters: Biden's decision signals that the White House thinks the Iranian attack could be imminent and take place within hours, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

  • Israel Defense Forces' home front command announced a state of alert starting 4pm ET Saturday and added that all schools and education institutions will be closed Sunday — another sign of an imminent attack.
  • The Israeli security cabinet was called for a meeting on Saturday night local time to discuss the preparation for an Iranian attack, Israeli officials say.

The latest: Jordan announced it is closing its air space for commercial flights ahead of possible escalation.

  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, Saturday morning "to discuss events in the Middle East."
  • "During the call, I reiterated the United States' ironclad commitment to the security of Israel," Sullivan said.

Driving the news: Iran has publicly vowed to "punish" Israel for the recent assassination of 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.
  • The Biden administration is concerned an Iranian attack and an Israeli retaliation could lead to another serious escalation in the region.
  • Iran sent a message to the Biden administration through several Arab countries earlier this week and threatened that if the U.S. gets involved in the fight between Israel and Iran, U.S. forces in the region will be attacked, Axios reported.

State of play: Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced on Saturday that it took over a commercial ship when it passed through the straight of Hormuz.

  • The ship, MSC AIRES, is partially owned by an Israeli businessman and a British company and was sailing under the flag of Portugal. It had no Israeli crew members.

What they're saying: "We strongly condemn the Iranian seizure of the Portuguese flagged, British-owned MSC AIRES in international waters," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrianne Watson said in a statement.

  • "The crew is comprised of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian & Estonian nationals. We call on Iran to release the vessel and its international crew immediately."
  • Watson added: "Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. It must be condemned unequivocally and we will work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its actions."

Zoom in: The U.S. and Israel have worked together in recent days to strengthen their coordination and preparedness to counter an Iranian attack, which will likely include the launch on ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and attack drones, Israeli and U.S. officials say.

  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke on the phone on Saturday with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant "to discuss urgent regional threats and reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel's defense," the Pentagon said.
  • Austin made clear to Gallant that "Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies."

Gallant said in a statement after the call that Israel is "closely monitoring a planned attack by Iran and its proxies."

  • He stressed that in recent days Israel has strengthened its defensive and offensive capabilities.
  • "We have added new capabilities - on land, in the air, at sea, in our intelligence directorate, within the State of Israel and together with our partners, led by the United States," Gallant said.
  • "Iran is a terrorist state. We are determined to defend our citizens against this terrorism, and we will know how to respond to it."

Go deeper: Scoop: Iran warns U.S. to stay out of fight with Israel or face attack on troops

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the latest.

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