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Israel braces for possible Iranian retaliation after Soleimani strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Oded Balilty/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli officials say the country is bracing for possible Iranian retaliation after the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — and has started taking precautionary measures.

Why it matters: Some Iranian officials mentioned Israel as a "co-conspirator" in Soleimani's death alongside the U.S. Israeli officials say Iran could retaliate against Israel as part of any larger move against the U.S. by using their proxies in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

  • It is still unclear if the U.S. gave Israel any heads up before the strike on Soleimani in Baghdad.

The big picture: It seems Iran was caught by surprise by the U.S. strike and miscalculated Trump’s thinking.

  • Iran's national security council, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, convened to discuss different options, though the easiest way for Iran to retaliate is in Iraq through its proxies there.
  • It seems to want and use this development to push for a strategic change in Iraq — mainly for Iraq's parliament to move to get U.S. forces out of the country.

What's happening: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to cut short his visit to Greece and return to Israel on Friday in order to monitor the situation.

  • Israeli defense minister Naftali Bennett convened an emergency meeting at the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss the situation.
  • The Israeli army also announced it was closing the Mount Hermon ski resort in the northern Golan Heights. The site on the border with Syria is a potential target for rocket fire by pro-Iranian militias in Syria.

What they're saying: "Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right," Netanyahu said in a statement.

  • "Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks."
  • "President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively. Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense."

What's next: Israeli officials don't know if and how Iran will retaliate — but the current decision is to keep a low profile and not get involved in the tensions in Iraq.

  • For this reason, Netanyahu's office asked all government ministers to refrain from public statements on the issue.

Go deeper: America's war footing against Iran