US targets may not be on the list for a possible attack on Iran, officials say

American analysts and intelligence officials said Friday they expect Iran to strike several targets inside Israel in the coming days in retaliation for an Israeli bombing in the Syrian capital on April 1 that killed several senior Iranian commanders.

The United States, Israel's main ally, has military forces in several locations in the Middle East. But Iran is not expected to target them to avoid direct conflict with the United States, according to U.S. and Iranian officials who spoke anonymously about the expected strikes, which they were not authorized to discuss publicly.

Any Iranian attack inside Israel would represent a turning point in the decades of hostility between the two nations and would most likely open a new, volatile chapter in the region. Israel and Iran maintain no direct communication channels, which greatly increases the possibility that each side could misunderstand the other's intentions. And an Iranian attack would raise the risk of a broader conflict that could involve multiple countries, including the United States.

In comments to reporters on Friday, President Biden said he expected a military strike against Israel “sooner or later” and that his message to Iran was “don't do it.”

“We are devoted to the defense of Israel,” he added. “We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed.”

In anticipation of an Iranian attack, several countries, including the United States, have issued new guidelines for their citizens to travel to Israel and the surrounding region. The Israeli army said its forces were on high alert.

The US State Department on Thursday banned its employees from traveling to much of Israel, the first time the US government has restricted the movement of its employees in this way since the war in Gaza began more than six months ago.

On Thursday, Britain told its citizens that they “should consider leaving” Israel and the Palestinian territories “if it is safe to do so.” On Friday, India told its citizens “not to travel to Iran or Israel until further notice.” AND France advised people not to travel to Israel, Iran or Lebanon, and evacuated the families of French diplomats from Iran.

Details about Iran's potential attack on Israel are closely guarded, but American and Israeli officials have assessed that it could involve drones and missiles. Iran has the Middle East's largest arsenal of ballistic missiles and drones, including cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, experts say, as well as short- and long-range ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles). .

Iran also has a large inventory of drones that have a range of 1,200 to 1,550 miles and are capable of flying at low altitudes to evade radar.

The exact form an attack on Israel might take, the type of targets involved and the precise timing remain unclear.

America's top military commander for the Middle East, Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, traveled to Israel this week to coordinate a response in the event of an attack by Iran, U.S. officials said.

“Our enemies think they will divide Israel and the United States,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement Friday after meeting with General Kurilla. “They are connecting us and strengthening the relationship between us.”

If Iran attacks, he added, “we will know how to respond.”

On Thursday, Israeli army chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military was “highly alert and prepared” for any action by Iran.

Iran has publicly and repeatedly vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed three generals and four officers of its elite Quds Force, an arm of the Guards Corps of the Islamic Revolution.

But analysts say Iranian leaders want to calibrate their response so that it is big enough to send a message at home and abroad that Iran is not helpless in the face of the conflict, but not so big that it turns into a real and own war with Israel. or launch an American attack.

In the early months of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Iranian-backed militias regularly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. But after a drone strike killed three Americans in Jordan in January and the United States launched retaliatory strikes, Iran halted attacks by its proxies, fearing a more powerful U.S. response.

Despite the clashes and hostile rhetoric, both Iranian and US leaders have made it clear that they want to avoid an all-out war.

John F. Kirby, White House national security spokesman, told reporters Friday: “We are certainly aware of a public threat and what we consider to be a very credible threat posed by Iran in terms of potential attacks against Israel, and that We are in constant communication with our Israeli counterparts to ensure they can defend themselves against these types of attacks.”

It is unclear how Israel would respond to an Iranian attack on its territory. The Israeli military “continues to closely monitor what is happening in Iran and elsewhere,” Herzi Halevi, Israel's chief of staff, said in a statement Friday. He added: “Our forces are prepared and ready at any time and for any scenario.”

Iran believes it can generate international support for a retaliatory attack by focusing attention on the attack on its embassy compound and claiming it was simply defending itself, Iranian officials said.

International law generally considers embassies and consulates to be free from attacks. But Israeli officials have argued that the destroyed building was diplomatic in name only and was being used as a base for the Revolutionary Guards, as evidenced by senior commanders gathering there when they were killed.

A Revolutionary Guards strategist said Iran wants to take advantage of the growing rift between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Biden over Israel's conduct in the war against Hamas – and not unite them in hostility toward Iran.

The Biden administration has not only criticized the level of death and destruction caused by Israeli forces in Gaza, but has also expressed fears that increased fighting along Israel's northern borders, primarily with Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah, could escalate into a larger regional war.

In an apparent response to international pressure, including from the United States, to do more to alleviate the hunger and deprivation produced by the war in Gaza, the Israeli military said on Friday it had begun allowing humanitarian aid trucks to enter northern Gaza through a new crossing.

The military did not specify the location of the new crossing, and it was unclear how many trucks crossed, which aid agency they belonged to and when the crossing might be opened for wider use.

Jamie McGoldrick, a senior U.N. relief official in Jerusalem, said U.N. officials planned to travel to the crossing on Saturday to examine it. He said the crossing would represent a significant improvement “if it could be large-scale and not temporary.”

After Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers on April 1, Biden told Netanyahu by telephone that the United States could withhold military support from Israel unless it did more to protect civilians and ensure adequate supplies to Palestinian civilians.

Gallant, Israel's defense minister, pledged Wednesday to “flood Gaza with aid” and said he expected to eventually see 500 relief trucks enter the enclave on a daily basis. UN data shows that an average of around 110 humanitarian aid trucks have entered Gaza every day since the war began on October 7.

Gallant also said Israel would soon open the port of Ashdod, an Israeli city north of Gaza, to accept aid shipments, without giving a timeline.

Liam Stack contributed to the reporting.

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