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Monday, May 20, 2024

US Restricts Diplomats’ Travel In Israel, Bracing For Iran Attack By Week’s End

Iran is expected to attack Israel by week’s end, or at least within the coming days. However, the degree of telegraphing has almost taken the teeth out of the threat and what Iran hopes to accomplish in its retaliation.

“Iran is calibrating its plans for a major retaliatory strike against Israel to send a messagebut not spark a regional war that compels Washington to respond, the U.S. assesses,” Politico reports of what’s expected. “Biden administration officials judge that Iran is planning a larger-than-usual aerial attack on Israel in the coming days, one that will likely feature a mix of missiles and drone strikes, said two U.S. officials who were granted anonymity to detail sensitive intelligence assessments.”

US Embassy in Israel, Getty Images

The Pentagon has apparently moved naval assets closer to Israel in expectation of Iranian strikes (or else major attacks from their proxies like Hezbollah or the Houthis), including the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier which is patrolling the Red Sea. Israel’s Channel 14 also reports, “The US military deployed a missile ship with advanced defense capabilities near the shores of Israel.”

The US has said it is ready to coordinate a response with Israel if it is hit; however, the defense consensus is that Iran is unlikely to send missiles and drones directly from its soil. CBS has newly cited two US officials who say that “a major Iranian attack against Israel was expected as soon as Friday, possibly to include more than 100 drones and dozens of missiles aimed at military targets inside the country.”

But so far the past days have been a constant avalanche of speculation as an attack remains ‘imminent’. The US State Department is taking action, issuing a security warning to all government employees and their families for the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Travel restrictions have been placed on their movements, after the embassy has been on edge ever since Israel’s unprecedented April 1st attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus.

“Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, … Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice,” US Embassy security alert, issued Thursday says.

“The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem reminds U.S. citizens of the continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning,” the alert continued. “The security environment remains complex and can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events.”

Several other countries have issued travel warnings to their citizens, while bracing for a possible bigger war in the Middle East, including Russia and India of late. The UK and France have reportedly called on their citizens to leave immediately, citing an inevitable attack from Iran.

Meanwhile the speculation continues as to the timing, with The Wall Street Journal on Friday reporting that “Israel is preparing for a direct attack from Iran on southern or northern Israel as soon as Friday or Saturday, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

However, even US intelligence doesn’t have a crystal ball. The WSJ follows with this caveat: “A person briefed by the Iranian leadership, however, said that while plans to attack are being discussed, no final decision has been made.”

Starting Thursday, Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Israel amid reports that the US and Israel could respond jointly to any imminent Iranian attack on Israel. Alarmingly, Ynet reports Friday that “The IDF and Mossad approved plans for an attack on Iran in the event that Israel would come under attack from Iranian territory. Additionally, the coordination between the U.S. and Israeli militaries, has increased.”

Below are the morning’s geopolitical headlines via Newsquawk:

* * *

MIDDLE EAST – EUROPEAN MORNING

  • “The (Israeli) army and the Mossad approved plans to target the heart of Iran if Israel (is) bombed from inside Iranian territory”, via Al Jazeera citing Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • Hamas sources: “The organization’s leadership informed the mediators that it is not interested in further discussions about the deal, as long as there is no progress in its demands…”, according to journalist Kais citing Hezbollah-affiliated press.
  • “US official to Al-Arabiya: We will participate in the response if Iran escalates with an appropriate response”, according to Al Arabiya

MIDDLE EAST

  • Israel is prepared for an Iranian strike from its territory in the next 48 hours, according to WSJ. Israeli army said Iran is preparing its proxies in the region to attack them, according to Al Arabiya.
  • Israeli Defence Minister Gallant told US Defense Secretary Austin that a direct Iranian attack on Israeli territory would compel Israel to respond in an appropriate way against Iran, according to Axios.
  • Iran reportedly signalled to Washington it will respond to Israel’s attack on its Syrian embassy in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, according to Reuters citing Iranian sources. Furthermore, a source familiar with US intelligence was not aware of the message conveyed but said Iran has been very clear its response would be controlled and non-escalatory, and planned to use regional proxies to launch a number of attacks on Israel.
  • US President Biden’s administration officials judge that Iran is planning a larger-than-usual aerial attack on Israel in the coming days which will likely feature a mix of missiles and drone strikes, according to two US officials cited by Politico.
  • US official said the US expects an attack by Iran against Israel which they think will be calibrated to be bigger than usual but not so big it would draw the US into war, while US officials have also been in touch with regional partners to discuss efforts to manage and ultimately reduce further risks of escalation.
  • US said it had restricted its employees in Israel and their family members from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva areas amid Iran’s threats of retaliation against Israel.
  • US State Department senior official said a robust conversation with Iraq is likely to lead to a second US-Iraq joint security cooperation dialogue later this year.

OTHER

  • US President Biden warned that any attack on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea would invoke their mutual defence treaty.
  • China’s top legislator Zhao Leji and North Korean counterpart discussed promoting exchange and cooperation in all fields, according to KCNA.
  • Four drones shot down overnight near Russia’s Novoshakhtinsk in a town in near proximity to an oil refinery

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