US allies urge Iran not to retaliate against Israel

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Western and Arab governments are rushing to convince Iran to show restraint as the United States warns its allies that Tehran is close to military retaliation against Israel for an attack on Iran's Damascus consulate.

Thursday's diplomatic push came amid concerns in Western capitals that Iran was preparing to respond directly against Israel, rather than through proxies, to avenge the assassination of several top Iranian generals last week.

Washington recently informed allies that Iran's retaliation would be immediate as it insisted on putting pressure on Tehran, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

A second diplomat familiar with the warning said the U.S. said a direct attack by Iran on Israel was possible, significantly escalating six months of hostilities in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Thursday that Israel would retaliate against any attack on its interests, saying its forces were “ready” for any external threats to the Jewish state. “Whoever harms us, we will harm them,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach telephoned her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amiraptolahian on Thursday to discuss the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

“No one can have any interest in territorial expansion,” the German ministry said in a statement. “All players in the region are called upon to act responsibly and exercise restraint.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach discussed the rapidly deteriorating security situation with her Iranian counterpart. © Kay Nietfeld/dpa

Amirabtullahian held telephone conversations with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on Wednesday night, with Iran's foreign ministry saying the consequences of Israel's attack on the Iranian embassy were among the topics discussed. He spoke to his Turkish counterpart on Thursday.

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that last week's attack that killed several senior Iranian generals amounted to an attack on Iranian territory and that Israel should be “punished”.

The strike on the Iranian consulate in Lebanon and Syria, which killed one of the senior figures of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is a significant escalation of hostilities in the Middle East since the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel in October last year.

Khamenei's language, particularly when he compared the attack to a violation of Iran's sovereignty, has raised concerns that any retaliation could be aimed directly at Israel, rather than channeled through Iran's proxies in the region.

Responding to Khamenei's statement, US President Joe Biden reiterated his “ironclad” support for Israel, indicating that the US would do “everything we can” to protect the security of its allies.

“Our commitment to Israel's defense against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” he said after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “I'll say it again: iron fist.”

Iran delivered a message to Washington after the Damascus attack, a senior US official said. In response, Washington warned Tehran “not to use this strike as a pretext for further escalation in the region or to attack US facilities or personnel”.

In the past six months, Israel has exchanged cross-border fire with Iran-backed militant groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while Yemeni militias have carried out attacks on Red Sea shipping.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed three sons and three grandchildren of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh in an airstrike in Gaza, while a Lebanese man accused by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control of sending Iranian money to Hamas was found dead in a town. Near Beirut.

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Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack on the Iranian embassy, ​​widely seen as the worst blow to the Iranian military since the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani in 2020.

However, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – the pro-Iranian militia that dominates southern Lebanon – have all blamed Israel, and Iranian officials have repeatedly said they would retaliate.

“The time has come to punish Israel,” Iranian state news agency IRNA wrote on Wednesday. It said the final decision was made on how to respond to Israel, saying failure to respond would undermine Iran's “deterrence”.

The Tasnim news agency, close to the Revolutionary Guards, wrote that Iran's “punishment” of Israel was inevitable and “severe”.

But it said how and when Iran would act was confidential, and reports that Tehran might retaliate or launch missile and drone strikes in the next few days were speculation.

Israeli security analysts say an Iranian attack could range from a strike through one of Iran's proxies, Hezbollah, to a direct attack on Israel from Iran itself, which risks escalating regional conflict.

An Iranian official said last week that Israeli embassies were “no longer secure,” fueling speculation that they could be a potential target.

Amid concerns of a wider conflict, German airline Lufthansa, one of the few international carriers flying to Tehran, suspended flights to the Iranian capital.

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