White House says threat of significant attack by Iran on Israel ‘real and credible’

The US is on high alert for a significant retaliatory attack on Israel by Iran, despite efforts from Washington and allies to try and avert a wider war across the Middle East.

Israel has said it is ready to defend itself from any reprisals over a strike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital, Damascus, at the beginning of the month, in which a number of senior Iranian commanders were killed. While Israel has not spoken about the attack, it is believed they carried it out. Tehran has vowed to respond. Western nations fear that an already volatile situation in the region, thanks to war in Gaza, could quickly spiral further.

CBS, quoting two unnamed US officials, reported that an attack, potentially containing up to 100 drones and missiles could come as early as Friday night. The official added that there was still a possibility Iran could decide to hold back.

John Kirby, the retired US Navy rear admiral who serves as Joe Biden’s national security communications adviser, declined to go into detail regarding the intelligence on which American officials are basing their assessment of Tehran’s intentions when pressed on the matter during a White House press briefing on Friday. But he said the US is looking at its own force posture in the region in light of Tehran’s threat and is watching the situation very closely.

He referred reporters to remarks Mr Biden had made alongside Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio, in which Mr Biden had reiterated what he described as an “ironclad” American commitment to Israel’s defence and vowed that the US would “do all we can to protect Israel’s security”.

“We are certainly mindful of a very public and what we consider to be a very credible threat made by Iran in terms of potential attacks on Israel, and that we are in constant communication with our Israeli counterparts about making sure that they can defend themselves against those kinds of attacks,” he said.

Mr Kirby also told reporters that US officials “do believe that this is still a viable threat” from Tehran and stressed that the Biden administration is “doing everything we can to make sure that Israel can defend itself”, citing the presence of General Michael Kurilla, the head of US Central Command, in Israel to meet with and advise his Israeli counterparts.

Though the White House spokesperson demurred when asked if Mr Biden would have anything further to say about the issue, he stressed that the president is being “briefed by the national security team, multiple times a day, in terms of what we’re seeing” and “has kept himself completely informed”.

“He has made it clear to the entire national security team that we will take seriously our commitments to the defence of Israel,” Mr Kirby said.

India and France issued pleas to its citizens not to travel to the region on Friday, while the UK and Germany warned Iran not to escalate tensions.

India advised its citizens against travelling to Iran and Israel until further notice in view of the “prevailing situation in the region”.

India’s foreign ministry said its citizens in the two countries should observe “utmost precautions about their safety and restrict their movements to the minimum”.

The French foreign ministry advised French citizens against travelling to Iran, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories amid Iran’s threats against its regional adversary.

In a statement on social media platform X, the French foreign ministry added that relatives of Iran-based diplomats will return to France and that French civil servants are now banned from conducting any missions in Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On Thursday, the US State Department barred diplomatic staff and their families in Israel from travelling outside of the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva.

The security alert did not mention Iran directly but it followed a warning from Tehran that they would “punish” those it viewed as responsible for the attack in Syria.

“Out of an abundance of caution, US 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,” the US embassy warning read.

“The security environment remains complex and can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events.”

Russia has also issued similar travel advisories for their staff and citizens in the region.

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