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U.S. officials expect Israeli response to Iran strikes will be limited


American officials expect a possible Israeli response to Iran’s attack over the weekend to be limited in scope and likely involve strikes against Iranian military forces and Iranian-backed proxies outside Iran, four United States officials told NBC News.     

The U.S. assessment is based on conversations between American and Israeli officials that happened before Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night.

As Israel was preparing for a possible Iranian attack last week, Israeli officials briefed U.S. officials about possible response options, the U.S. officials said. 

The U.S. officials stressed that they have not been briefed on Israel’s final decision about how it will respond and that the options could have changed since the weekend attack. They also said it is not clear when an Israeli response will happen but say it could happen at any time.

President Joe Biden and other leaders have called for restraint after Israel vowed it would respond to Iran’s Saturday attack, which was in retaliation for an Israeli strike April 1 on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed two of Tehran’s top generals.

The scenarios briefed last week regarding possible retaliatory action for the consular strike ranged from a modest attack by Iran to a widespread attack that resulted in Israeli casualties and the destruction of Israeli facilities, the officials said.

The potential Israeli responses ranged from no military action to strikes inside Iran.

Because the Iranian attack did not result in Israeli deaths or widespread destruction, the U.S. officials said Israel could respond with one of its less aggressive options — strikes outside Iran. 

The options could include striking inside Syria, three U.S. officials told NBC News. The officials do not expect the response to target senior Iranian officials but to instead strike shipments or storage facilities with advanced missile parts, weapons or components, that are sent from Iran to Hezbollah. 

The U.S. does not intend to take part in the military response, the officials added. They do expect Israel to share information about the actions with Washington in advance, specifically if it could have negative repercussions for Americans in the region. 

An Israeli official said Monday, after a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet that its response to the Iranian attack may be “imminent,” noting that decision-makers believed it was important for any response to follow in close proximity to the attack. The Israeli official said several diplomatic and military options were examined during the meeting.

Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, over the weekend.
Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, over the weekend.Tomer Neuberg / AP

The U.S. and other allies came to Israel’s aid during the strikes, helping it intercept the vast majority of drones and missiles fired at the country. But in a call Saturday, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. would not participate in offensive operations against Iran, a senior administration official has said.

A chorus of nations and diplomats have condemned the weekend strikes while also cautioning against further escalation in the region.

“I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at a meeting of the organization’s Security Council on Sunday.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s representative to the U.N., said at the meeting that Israel “reserves the legal right to retaliate,” and that the world “cannot settle for inaction.”

Iran has said in a statement from its foreign ministry that the strikes were carried out “in exercise of its inherent right of self-defense.” The statement said it “would not hesitate to take further necessary defensive measures” to protect its legitimate interests against any act of military aggression or unlawful use of force.”


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