Iran Likely Will Strike Israel, Not U.S. Forces, U.S. and Iranian Officials Say

Iran is expected to mount an attack soon on Israel, but not on the United States or its military forces, when Tehran retaliates for an Israeli bombing in Damascus, Syria, that killed several senior Iranian commanders, U.S. and Iranian officials said on Friday.

American intelligence analysts and officials think Iran will strike multiple targets inside Israel within the next few days, three U.S. officials said, speaking on anonymity to talk about sensitive matters they were not authorized to discuss publicly. Officials did not indicate what form the attack would take, what kinds of targets would be involved and the precise timing — information that is very closely guarded among senior Iranians.

The United States, Israel’s pre-eminent ally, has military forces in several places across the Middle East, but Iran likely will not target them to avoid inciting a direct conflict with the United States, according to Iranian officials, who similarly insisted on remaining anonymous, and the American officials.

In the first months of the war between Israel and Hamas, Iran-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 stopped the attacks by its proxies, fearing a more powerful U.S. response. Despite the clashes and hostile rhetoric, both Iranian and U.S. leaders have made it clear they want to avoid all-out war.

Iran has publicly and repeatedly vowed revenge for the April 1 strike on its embassy complex in Damascus that killed three generals and four other officers of its elite Quds Force, the foreign military and intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. But analysts say Iranian leaders want to calibrate their response so it is big enough to impress, at home and abroad, that Iran is not impotent in the face of conflict, but not so big that it spirals into a full-fledged war with Israel or draws an American attack.

How Israel would respond to an Iranian attack on its soil is unclear. The Israeli military “continues to monitor closely what is happening in Iran and different arenas,” Herzi Halevi, chief of the Israeli general staff, said in a statement on Friday. He added, “Our forces are prepared and ready at all times and for any scenario.”

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