Biden warns that Iran could attack Israel soon

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President Joe Biden on Friday said he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner rather than later," delivering a pessimistic assessment even as he warned Tehran against taking such an action.

Answering questions from reporters after delivering remarks to a convention of civil rights leaders, Biden said his grim outlook was based on intelligence reports that he was not at liberty to describe further.

Asked what he would say to Iran about a potential attack, Biden was terse. "Don't," he replied.

Expectations for a retaliatory attack have risen in the days since an Israeli strike on an Iranian embassy in Syria killed a number of senior commanders on April 1. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said that Israel "must be punished" for the embassy attack though Israel has not claimed responsibility for it.

The United States has begun restricting staff travel in Israel amid growing fears of an attack, either by Iran or its proxies.

Biden vowed that the U.S. would continue to defend Israel from any attacks, even as he has upped his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the war in Gaza.

"We are devoted to the defense of Israel," Biden said. "We will support Israel and help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed."

U.S. officials are discussing a variety of assessments of Iran’s likely actions, with a consensus forming that Tehran will take some retaliatory action, according to two State Department officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the dynamics.

But U.S. officials also believe Iran is likely to avoid striking American targets, a sign it does not want the conflict to escalate further. The U.S. believes Iran wants to send a message to Israel without compelling Washington to respond militarily, POLITICO reported.

If Iran does strike — either directly, through proxy militias or both — there is an expectation that it will strike inside Israel, and possibly elsewhere in the region, including Iraq, one of the State Department officials said. U.S. officials do not expect that Iran will hit Israeli targets in other parts of the world.

Iran-allied militant groups such as Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, could play a role, the official said, as could another ally, Yemen’s Houthis.

“The Houthis have this newfound role, authority, power that they’ve discovered they have. They feel they’re riding high,” the official said. “They may attack — maybe not because Iran directs them, but because they want to jump on the bandwagon.”

U.S. officials are trying to reassure Israel that Washington is solidly in its corner in the face of an Iranian attack. But they also suggest that they want to keep Israel from making any future move that could deepen the crisis.

The administration has “been in touch with Israel to ensure they are able to defend themselves from the significant threat they face while at the same time prevent tensions from escalating,” a U.S. official familiar with the issue said.