As Israel braces for potential Iranian attack, US warns Americans in the country to exercise caution


(JTA) — The United States is barring government personnel and their families in Israel from traveling outside several major urban areas as warnings of an Iranian attack on the country grow more intense.

Concerns have mounted in recent days over Iran’s potential response to an alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian embassy building in Syria last week that killed several Iranian officials. Iran has vowed to retaliate, raising questions over whether it would be most likely to attack directly or via a proxy, target civilians or the military, or hit Israeli territory directly.

Now, both U.S. and Israeli intelligence are warning that a direct strike on Israeli territory is seen as likely. And on Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Embassy told Americans in Israel to exercise caution.

“The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem reminds U.S. citizens of the continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning,” the alert said. “The security environment remains complex and can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events.”

The embassy sends alerts when concern heightens about safety conditions in particular areas, but the scope is typically limited; the most recent alert before Thursday came on March 5, when the embassy announced that government personnel and their families could not visit the Old City of Jerusalem on Fridays, the Muslim holy day, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Thursday’s alert suggested that much of the country should currently be considered potentially dangerous, specifying that government personnel are barred from traveling outside population centers in the middle and south of the country, an area that is seen as less vulnerable to attacks from proxies.

“Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv (including Herzliya, Netanya, and Even Yehuda), Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice. U.S. government personnel are authorized to transit between these three areas for personal travel,” the alert said.

It concluded, “This is provided for your information as you make your own security plans.”

Israeli officials have sought to project an air of preparedness as Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reiterated threats on Wednesday night. “The evil regime made a mistake and it should be punished and will be punished,” he said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

“We are braced and ready, on high alert, defensively and offensively,” the Israel Defense Forces’ top spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, said in a televised statement on Thursday evening. He said there were no new instructions directed at Israeli civilians, though the military has canceled leaves for soldiers in order to remain on high alert. Hagari added, “We’ll know to update the public and to deal with every threat.”

Israel has vowed to retaliate inside Iran if Iran strikes inside Israel, advancing the specter of a regional conflict that has been a growing concern since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terror group in Lebanon, has also been exchanging fire with Israel since Oct. 7.

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