May 24, 2024

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American officials expect that the Israeli response to the Iranian strikes will be limited

American officials expect that the Israeli response to the Iranian strikes will be limited

US officials expect Israel's potential response to the Iranian attack over the weekend to be limited in scope, and will likely include strikes against Iranian military forces and Iranian-backed proxies outside Iran, four US officials told NBC News.

The American assessment is based on talks between American and Israeli officials that took place before Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night.

US officials said that while Israel was preparing for a possible Iranian attack last week, Israeli officials briefed US officials on potential response options.

US officials stressed that they had not been briefed on Israel's final decision on how to respond and that options could have changed since the weekend attack. They also said it was not clear when the Israeli response would occur, but it could happen at any time.

President Joe Biden and other leaders called for restraint after Israel vowed to respond to the Iranian attack on Saturday, which was a response to the April 1 Israeli raid on an Iranian consular building in Syria, which killed two of Tehran's top generals.

The officials said scenarios reviewed last week for possible retaliatory action for the consular strike ranged from a modest attack by Iran to a large-scale attack that led to Israeli casualties and the destruction of Israeli facilities.

Possible Israeli responses ranged from not taking any military action to launching strikes inside Iran.

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

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Three American officials said that options could include striking inside Syria. Officials do not expect the response to target senior Iranian officials, but instead to target shipments or storage facilities containing advanced missile parts, weapons, or components being sent from Iran to Hezbollah.

The officials added that the United States does not intend to participate in a military response. They expect Israel to share information about the actions with Washington in advance, specifically if they could have negative repercussions for Americans in the region.

An Israeli official said Monday after a meeting of Israel's war cabinet that Israel's response to the Iranian attack could be “imminent,” indicating that decision makers believe it is important that any response come close to the attack. The Israeli official said that several diplomatic and military options were discussed during the meeting.

Israel's Iron Dome air defense system was launched in central Israel to intercept missiles launched from Iran over the weekend.Tomer Newberg/AP

The United States and other allies came to Israel's aid during the raids, helping it intercept the vast majority of the drones and missiles fired at the country. But in a phone call on Saturday, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would not engage in offensive operations against Iran, a senior administration official said.

A group of chorus and diplomats condemned the weekend strikes while also warning of further escalation in the region.

“I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that might lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday at a Security Council meeting.

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Gilad Erdan, Israel's representative to the United Nations, said at the meeting that Israel “reserves the legal right to respond” and that the world “cannot accept inaction.”

Iran said in a statement issued by its Foreign Ministry that the strikes were carried out “in exercise of its inherent right to self-defense.” The statement said that Iran “will not hesitate to take further necessary defensive measures” to protect its legitimate interests against any act of military aggression or unlawful use of force.