JERUSALEM - Israel is on high alert fearing possible retaliation for the U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. President Donald Trump has stepped up his rhetoric and Iranian leaders are threatening both the U.S. and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasted no time in praising President Trump for the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader Qassem Soleimani.
"Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has the same right. Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully, decisively. Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense," he said.
Netanyahu also cut short a trip to Greece to return home immediately. Israel is concerned that retaliation could come either directly from Iran or through the Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the killing was the start of a new war with the U.S., and called on Shi’ite militias to attack U.S. military assets throughout the Middle East. He also said that Israel had asked the U.S. to kill Soleimani.
Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian sites if Tehran retaliates against U.S. interests.
Israeli officials say Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets that can hit all parts of the country. At the same time, they do not believe that Hezbollah wants an all-out war with Israel.
Israel closed the Mount Hermon ski resort on the border with Syria and Lebanon on Friday, fearing possible attacks, and kept it closed Saturday because of a major storm in the area. It is now open, however, meaning that intelligence officials do not believe an attack is imminent.
Israel also urged its embassies abroad to step up security procedures, fearing possible retaliation; but, Israel’s former chief of military intelligence said it is more likely that any retaliation will focus on U.S. interests.
Israeli analysts also debated how serious a blow the death of Soleimani will be to Iran. Dan Orbach, a military historian, told Israel Radio that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are known to be decentralized and that Soleimani’s killing will not paralyze the organization.
"On the other hand, Soleimani was a very charismatic person – he had a lot of experience, he had a lot of knowledge. He [was] directing operations especially in the Arab world and against Israel. We don’t know for certain but his successor, Ismail Raraby, probably does not even speak Arabic," Orbach said.
Israeli officials say they will continue to stay on high alert both in Israel and abroad for several months.