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News / Nation & World

Israel bracing for ‘punishment’ attack from Iran

Western intelligence says government could be hit Saturday

By Donato Paolo Mancini, Jennifer Jacobs and Alex Wickham, Donato Paolo Mancini, Jennifer Jacobs and Alex Wickham, Bloomberg News
Published: April 12, 2024, 3:33pm

Israel is bracing for a direct and unprecedented attack by Iran on government targets as soon as Saturday, according to people familiar with western intelligence assessments, a move that has the potential to trigger an all-out regional war.

An assault from Iranian soil has emerged as one of the main scenarios expected by the Jewish state and its allies, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A bombardment with drones and precision missiles could come within the next 48 hours, they said.

Oil jumped to the highest level since October on the news, rallying as much as 2.6 percent to top $92 a barrel. Futures have surged 19 percent this year, with the war adding risk premium to the market.

The United States is preparing defenses and has moved additional military assets to the region, while intensifying diplomatic efforts to rein in hostilities, the people said. The attack still hasn’t been approved by Tehran’s highest-ranking officials, they said.

An Iranian missile and drone barrage would represent a retaliation for a deadly strike on its diplomatic compound in Syria last week, which the Islamic Republic blames on Israel. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly said Israel will be “punished” for the assault, though he stopped short of saying what form such a counter move would take.

One of the people said it’s possible that the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric between Israel, Iran and the U.S. could be grandstanding, but said the working assumption for Israel and allies is that an attack is imminent. Diplomatic back-channels are in overdrive, the people said.

U.S. officials including Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk have been working to send messages to Iran, including through an established Swiss channel, one of the people said, while talking to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other governments.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that the U.S. has warned Iran not to use Israel’s attack on Syria as a pretext to escalate hostilities further.

“We’ve seen the threats coming from Iran, and so we have made ourselves very clear where we stand in supporting Israel’s security,” she said. “That is ironclad.”

Any Iranian attack on Israel would likely be a combination of missiles and drones, based on current capabilities outlined in a new Defense Intelligence Agency Worldwide Threat assessment released late Thursday.

The regime “has a substantial inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking targets as far as 2,000 kilometers from its borders,” the agency said.

Israel hasn’t claimed or denied responsibility for the Damascus attack, in keeping with a decades-long policy of ambiguity on such operations in the region.