The United States sends a general to Israel fearing Iranian attacks

The United States sent its top Middle East military commander to Israel on Thursday, after President Biden said that despite recent friction, American support for Israel “is ironclad” in the event of an attack by Iran .

Iranian leaders have repeatedly vowed to punish Israel for the April 1 attack in Syria that killed several top Iranian commanders. Israel has put its military on alert, and Biden said on Wednesday that Iran was threatening a “significant” attack.

General Michael E. Kurilla, the American commander, will coordinate with Israel on what is expected to be an imminent retaliatory action by Iran and will also discuss the war against Hamas in Gaza and humanitarian aid operations in the area, according to officials who spoke at the debate. condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Thursday that Israel is facing “difficult times,” stressing that “in the midst of the war in Gaza” his country was “also prepared for scenarios that bring challenges in other areas.”

“We have established a simple rule: whoever harms us, we will harm him,” he said during a visit to an air base, using language that has been used in recent days to refer to threats from Iran and its delegates, including Hamas.

Active fighting in Gaza has fallen to its lowest level since November. Israel withdrew troops from southern Gaza over the weekend but said the military would remain in other parts of the territory to preserve its “freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations.”

Netanyahu said a date had been set for a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge – an operation that US officials have warned would be catastrophic for civilians. Some analysts have suggested that his threats are bluster or attempts to gain influence in ceasefire negotiations.

The Biden administration urged Netanyahu to shelve invasion plans and focus on “alternative approaches that would target key elements of Hamas.”

President Biden has become increasingly critical of Netanyahu's conduct in the Gaza war, even threatening to condition U.S. assistance on Israel doing more to protect civilians. But on Wednesday he stressed that American support for Israel in the face of the danger posed by Iran and allied militias, such as Hezbollah, is unconditional.

“As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” he told a news conference.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also “made clear that the United States will stand with Israel against any threat from Iran and its proxies” when he spoke by phone Wednesday with Israel's defense minister, the State Department.

In Israel, General Kurilla carried out a situation assessment and reviewed “regional security challenges” with the Israeli army chief of staff, said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli army's chief spokesman.

“We are very vigilant and ready to deal with various scenarios,” Admiral Hagari said in a televised news conference, adding that any attack from Iranian territory would constitute a clear regional escalation.

As Iran and Israel have exchanged new threats in recent days, diplomats have sought to reduce tensions and avoid a broader regional war.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke with her Iranian counterpart on Thursday “about the tense situation” in the Middle East, according to her office.

“Avoiding further regional escalation must be in everyone's interest,” his office said in a statement. “We urge all actors in the region to act responsibly and exercise maximum restraint.”

The diplomatic efforts came as the Israeli military on Thursday announced it had carried out a new operation that killed at least one Hamas member in Gaza.

The Israeli military said Thursday that its forces carried out a “precise intelligence-based operation” in central Gaza overnight with fighter jets and ground troops to “eliminate terrorist operatives and target terrorist infrastructure.”

“The goal of the operation, of course, is to destroy Hamas's ability to rehabilitate itself in the area,” Admiral Hagari said. “We continue to fight in Gaza and are preparing for future operations.”

An Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza on Wednesday killed three sons of Ismail Haniyeh, who leads the political wing of Hamas from exile. Hamas-affiliated media reported that three of Mr. Haniyeh's nephews were also killed in the attack.

The Israeli army said the three sons – Amir, Mohammad and Hazem – were active in Hamas military operations, Amir as a cell commander and his brothers as lower-level operatives. One of the brothers was also involved in hostage-taking in Gaza, the Israeli military said, without specifying which one. The army provided no further details and its claims could not be verified.

The military's emphasis on the precision of the attack announced Thursday follows accusations that Israeli shelling was indiscriminate, causing avoidable civilian casualties, and growing criticism of impending famine in Gaza.

This came even as international negotiators worked to broker a ceasefire in Gaza and to secure the release of hostages held in the enclave, in exchange for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Those talks have stalled over disagreements over details, with a senior Hamas official saying Wednesday that the group did not have 40 living hostages who met the criteria for an exchange under a proposal under discussion.

Although Haniyeh is one of Hamas's most senior officials, analysts say his sons were likely not as integral to the group's operations as the Israeli military has suggested.

“His son's names usually don't get thrown around when it comes to seniority in Hamas, whether it's the political wing or the military wing,” said Tahani Mustafa, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

Bilal Saab, associate fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, said the attack on his sons may have been intended to appease domestic audiences in Israel or to give the Israelis leverage in talks.

“It's a political victory for Israel more than anything,” Saab said of the killings.

Mr. Haniyeh said Wednesday that Israel “is delusional if it thinks that by killing my children, we will change our positions” in the negotiations.

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