Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday spoke to US Vice President Mike Pence, who said that the US backs Israel’s right to self defense, as tensions skyrocketed in the Middle East following reports of Israeli strikes against Iranian and Iran-linked targets in multiple countries, and reported concern among Israeli officials over US President Donald Trump’s declared readiness to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
“Had a great conversation with Prime Minister @netanyahu this morning. The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats. Under President @realDonaldTrump, America will always stand with Israel!” Pence wrote on Twitter.
The statement of support came amid reports of Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and a war of words between Israeli officials and leaders in neighboring countries, heightening fears of further violence in the region.
Israel carried out airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria on Saturday to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives-laden drones into the country, and has also been blamed for airstrikes in Lebanon and Iraq. Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a fiery speech Sunday in which he vowed revenge for the deaths of two of the group’s members.
Israel is also grappling with rocket fire from Gaza and ongoing border riots, both orchestrated by the Iranian-backed Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups.
Trump declared Monday at the G7 talks in Biarritz, at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, that he would “certainly agree” to meet Rouhani soon under the “correct circumstances,” and that there was a “really good chance” this would happen.
This found an echo in Tehran, where Rouhani said more vaguely that he would not miss an opportunity to meet with someone who could help “the interests of the state” and solve some of its difficulties.
Earlier Monday, top ministers reportedly said that Israel was deeply worried by Trump’s potential rapprochement with Tehran. The fear is that the US president will open a dialogue with Iran similar to the ongoing one he has with North Korea, taking pressure off Tehran.
To say that Netanyahu is uncomfortable with the US president’s newly open-minded stance on Iran “is the understatement of the millennium,” Israel’s Channel 13 reported, quoting what it said were three senior cabinet ministers expressing profound concern that just as Trump has “gotten nowhere” with North Korea, while relieving the economic pressure on Pyongyang, the same would now happen with Iran.
“We have no interest in a negotiations between the United States and Iran,” the TV report quoted one minister saying, “but our capacity to influence and confront Trump is extremely limited.” This, the report went on, was because Trump has “bear-hugged” Netanyahu so tightly that going out against him is deemed impossible.
On Monday evening, in a short video clip Netanyahu fumed that “Iran is acting in a broad front to produce murderous terror attacks against Israel.”
Netanyahu vowed that “Israel will continue to defend its security by any means necessary,” and urged “the international community to act immediately to ensure Iran stops these attacks.”
The Israeli cabinet has had several discussions about the prospect of US-Iran negotiations, Channel 13 reported, with ministers immensely concerned by the prospect.
Soldiers in northern Israel have been put on high alert over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or Iran following the airstrikes.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the army believes Hezbollah will attempt to attack soldiers or a military installation and not civilians, citing a military officer. The report added that the Israeli military would be deploying extra troops to the area.
The officer said Israel’s response to such a reprisal would be “disproportionate.”
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu ordered his defense aides to brief Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on security developments, a rare nod to his electoral rival seemingly meant to telegraph’s Israel’s seriousness is confronting the threat.
Hezbollah is thought to be constrained domestically by concerns inside Lebanon that a reprisal attack could wind up dragging the country into war.
Israel’s Channel 13 news reported Monday that Israel has warned Lebanon that any Hezbollah attack against Israel would bring an Israeli response against Lebanon as a whole: “It won’t distinguish between Lebanon and Hezbollah.”
According to the report, Netanyahu asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday to pass the message from him to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Hariri on Monday told envoys from the five permanent members of the Security Council that Lebanon wanted to avoid “any slide towards a serious escalation,” but said the international community needed to reject Israel’s “flagrant violation” of Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanese news site Naharnet reported.
He and Lebanese president Michael Aoun called a meeting of top defense officials for Tuesday to discuss the rising tensions.
Netanyahu also spoke with Pompeo on Sunday about the latest strikes in Syria.
“The secretary expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself against threats posed by the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps and to take action to prevent imminent attacks against Israeli assets in the region,” Pompeo’s office said in a statement.
“The secretary and the prime minister discussed how Iran is leveraging its foothold in Syria to threaten Israel and its neighbors. The prime minister noted that Israel would strike IRGC targets threatening Israel, wherever they are located,” the statement said.’
Read more: The Times of Israel