Netanyahu warns Iran: ‘Anyone who hits us, we hit them’

Israel’s fighter pilots may soon face “challenges in other sectors” than Gaza, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited an air base in a thinly-veiled threat to Iran.

“We have determined a simple rule: Whoever harms us, we will harm them,” Netanyahu told Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel on Thursday. “We are prepared to meet all of the security needs of the State of Israel, both defensively and offensively.”

Netanyahu visited the IDF base as Israeli officials brace for a potential attack from Iran, which has vowed to punish Israel for the bombing of an Iranian diplomatic annex in Syria that killed a key senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general. Iranian officials maintain that retaliation is “imperative,” but a widening array of regional and international powerbrokers — even Russia, which relies on Iran for missiles and drones to use against Ukraine — have urged Tehran to seek an off-ramp from the crisis.

“We undoubtedly urge all countries in the region to show restraint,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “It is extremely important today for everyone to show restraint in order to avoid a complete destabilization of the situation in the region, which already does not shine with stability and predictability.”

Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mojtaba Amani, second right, speaks with the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, third right, Qatari Ambassador to Lebanon, Sheikh Saud bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Thani Al Thani, second left, and Hamas representative in Lebanon Ahmad Abdul-Hadi, third left, as he receives condolences for the death of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who led the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016, and six other Iranian military officials at the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, April 8, 2024. An Israeli airstrike that demolished Iran’s consulate in Syria on last Monday killed two Iranian generals and five officers, according to Iranian officials. The strike appeared to signify an escalation of Israel’s targeting of military officials from Iran, which supports militant groups fighting Israel in Gaza, and along its border with Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

President Joe Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu has been strained in recent weeks by disagreements over Israel’s prosecution of the war against Hamas — especially following the IDF’s deadly strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy. Yet those tensions haven’t precluded a pledge “to do all we can to protect Israel’s security” against a potential “significant attack on Israel” from Iran, as Biden put it Wednesday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” he told reporters. “Let me say it again: ironclad.” 

The strike in Damascus has been characterized as the first apparent maneuver to impose a cost on Iran for supporting Hamas — which perpetrated the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that ignited the war in Gaza — and other militant groups, such as the Houthis, who have fired missiles at ships in the Red Sea in an apparent bid to raise the costs of the Gaza war.

“The Iranian navy is targeting our Navy. Why don’t we put those Iranian spy ships at the bottom of the ocean quickly? And I guarantee you we’ll start to reestablish deterrence,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AL) said Thursday on the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, in a reference to Iranian vessels perceived as supporting the Houthis attacks. “Heck, in two hours, they could sink the whole Iranian navy.”

Sullivan suggested that the U.S. Navy will “have sailors and marines swimming with sharks in the Red Sea” if Biden doesn’t approve such a strike.

“I think our military wants to do it. And I think they’re not getting permission to do it,” the Alaska Republican said. You know, the USS Carney took 30 missiles the other day, missiles and drones, 30. They had to shoot them all down. What if one of those [slips] through?”

U.S. Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commander of Central Command, arrived Thursday in Israel to meet with counterparts, IDF officials confirmed.

“We are on alert and are highly prepared for various scenarios, and are constantly assessing the situation, IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters Thursday. “Our strategic relationship with the U.S. armed forces is strong and tight.”

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The prospects for larger conflagration could depend on whether Iranian forces target Israel directly from Iranian territory or use their terrorist proxies in the region to make a more limited attack.

“An attack from Iranian territory would be clear proof of Iranian intentions to escalate the situation in the Middle East, and to stop hiding behind the proxies,” Hagari said.

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