US general visits Israel amid rising tensions with Iran over threats

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz amid rising tensions with Tehran, which has continued to threaten revenge for the destruction of an Iranian consulate in Damascus. “We are fighting to defend our freedom and our common values,” Gallant said after a meeting in which the two military leaders “underscored the importance of close cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces to ensuring regional stability and security.”

“I thanked the general for his leadership and commitment to the powerful bond between our militaries, defense establishments and nations,” Gallant added, noting the focus on “rising regional challenges as a result of Iranian aggression via proxies.”

Kurilla was scheduled to visit Israel, but he took the trip sooner than planned due to the rising threat level, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed during a press conference Thursday. Ryder did not speculate as to any specific threats from Iran to Israel even as Tehran continues to promise action.

“Due to recent developments, he moved up his trip to meet with key IDF (Israel Defense Forces) leadership, discuss the current security threats in the region, but beyond that, I’d refer you to CENTCOM,” Ryder said. He also said that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Gallant to discuss the current situation in the Middle East and “reaffirm the U.S. ironclad commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies.”

“We’re certainly monitoring the situation closely,” Ryder added. “I don’t have a crystal ball, and I’m not going to get into specific intelligence. I would just say that what you heard the president say, and as I highlighted … we are in close contact with the Israelis to include today’s phone call with Minister Gallant.”

Kurilla’s visit included “strategic operational assessment of the various challenges in the region” in an effort to ensure that the strategic connection between the two miliaries remains “firm and tight,” IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during a briefing on Thursday.

“We are highly prepared for various scenarios and continuously conduct operational assessments,” Hagari said. “We are prepared and ready for defense and attack, with various IDF capabilities and our strategic partners.”

“For years, and more so during the war, in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen to attack the state of Israel, but not only the state of Israel but also other countries in the region and beyond,” Hagari said. “An attack from Iranian territory will be clear proof of Iran’s intentions, and it will no longer hide behind its proxies.”

“We have a multilayer defense capability that had proven itself during the war, with thousands of successful interceptions. But still, this is not 100% airtight,” he added. “You should continue to follow the home front command safety instructions.”

Last year, Kurilla visited the Israeli Navy’s command unit and spoke with the chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, to discuss continued expansion of cooperation and sharing of operational capabilities between the two militaries. The U.S. and Israeli navies at that time also conducted a joint maritime exercise in the area of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, near the southern mouth of the Red Sea.

“As with every visit to the IDF, I was thoroughly impressed by the combat readiness I saw here,” Kurilla said during his previous visit. “Our military-to-military relationship with Israel remains ironclad.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in response to a reporter’s question on Thursday, reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security, “especially against these threats” from Iran and its proxies.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi last week vowed revenge against Israel following the destruction of the Damascus consulate, calling the attack a “cowardly crime” and said it would “not go unanswered.”

Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah days later spoke during Iran’s Quds Day – an annual event held to express support for the Palestinian people and call for the end of the “Israeli occupation” – in which he assured that “Iran’s response to the targeting of the Damascus consulate is inevitable” and that Hezbollah, a noted Iranian proxy group, “is fully prepared for any war.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Sunday conveyed to the U.S., through intermediary Oman, that Iran would take action but would seek to do so in a way that would avoid major escalation and not act hastily. Tehran will continue to press for a Gaza truce among its demands. A source familiar with U.S. intelligence told Reuters they were not aware of any message conveyed via Iran but said Iran has “been very clear” about its intent to respond in a “controlled” and “non-escalatory” manner.