Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Saturday to discuss the situation in Iraq following the U.S. assassination of the leader of Iran's elite Quds force, Major-General Qassem Soleimani.
Pompeo said that the two discussed the "countering Iran's malign influence and threats to the region." Pompeo thanked Israel for its "steadfast support in defeating terrorism," adding, "The bond between Israel and the United States in unbreakable."
Netanyahu cut short a trip to Greece to return to Israel following Soleimani's killing, and on Saturday, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned that "some 35 U.S. targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach."
Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, was killed early Friday near the Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the U.S. alliance with Iraq.
Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war, but it’s unclear how or when it might respond. Any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq. All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
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Trump says he ordered the strike, a high-risk decision that was made without consulting Congress or U.S. allies, to prevent a conflict. U.S. officials say Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials, without providing evidence.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.
After the early Friday, the U.S.-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on the condition of anonymity according to regulations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened.
In thinly-veiled threat, one of the Iran-backed militia, Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Bridages, called on Iraqi security forces to stay at least 1,000 meters (0.6 miles) away from U.S. bases starting Sunday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.