US allies around the world are acting like Iran is going to attack Jewish sites as revenge for its nuclear scientist’s assassination, and that it’s happening soon


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Iranian soldiers leave Imamzadeh Saleh shrine in Tehran, Iran, on December 5, 2020. Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters
  • Israel’s latest actions against Iran have left regime hardliners furious and demanding revenge on Israeli or Jewish sites around the world.

  • In the past year alone, the US and Israel have killed Iran’s top military commander, top ally in Iraq, and — most recently — top nuclear scientist.

  • European and Israeli security officials are now preparing for an imminent attack by Iran on their people and agencies, with Israel sending notes of warning to citizens abroad, and European officials heightening surveillance on Jewish sites.

  • “If they [Iran] hit an Israeli target or official somewhere while the US is distracted by the transition and the holidays, I would not be shocked,” one European diplomat said.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Officials in the Gulf and Europe are preparing for imminent attacks by Iran on Israeli or Jewish sites around the world as revenge for the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Israeli and European officials and security experts told Insider.

In the past year, agents linked to Israel and the US have killed Qassem Soleimani, the top commander of Iran’s regional operations in the Middle East; Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iran’s top ally in Iraq, multiple Iranian and allied Hezbollah commanders in Syria; Abu Mohammed al Masri, a top al Qaeda official believed to be living in Tehran; and, most recently, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program

All of those attacks have left regime hardliners furious and demanding immediate revenge on either US or Israeli targets, the officials and experts said. Those calls are coming despite widespread fears that any aggressive action by Iran could lead to broader military action before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

An Iranian response ‘in the coming weeks’

Since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, the Islamic regime has generally followed a policy of “strategic patience” in response to provocations from the US or Israel, intelligence officials from Israel and Europe told Insider.

This strategy involves limiting responses to regional or tactical operations, like Iran’s act of revenge after Soleimani’s killing: ballistic missiles to target US facilities in Iraq, which had caused limited damage and casualties.

A military confrontation could “make it harder for future [US] administrations to return to the nuclear deal,” said a European diplomat who participated in the original nuclear talks. The source asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the subject, but their identity is known to Insider.

But now, the source said, “Iran has two conflicting policies in place: Patience in responding to Israeli provocations but also the national need to project the ability to deter such attacks.”

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Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s funeral procession in Tehran on January 6, 2020. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

“The latest Israeli actions will put a lot of pressure on the elements in Iran, who might not be friendly to the West, but see a value in negotiating a new deal as cleanly as possible with Biden.”

“Hardliners – some of whom control aspects of the Iranian services more than capable of planning attacks on their own – reject this, and are currently making their case that Iran cannot negotiate with enemies that regularly humiliate them without first responding in kind,” the diplomat said.

When asked for a prediction on when an Iranian attack could happen, the European diplomat said: “I would expect the window for a response to be in the coming weeks.”

“If they hit an Israeli target or official somewhere while the US is distracted by the transition and the holidays, I would not be shocked. But I think the chances reduce each day as a Biden presidency draws closer.”

The threats

Israel’s intelligence services have determined the chances of a response to be high and have started warning its citizens and activating multiple security protocols, a former Israeli official told Insider.

The official asked for anonymity to describe the warnings, but their identity is known to Insider.

“It’s mostly what you see in the newspapers here in Israel. There has been an activation of the Iron Dome [missile-defense system] and other systems to protect from shellfire and rockets from the North,” said the official, referring to Israel’s border with Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran’s top ally and proxy Hezbollah.

“But the major warnings are to diplomatic, cultural, and tourism facilities in counties around Africa and Asia popular with Israeli tourists. And the Gulf, they can do a lot in the Gulf and politically it’s a crucial time for Israeli-Gulf relations.”

The recent influx of Israeli diplomats and businesspeople to Gulf states such as Bahrain and the UAE seem to be considered top targets for Iran. According to the Associated Press, the Israeli government urged citizens to avoid travel to those countries last week, citing threats of imminent Iranian attacks.

According to CNN, the US is also temporarily withdrawing some staff from the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, for fear of an Iranian attack around the one-year anniversary of Soleimani’s killing.

A police official in charge of public security in a European capital – who asked that either they nor the country be identified – also told Insider that Israeli facilities or Jewish community centers are being under additional security observation. They said those sites are normally monitored, but the recent threats have increased the need for surveillance.

“We are seeing a lot of activity on Israeli or Jewish sites,” said the police official. “From a political standpoint it is believed the Iranians will not target sites in Western Europe for fear of offending supporters of resuming the nuclear deal. But there is more security activity by the Israelis, and there appears to be an increase in surveillance of Israeli facilities that we think can be linked to Iran or Hezbollah.”

TEHRAN, IRAN - NOVEMBER 30: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - "IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) A funeral ceremony of Iranian Top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi, held at Defense Ministry of Iran in Tehran, Iran on November 30, 2020. Fakhrizadeh, who headed research and innovation at the defense ministry, was attacked Friday in Damavand county near Tehran. (Photo by Iranian Defense Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A funeral ceremony for Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran on November 30, 2020. Iranian Defense Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

But while this is triggering concerns and additional resources, the police official said that the uptick in Iranian activity could simply be a case of security officials paying closer attention. 

“I’m sure Iran watches many Israeli facilities around the world – it’s possible we are only seeing it more clearly because we have a warning to look for it. It’s also possible the Iranians have increased their activities to stress the Israelis, draw resources away from other targets.”

“It’s all very complicated.”

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