Biden says he expects Iran to attack Israel 'sooner rather than later' as US moves troops

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden warned Iran against an expected attack on Israel as the U.S. moved more troops to the Middle East in anticipation of a strike on Israeli or Western interests in the region.

Asked by reporters how close Iran may be to launching at attack on Israel, Biden said Friday that “my expectation is sooner than later.” He declined to go into details.

The president said his message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

Iran's leaders have vowed revenge after a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, killed seven Iranians, including a leader of its Revolutionary Guards. Israel hasn't admitted responsibility for the strike.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Israel and said it "must be punished and shall be."

Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, has been in Israel conferring with officials there about a potential attack, a Defense official told USA TODAY.

On Thursday, the State Department issued a security alert for U.S. government employees in Israel. The security alert noted that incidents can take place without warning and "can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events." Employees and their families have been restricted from personal travel outside major metropolitan areas in Israel.

Also Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his counterparts in China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, asking other countries to "urge Iran not to escalate,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin conferred by phone with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Austin pledged that the United States would give its full "support to defend Israel against Iranian attacks," according to a readout of the call.

Earlier on Friday, the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, a group of Shia militias loyal to Iran, issued a statement warning it would hold the U.S. responsible if it "commits any foolishness in Iraq" or against members of the so-called Axis of Resistance − Iran, Syria, or in southern Lebanon.

"The statement is undoubtedly referring to a retaliation against Iran," Joe Truzman, an analyst at the nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote on social media.

One week ago, administration officials had said an Iranian attack was potentially imminent. When that did not happen, an attack after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was deemed more likely.

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden warns Iran against revenge attack on Israel or U.S. forces