Netanyahu warns of 'resounding blow' if Iran attacks Israel


Jerusalem (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel would strike a "resounding blow" if attacked by arch foe Iran, as regional tensions soar after the US killing of a top Iranian general.

The premier was speaking hours after Iran launched a salvo of missiles on bases in Iraq used by the United States in retaliation for a US drone attack last week that killed a top Iranian commander.

"Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow," Netanyahu said to applause at a Jerusalem conference.

He described Major General Qasem Soleimani, the target of last week's US drone strike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, as a "terrorist-in-chief".

"Qasem Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, he destabilised many countries for decades, he sowed fear and misery and anguish and he was planning much worse," Netanyahu said.

"He was the architect and driver of Iran's campaign of terror throughout the Middle East and the world," he added, standing in front of US and Israeli flags.

As commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations arm, Soleimani was the mastermind of Tehran's operations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, the general said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war to oversee the conflict.

The Israeli premier praised US President Donald Trump for "acting swiftly, boldly, and resolutely" in killing Soleimani.

- 'Turbulent waters' -

Despite the general's assassination, Netanyahu said Iran's regional "destabilisation continues and the struggle is continuing apace".

"The state of Israel is the stable anchor in these turbulent waters," he added.

While Israel and Iran remain sworn enemies, Netanyahu said his country was increasingly "getting the recognition of the Arab world because we are strong".

The drone strike has put the United States and its allies on alert for Tehran's response to the killing.

A senior Iranian official on Monday warned the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv would be turned "to dust", if Washington carried out further military action in response to its retaliatory moves.

Israel did not react to the threat by Mohsen Rezai, head of the Expediency Council state body, with analysts suggesting the government was trying to keep a low profile.

"The Israeli government is staying quiet to the threat as a calculated flexible strategic policy," said Rachel Suissa, a research fellow at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

While Israel has so far avoided being embroiled in the Iran-US dispute, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv said Monday that preparing for a "variety of scenarios" was advisable.

They include an "escalation of events up to a confrontation with the US, in which Israel could also be involved."

Netanyahu had cut short a foreign visit and security chiefs held emergency talks after the killing of Soleimani.