Israel says it will defend itself if Iran retaliates for consulate attack

Israeli military officials suggested on Thursday that further conflict could arise if Iran retaliates for a recent deadly airstrike on the Iranian Consulate in Syria.

Tehran accuses Israel of the recent attack that destroyed Iran's consulate in Syria on Monday, resulting in the deaths of two Iranian generals and five officers, a claim supported by the U.S. military. Israel has not yet issued a response. The escalating tensions raise concerns about the potential spread of Israel's conflict with Hamas in Gaza throughout the Middle East.

Is a war between Iran and Israel likely? 

As tensions escalate in the region, most military intelligence officials are maintaining a cautious approach with the press, offering vague insights.

Notably, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael Kurilla met with IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen Hezi Halevi in Israel on Thursday. This meeting occurred as the Israeli military reiterated its commitment to defending itself in the event of an Iranian strike following the consulate airstrike.

Kurilla was scheduled to visit Israel, but he took the trip sooner than planned due to threats from Iran against Israel, 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."

IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that regardless of what happens between Israel and Iran, the strategic connection between the U.S. and Israel remains "firm and tight."

"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, Iran has been funding and arming its proxies 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."

Ever since the conflict erupted between Hamas and Israel following a surprise attack by the militant group, Israeli strikes on Palestinian civilians have heightened tensions between Israel and neighboring nations, notably Iran, which supports Hamas financially.

US says Israel isn't doing enough to keep Palestinians safe

Although President Joe Biden criticized Israel's efforts to increase humanitarian aid into Gaza this week, the six months of conflict in the small Palestinian enclave have led to a humanitarian crisis, with over 1 million people on the brink of starvation. Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, recognized on Wednesday the "credible" reports of famine in the severely affected northern Gaza.

Israeli bombardments and ground offensives in Gaza have resulted in the deaths of at least 33,360 Palestinians and left 74,993 wounded, according to the Health Ministry. The ministry's tally does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but notes that women and children account for two-thirds of the fatalities.

The conflict began on October 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 Israelis, primarily civilians. Palestinian militants also took approximately 250 people hostage.

The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.