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Netanyahu commends Trump for killing Iran’s Soleimani, says Israel stands by US

Agency reports

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday praised the United States and President Donald Trump for killing Iranian top commander Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in the early morning hours.

“Trump is worthy of full appreciation for acting with determination, strongly and swiftly,” he told reporters before departing Greece to head back to Israel. “We stand fully by the United States in its just battle for security, peace and self-defense.”

The prime minister said “Israel has the right to defend itself. The US has the same right exactly. Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of innocent US citizens and many others. He was planning further attacks.”

Netanyahu cut short his visit to Greece amid concerns Iran could exact revenge on the Jewish state for the US killing of the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. He had been visiting the country to sign a major deal for a gas pipeline.

Netanyahu’s chief political opponent, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, praised Trump for his “brave decision” which he said showed leadership.

“The killing of Soleimani is a message to all the head of global terror: on your own heads be it,” Gantz said. The assassination was “fitting for anyone whose action brings about the murder of innocents and the destabilization of the region and the world.”

Gantz added that on matters of national security “there is no coalition and opposition.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called a situation assessment with the heads of the defense establishment at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. There were no immediate details from the meeting.

Hebrew media reported that the Foreign Ministry decided to up security at Israeli embassies and missions around the world. And the body responsible for the Chabad Jewish outreach movement’s emissaries asked representatives all around the world to upgrade their security alertness for fear of Iranian revenge attacks.

“Maintain an increased awareness, report any suspicious activity or behavior to the nearest law enforcement officials,” the body said in a message, according to Channel 12.

An Israeli ski resort near the Syrian border that was the site of a previous missile attack was closed to visitors due to concerns of a possible strike. The Israel Defense Forces said it had ordered the Mount Hermon Ski resort in the Golan Heights shuttered for the day “in light of a situational assessment.”

Netanyahu had earlier instructed ministers not to give interviews on Soleimani’s assassination. But lawmakers from across the political spectrum praised the US strike.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death, and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the elite Quds force.

Iran also summoned the Swiss charges d’affaires, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest the killing. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the strike “an act of state terrorism and violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

The killing, and any forceful retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering US troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Over the last two decades, Soleimani had assembled a network of heavily armed allies stretching all the way to southern Lebanon, on Israel’s doorstep.

However, the brazen killing itself may act as a deterrent, with fears of an all-out war leading Iran and its allies to delay or restrain any potential response.

The US Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the orchestrated violent protests at the US embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.

The airport strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. A PMF official said the strike killed a total of eight people, including Soleimani’s son-in-law, whom he did not identify.

Trump was vacationing on his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, but sent out a tweet of an American flag.

The 62-year-old Soleimani was the target of Friday’s attack on an access road near the airport, which was conducted by an armed American drone, according to a US official.