JERUSALEM, Jan 3 (Reuters) – An Israeli official on Sunday dismissed as “nonsense” an allegation by the Iranian foreign minister that Israel was trying to trick the United States into waging war on Iran.
It was Israel that needed to be on alert for possible Iranian strikes on the one-year anniversary on Sunday of the assassination of Tehran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Kan public radio.
Washington blames Iran-backed militia for regular rocket attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, including near the U.S. embassy. No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility.
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter: “New intelligence from Iraq indicate that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans — putting an outgoing (President Donald) Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.”
“Be careful of a trap, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will backfire badly, particularly against your same BFFs,” Zarif wrote, in what appeared to be a veiled threat against Israel.
Steinitz said the remarks showed that Iran, after mounting U.S. sanctions billed as curbing its nuclear programme and involvement in regional conflict-zones, was “under pressure – economic pressure, and pressure in terms of national security”.
“We hear this nonsense by Zarif, that Israel would set off terrorist attacks against the United States – this really is total nonsense,” Steinitz told Kan public radio.
“But on the other hand it is a warning sign – a warning sign that Iran is taking aim at Israel, is looking for excuses to lash out at Israel, and therefore we need to have our finger on the pulse and be at the highest state of alert.”
The U.S. military flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a message of deterrence to Iran on Wednesday, but the bombers have since left the region.
Interviewed separately on Kan, Israeli Culture Minister Chili Tropper, who like Steinitz sits in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, confirmed media reports that Israel was on heightened alert for the Soleimani anniversary.
Asked what possible Iranian reprisals Israel was anticipating, Tropper said: “I cannot comment.”
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Alison Williams, Editing by William Maclean)