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US tells Israel it won’t join counter-strike on Iran, urges caution

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Even prior to Iran’s strike Saturday, U.S. officials had been quietly counseling Israel to exercise caution in any reaction. Those warnings have continued in the hours since.

In a social media post, Netanyahu pledged victory in the faceoff — “ Together we will win,” he wrote. Some Israeli media, quoting an unnamed source, said Israel would have an “unprecedented response.” But there were no details as to what those promises would entail.

An Israeli official, having been granted anonymity to speak on a sensitive issue, said Israel is “deeply grateful for the steadfast support and commitment from the U.S., which played a leading role in defending Israel from the Iranian attack,” but added that “Israel reserves the right to defend itself following this unprecedented Iranian aggression.”

The sheer scale of the U.S. direct defensive military support for Israel — U.S. military forces knocked down dozens of the drones and missiles — also appeared to be unprecedented and could help send a message of deterrence to Iran.

Iran’s attack also drew attention away from Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, although the two are connected: Iran has long supported Hamas and Israel blames it in part for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

The Iranian strike has, at least for the moment, put Biden and Netanyahu in the same corner after months of rising tensions between the two over how Israel has conducted the war in Gaza. U.S. officials also were startled by Israel’s decision to hit an Iranian diplomatic facility, a highly unusual move, even if Washington views the Iranian military officials gathered there as foes.

Speaking Sunday on NBC News’ Meet the Press, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby stressed that the multilayered response to the Iranian attack demonstrated that Israel “has friends, that it’s not standing alone, that it is not isolated on the world stage.”

But he was more circumspect on what Netanyahu and his colleagues should do next. “Whether and how the Israelis will respond, that’s going to be up to them,” Kirby said.