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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen here on Jan. 5, 2020, has been a strong supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and his tough tactics against Iran.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Exposed to potential threats from Iranian-backed militia forces on three of its borders, Israel is trying to maintain a cautious silence in the midst of the escalating Middle East crisis.

Israel placed its embassies and troops on high alert after the U.S. assassination of Iran’s military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, on Friday. But in public, it has been remarkably quiet about the rising danger of an Iranian retaliatory strike.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a meeting of his security cabinet on Monday, attempted to distance Israel from the U.S. assassination. “It isn’t an Israeli event but an American event,” he told the security cabinet, according to Israeli media reports. “There’s no need to be dragged into it.”

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With Iranian troops deployed in Syria near the Israeli border, and with militias armed and financed by Iran on its borders with Lebanon and Gaza, Israel is the U.S. ally that is most vulnerable to a potential Iranian revenge attack.

Mr. Netanyahu has been a strong supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and his tough tactics against Iran. But he is unlikely to want to provoke an Iranian attack by allowing Israel to be closely associated with the assassination of the Iranian commander. And with an election due in early March, he would not want Israeli voters to think his actions have heightened the Iranian threat.

Iran’s empire of proxy fighters

A network of foreign militias built by General

Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian commander killed in

Iraq by the U.S., are likely to remain Tehran’s

primary weapon in its asymmetric fight against

Washington

Government relationships with Iran

and Tehran’s proxy forces

Aligned

Neutral/hedging

Opposed to Iran

Tilting towards

TURKEY

AFGHAN.:

Liwa al-

Fatemiyoun

SYRIA

Tehran

LEB.

IRAQ

IRAN

PAL.

KUW.

PAKISTAN:

Liwa

Zainabiyoun

BAHRAIN

QATAR

S. ARABIA

OMAN

YEMEN

0

800

KM

PALESTINIAN

TERRITORIES:

Hamas, Palestinian

Islamic Jihad,

Harakat al-Sabireen

BAHRAIN:

Al-Ashtar

Brigades

LEBANON: Shiite Hez

bollah – group formed

in 1982 following

Israel’s occupation of

south Lebanon

IRAQ: Badr Organisation –

most powerful force in Iraq –

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib

Hezbollah,

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba

SYRIA: Popular Mobil-

ization Forces, 313 Force,

Liwa al-Baqir, Quwat al-

Ridha militias – all

linked to Hezbollah

YEMEN: Ansar Allah – 100,000-

strong Houthi rebel group –

has called forattacks on U.S.

bases in reprisal for

killing of Qassem Soleimani

Sources: graphic news; Bloomberg; ECFR; IISS

Iran’s empire of proxy fighters

A network of foreign militias built by General Qassem

Soleimani, the Iranian commander killed in Iraq by the

U.S., are likely to remain Tehran’s primary weapon in its

asymmetric fight against Washington

Government relationships with Iran and Tehran’s proxy forces

Aligned

Neutral/hedging

Opposed to Iran

Tilting towards

TURKEY

AFGHAN.:

Liwa al-

Fatemiyoun

SYRIA

Tehran

LEB.

IRAQ

IRAN

PAL.

KUWAIT

PAKISTAN:

Liwa

Zainabiyoun

BAHRAIN

QATAR

S. ARABIA

OMAN

YEMEN

0

800

KM

PALESTINIAN

TERRITORIES:

Hamas, Palestinian

Islamic Jihad,

Harakat al-Sabireen

BAHRAIN:

Al-Ashtar

Brigades

LEBANON: Shiite Hez

bollah – group formed

in 1982 following

Israel’s occupation of

south Lebanon

IRAQ: Badr Organisation –

most powerful force in Iraq –

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah,

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba

SYRIA: Popular Mobil-

ization Forces, 313 Force,

Liwa al-Baqir, Quwat al-

Ridha

militias – all linked to

Hezbollah

YEMEN: Ansar Allah – 100,000-

strong Houthi rebel group –

has called forattacks on U.S.

bases in reprisal for

killing of Qassem Soleimani

Sources: graphic news; Bloomberg; ECFR; IISS

Iran’s empire of proxy fighters

A network of foreign militias built by General Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian commander

killed in Iraq by the U.S., are likely to remain Tehran’s primary weapon in its asymmetric

fight against Washington

Government relationships with Iran and Tehran’s proxy forces

Aligned

Tilting towards

Neutral/hedging

Opposed to Iran

LEBANON: Shiite Hezbollah – group formed in 1982 following Israel’s occupation of

south Lebanon

SYRIA: Popular Mobilization Forces,

313 Force, Liwa al-Baqir, Quwat al-Ridha

militias – all linked to Hezbollah

TURKEY

Tehran

AFGHANISTAN:

Liwa al-Fatemiyoun

IRAQ

IRAN

PAKISTAN:

Liwa Zainabiyoun

KUWAIT

PALESTINIAN

TERRITORIES:

Hamas, Palestinian

Islamic Jihad,

Harakat al-Sabireen

BAHRAIN:

Al-Ashtar

Brigades

UAE

QATAR

SAUDI ARABIA

OMAN

YEMEN

0

800

KM

IRAQ: Badr Organisation –

most powerful force in Iraq –

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah,

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba

YEMEN: Ansar Allah – 100,000-strong

Houthi rebel group – has called for

attacks on U.S. bases in reprisal for

killing of Qassem Soleimani

Sources: graphic news; Bloomberg; ECFR; IISS

The low-profile approach seems to be working so far. In the Israeli media on Monday, the biggest headlines were not devoted to the Iranian threat. They were about a completely different story: the deaths of two young Tel Aviv residents in an elevator that was flooded by heavy rains.

In his opening remarks at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu took the same line. He spoke longer about the elevator tragedy than he did about the Iran crisis, according to a government summary of his remarks.

He is also reported to have ordered his cabinet ministers to make no statements on the U.S. assassination and to give no interviews on the subject.

Most analysts are skeptical that Iran will launch a direct attack on Israel, which has already used its air superiority to crush Iranian forces in Syria when they attempted to attack Israeli targets. More likely, they say, is a retaliation attack on softer targets, possibly including Israeli embassies or civilian sites, using the militias that serve as Iran’s proxies in the region.

In 1992, a month after Israeli helicopters fired missiles to kill the leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, a suicide bomber killed 29 people at Israel’s embassy in Argentina. This retaliation against an Israeli embassy “may provide pointers for what might unfold in the wake of Soleimani’s violent death,” Nicholas Blanford of the Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council wrote in an analysis on Monday.

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The U.S. embassy in Israel issued a warning to U.S. citizens on Monday. “Heightened tension in the Middle East may result in security risks to U.S. citizens abroad,” it said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning.”

Civilian targets will be tempting for Iran and its proxies because it has failed to win battles against Israel’s conventional forces in places such as Syria, where Israeli fighter jets have attacked Iranian targets to prevent the deployment of precision-guided missiles that could be used against Israel.

“Iran has not found any answer to these Israeli attacks,” Ephraim Kam, a security expert and former Israeli military intelligence officer, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Iran doesn’t want a large-scale confrontation with Israel.”

Yoel Guzansky, an Iran expert at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), also said he expects Iran to respond to the U.S. assassination “in a restrained way” because it wants to avoid a large-scale conflict.

“Israel is right to keep a low profile,” he told The Globe. “Israel has to distance itself as much as possible [from the U.S. action], even though it helped Israel’s interests.”

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In a report submitted to the Israeli government on Monday, the INSS said the death of Gen. Soleimani has added to the risks of war between Israel and Iran or its proxies. But it is still too early to assess the ramifications, the institute said.

It said the biggest risks to Israel are a result of Iran’s “increased daring and determination” in pursuing a nuclear program, and Iran’s attempts to establish a deeper presence in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

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