WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials are concerned that Iran may be planning to hit targets inside Israel in retaliation for the Israeli airstrikes in Syria this week that killed several senior Iranian officials, according to two U.S. officials.

The officials said any retaliation inside Israel is expected to focus on military or intelligence targets, rather than civilians. They also said the administration has begun considering options for how to respond to various possible retaliatory moves by Iran. 

Iran has threatened to retaliate, saying the building destroyed was a consular building and therefore was an attack on Iran itself.

On Friday a top aide to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Tehran sent a message warning the U.S. not to get involved in the fight between Israel and Iran. “In a written message, the islamic republic of Iran warns US leadership not to get dragged in Netanyahu’s trap for US: Stay away so you won’t get hurt,” Mohammad Jamshidi posted on X. He wrote that, in response, the U.S. asked Iran not to target American facilities.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said reports that the U.S. had asked Iran not to target American facilities were “simply wrong” and “Iranian spin.”

“We received a message from Iran following the strike in Damascus. In response, we made clear that we were not behind the strike. We also warned Iran to not use the strike as a pretext to further escalate in the region or attack U.S. facilities or personnel,” a senior administration official told NBC News.

On Monday, Israeli warplanes struck a building next to the Iranian embassy in Damascus. The strike killed Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior military commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force who ran ground operations in Syria and Lebanon, according to Iran. Several other people were killed but U.S. officials have not confirmed who they were other than to characterize them as IRGC officials.

In the hours after the strike, the Biden administration reached out to Iran directly to assure Tehran that the U.S. was not involved and did not have advance knowledge of the strikes.

Iran's slain Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi appears on a billboard on April 3, 2024 in Palestine Square in Tehran. A slogan in Hebrew reads, "You will be punished."
A picture of Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike, on a billboard Wednesday in Palestine Square in Tehran. A slogan in Hebrew reads, “You will be punished.”Atta Kenare / AFP – Getty Images

While the U.S. has firmly denied any involvement, U.S. officials are concerned retaliation could affect U.S. troops in the region.

The U.S. military has this week shot down two one-way attack drones near the al Tanf garrison in southern Syria, according to U.S. defense officials. The drones were not targeting U.S. forces at al Tanf directly, they said, but were close enough that the military assessed they could be a threat to the U.S. or to Israel.

There have not been any attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria for nearly two months. That pause followed an attack by Iranian-backed militants that killed three American service members in Syria that was met with a series of retaliatory strikes from the U.S.

The al-Tanf military outpost in Syria
The al Tanf military outpost in Syria in 2018. Lolita Baldor / AP file

The officials say the U.S. military is already at a heightened state of alert in the region.

According to a White House readout of a call Thursday, President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Iranian threats of retaliation. A senior administration official said the U.S. and Israel “have been in regular and continuous contact” since the call. “The United States fully supports the defense of Israel against threats from Iran. I will not go beyond that given the sensitivity of the topic and information based on intelligence sources,” the official said.

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