The State Department has directed all “non-emergency” personnel and family members to leave the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, citing blanket threats to the building, diplomats and staff, amid the administration's push for a military strike on Syria.
“U.S. citizens concerned for their safety should consider making plans to depart by commercial means,” the State Department said in an announcement. “Those who remain should prepare to depart at short notice.”
State also urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns and is pulling diplomats out of Adana, Turkey.
The precautions come as the Obama administration is lobbying lawmakers to approve his plan to take military action in neighboring Syria in retaliation for President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against his own citizens on Aug. 21.
With Obama's national security team trying to make the case for military strikes in Syria over the last two weeks, Iran, Hezbollah and others have threatened to respond with their own attacks against U.S. allies, including Israel, or U.S. diplomatic posts and interests in the region.
Hezbollah is an Assad ally; the group has sent fighters into Syria and is based in Lebanon.
The State Department has also warned U.S. citizens against “all but essential travel to Iraq" but it has yet to shut down its embassy there or order staff to leave in response to a specific threat from Iran, according to the Wall Street Journal.
If the U.S. orders a strike on Syria, Iran has directed militants in Iraq to attack the embassy and other American interests in Baghdad, the Journal reported Friday, saying the U.S. has intercepted a message ordering the reprisals.
A skeleton staff will likely remain at the embassy in Beirut, but the announcement said routine consular services will be limited and may be further constrained by the “fluid security situation.”
“The safety of our visitors and staff is our highest priority,” State said in the announcement. “Due to disruptions caused by the current environment, consular services could experience unusual delays.”
The U.S. closed 19 embassies and consulates across Africa and the Middle East last month for more than a week after a terrorist threat.
The latest embassy threats also come on the near one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which claimed the lives of four Americans.