Israel forces with unprecedented attack on Iranian consulate


April 2, 2024
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Israel escalates tensions with a deadly attack on an Iranian consulate in Syria. It is counting on Iran to shy away from a harsh response, which could result in direct war.

“The Zionist regime has once again put blind killings on its agenda to save itself,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Tuesday. The night before, Israel had carried out an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus. The bombing killed seven military commanders of the Revolutionary Guard. “This cowardly crime will not go unanswered,” Raisi warned.

Israel regularly carries out attacks on Iranian military targets in Syria, but Monday evening was the first time that a diplomatic mission came under fire. The Iranian government immediately accused Israel of ‘violating all international agreements and conventions’. Israeli authorities, who rarely comment on attacks against Iran and its allies, declined on Tuesday to confirm or deny that they were behind the airstrike.

The essence

  • An Israeli bombardment of the Iranian consulate in Damascus killed seven Iranian commanders.
  • It is an unprecedented escalation and Iran is threatening retaliation.
  • However, Israel is counting on the Iranians not to push for an open conflict.
  • With the attack, Israel shows that it is waging a broader war than the one against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

According to Iran, warplanes fired six missiles at the consulate, which was located right next to the embassy building. One of the victims was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Lebanon. He was responsible for coordination between the Guard, a special military unit, and the pro-Iranian militias. Zahedi had a long track record in the region. His deputy and five others were also killed.

Axis of resistance

The bombing is a major escalation in the Middle East, which has been under high tension for six months due to the war in Gaza. Iran played a key role in this. After the terror wave by Hamas on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli war, it was feared that Iran would open a second front. That has not happened yet, or at least not directly. Pro-Iranian groups in the region – the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ – did attack Israeli targets.

Things were hot at times, especially in the border area with Lebanon. The Israeli army and the Shiite militia Hezbollah continuously bombarded each other with rockets, but a real war did not occur. Israel also struck in Syria, where the Iranian army operates and has built up a network of militias. Before Monday’s attack, at least six members of the Revolutionary Guards and a military adviser had been killed in Israeli attacks.

With the bombing of the consulate, Israel goes a step further and risks an Iranian counter-reaction. Yet it appears that the Israelis do not expect the regime in Tehran to hit back significantly. They count on Iran to shy away from an open conflict that could turn into a regional war. It is a big gamble, especially after Monday’s unprecedented attack, but Iran has previously given signals that it does not want to escalate tensions.

Red Sea

Remarkably, the Iranians seem to be looking at the United States, the ‘great Satan’ with which the Shiite regime has been at odds for 45 years. It recently became known that both countries held discreet talks about the missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The Americans asked Iran to use its influence over the Yemeni Houthis to put an end to this. The consultation illustrated that both countries want to avoid direct confrontation.

The tenacity with which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging the war is putting relations with Washington to the test.

By significantly increasing military pressure – last week dozens of Hezbollah militants and Syrian soldiers were killed in an airstrike – Israel is sending the signal that it is not only targeting Hamas, but the entire pro-Iranian ‘axis of resistance’. It is also a way to divert attention from the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip. Israel, accused of serious violations of humanitarian law, is increasingly isolated internationally.

The tenacity with which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducts the war is putting relations with Washington to the test. Last week, the US clearly showed its displeasure by exceptionally passing a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire. By expanding the conflict beyond just Gaza, the Israelis hope that the American ally will stay on track.

Israel is active throughout the Middle East to cut off any threat, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant emphasized in parliament on Tuesday. “We operate everywhere and every day to prevent our enemies from getting stronger,” he said, without referring to the Damascus bombing. “We are currently in a war on multiple fronts – we see evidence of that every day.”

The article is in Dutch

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