3 Apr 2024

Iran vows revenge on Israel after Damascus embassy attack

6:44 am on 3 April 2024
Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus, on 1 April, 2024. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes hit an Iranian consular annex in the capital on April 1, while a war monitor reported eight people were killed and Iranian state media said a senior commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was among the dead, amid rising regional tensions due to the Gaza war. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP)

Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus, on 1 April, 2024. Photo: LOUAI BESHARA / AFP

By Parisa Hafezi and Dan Williams, Reuters

Iran said on Tuesday it would take revenge on Israel for an airstrike that killed two of its generals and five military advisers at its embassy compound in Damascus, raising the risk of further escalation in conflict in the Middle East.

The strike marked one of the most significant attacks yet on Iranian interests in Syria, where Israel has stepped up a long-running military campaign against Iran and groups it backs as the Gaza war has rippled around the Middle East.

Until now, Iran has avoided directly entering the fray, while supporting allies' attacks on Israeli and US targets.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, which destroyed a consular building adjacent to the main embassy complex in the upscale Mezzeh district on Monday night, killing seven members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

But a senior Israeli government official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said those hit had "been behind many attacks on Israeli and American assets and had plans for additional attacks".

The embassy "was not a target", the official said.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge.

"The Zionist regime will be punished by the hands of our brave men. We will make it regret this crime and others it has committed."

Khamenei's political adviser Ali Shamkhani, in a post on X, said the United States "remains directly responsible whether or not it was aware of the intention to carry out this attack".

According to Axios, citing a US official, Washington told Tehran it "had no involvement" or advanced knowledge of the Israeli strike.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the strike and called on "all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and avoid further escalation... that could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region", his spokesperson said.

Iranian state media said the death toll was 13, including six Syrians. Two security sources in Lebanon said at least one member of the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah was killed in the strike.

Syrian civil defence teams were still working on Tuesday to clear the rubble as ambulances were parked nearby.

Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, who was not injured in the strike, said the flattened building housed his residence. He could be seen exiting the main embassy building on Tuesday with his security guards.

Iran's United Nations mission said the attack was a violation of "the foundational principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises".

Akbari told Reuters it showed total disrespect for international law, and both Iran and Syria had the right to respond.

Wafa Badr, a Mezzeh resident, said she was home in the kitchen when she heard an enormous blast. "I was knocked unconscious for about 10 minutes - we were so surprised by what happened. Both our cars are destroyed," she said.

'Deterrence posture'

Julien Barnes-Dacey of the European Council on Foreign Relations said the attack marked a more overt Israeli strike on Iranian state interests than previously seen in Syria.

"While Tehran wants to avoid being sucked into a wider war... it may feel compelled to respond more forcefully to maintain the credibility of its regional deterrence posture."

Iranian state media said Tehran believed the target was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, one of the brigadier generals killed.

A biography shared by Hezbollah's al-Manar outlet said Zahedi was in the Quds Force from 2008 to 2016 - the IRGC arm which oversees allied militia around the Middle East.

He then led the Guards' operations from 2016 and 2019 before returning to the Quds Force to work on its Lebanon and Syria operations until this year.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel was operating all over the Middle East "in a multi-front war" to exact a price from those who threaten it, without referring to the strike.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to France, said Washington was trying to ascertain the facts about the strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

Russia said the strike was an act of aggression and called on Israel to cease such "absolutely unacceptable" actions.

The attack was one of the heaviest blows to the IRGC since the assassination of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike on Baghdad in 2020.

Iran backs groups that have entered the fray across the region since Hamas ignited the Gaza war on 7 October by attacking Israel, with Hezbollah waging attacks from Lebanon while Iraqi groups have fired on US forces in Syria and Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen have targeted Red Sea shipping.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has drawn on Iranian military aid during more than a decade of civil war.

- This story was first published by Reuters

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