Iran vows revenge on Israel after Damascus embassy attack

Israel has not declared responsibility for the attack which killed seven members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards

Reuters
Published : 2 April 2024, 11:41 AM
Updated : 2 April 2024, 11:41 AM

Iran vowed on Tuesday to take revenge on Israel for an airstrike that killed two of its top generals and five other military advisers at the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, underlining the risk of further escalation after the unprecedented attack.

Conflict has rippled across the Middle East since the onset of the Gaza war; until now, Tehran has carefully avoided direct conflict with Israel while backing allies attacking Israeli and US targets.

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

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," he said.

Khamenei's political advisor 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".

At least one member of the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah was also killed in the strike, two security sources in Lebanon said.

Israel has stepped up a years-long campaign of airstrikes against Iranian or Iran-backed targets in Syria since the onset of the Gaza war, but Monday's apparent strike was one of the boldest yet.

Syrian civil defense 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 wounded in the strike, has said the flattened building housed his residence. He could be seen exiting the main embassy building on Tuesday with his security guards.

"Having failed to destroy the will of the resistance front, the Zionist regime (Israel) has put blind assassinations back on its agenda to save itself," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said, referring to Iran's allies in the "Axis of Resistance".

"It must know that it will never achieve its goals and that this cowardly crime will not go unanswered," Raisi said.

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 with what happened. Both our cars are destroyed," she said.

RIGHT TO 'DECISIVE RESPONSE'

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

A brief biography shared by Hezbollah's al-Manar outlet said Zahedi was in the Quds Force from 2008 to 2016, 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.

The attack was one of the heaviest blows to the Revolutionary Guards 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 Oct 7 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 attacked Red Sea shipping.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has drawn on Iranian military aid during more than a decade of civil war in the country, and Iran-backed forces have carved out a significant presence on the ground.

Israel typically does not discuss attacks by its forces on Syria. Asked about the strike, an Israeli military spokesperson said: "We do not comment on reports in the foreign media".

The New York Times cited four unnamed Israeli officials as acknowledging Israel had carried out the attack.

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

Iran's UN mission described the strike as a "flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, international law, and the foundational principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises."

Saying the strike was "a significant threat to regional peace and security," the Iranian mission urged the UN Security Council to condemn the attack and said Tehran reserved the right "to take a decisive response."

The Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct 7, killing about 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's offensive in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities.