Iran embassy attack demonstrates Israel’s expanding influence as the Middle East erupts

Iran embassy attack demonstrates April 4, DUBAI (Reuters) – According to a dozen Iranian, Syrian, and local officials, after months of deadly Israeli attacks in Syria, Iranian military commanders felt comfortable holding a high-level meeting inside Iran’s embassy complex in Damascus, believing that it was covered by international agreements protecting diplomatic missions.
They were in error.
Seven Iranian commanders were killed in an airstrike on the facility on Monday, including Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior leader in the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and one of Iran’s top warriors. Since December, a number of attacks have killed Iranian officials in Syria; this one was the most audacious and lethal of them all.Israel is expanding as the Middle East heats up.

The attack, which Tehran blamed on Israel, was a unique military operation on diplomatic grounds worldwide and was quickly denounced by the UN and EU. Analysts see it as a major step up in a larger Israeli attempt to undermine the hegemony Iran has amassed in Syria over the past ten years.
Like others in this story, the Iranian source asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the subject. According to the source, Zahedi had arrived in Syria a day or so prior to the strike and was lodging at the embassy compound with two other top commanders.

The insider stated, without providing any details, that the three individuals were in Syria to talk about operational logistics and coordination.
Leading the Guards’ Quds Force, which provides Iranian assistance to regional allies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, was Zahedi. He was the highest ranking member of the Revolutionary Guards to be assassinated since a U.S. drone attack on Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad four years prior, and the way the attack was carried out shocked a region already shaken by Israel’s conflict in Gaza.

It’s unprecedented, in my opinion,” said Eurasia Group analyst Gregory Brew, who also added that he could not think of a single instance of a state taking such direct aim at another’s diplomatic presence.
“The IRGC officers likely thought they were safe so long as they remained in the diplomatic compound,” he stated. “I can’t imagine any IRGC officers feel particularly safe at the moment.”
The repercussions from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s threat of retaliation, the Supreme Leader of Iran, runs the potential of intensifying the strife that has erupted throughout the Middle East since the Gaza War broke out in October.

But according to two Iranian officials, Tehran will not stray from its strategy of avoiding direct confrontation with Israel and the US while supporting allies who have attacked Israel, US troops, and Red Sea shipping in what they claim are attacks intended to support Gaza. This strategy has been in place since October.
According to a senior source who was one of those officials, Tehran must respond forcefully to stop Israel from carrying out or intensifying similar strikes. Without going into detail, the official stated that the level of reprisal would be minimal and intended to serve as a deterrent.

The Revolutionary Guards of Iran’s public relations office remained silent.
Israel has not acknowledged being responsible for Monday’s attack, which destroyed the building where the commanders were assembled next to the main Iranian embassy building. Israel rarely comments on its operations in Syria. For this story, the Israeli military spokesperson’s office declined to comment.
The attack, according to Sanam Vakil, deputy head of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program, is the most recent to demonstrate the specific nature of Israeli intelligence in Syria and the surrounding area. She pointed out that on January 2, an Israeli strike in Lebanon—the home base of the Hezbollah movement, which receives Iranian support—killed a top leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Iran’s regional “Axis of Resistance” includes both of these groups.

In addition, she stated that the most recent attack against Zahedi “speaks to Israel’s broader objective of trying to degrade the operational capacities of the Axis of Resistance over the last six months.” “We have seen very high-level killings of officials with management responsibility across the network,” she said.
According to security sources, Israel carried out one of its worst raids in months last week in Syria, killing six Hezbollah fighters and 33 Syrians. Since the Gaza war started in October, Israel has also struck Hezbollah hard in Lebanon, killing some 250 of its fighters, including senior commanders.
Israel invaded Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ offensive on southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in 1,200 fatalities and the kidnapping of 253 hostages. Since then, some 33,000 Palestinians have

Without providing more information, an Iranian security source stated that Iran would modify its strategy in light of Monday’s attack. According to a regional source close to Iran, Israel’s breach of diplomatic norms has left Syria without any safe haven.
The spate of Israeli strikes targeting Revolutionary Guard leaders led to a reduction in the Revolutionary Guards’ deployment of senior officers in Syria, according to a February Reuters article. According to sources, the Guards had expressed concerns to the Syrian authorities at the time about the possibility that information breaches from the Syrian security forces contributed to those strikes.
Following Monday’s incident, the Iranian security source stated that Iran was looking into the possibility of Zahedi’s movements being disclosed to Israel.The main significance of the attack, according to researcher Raz Zimmt at Tel Aviv University’s Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, was to demonstrate that no place was off limits. Zahedi had played a significant role “managing the entrenchment of Iranian activity both in Syria and Lebanon,” and he would be difficult to replace given “his long experience and his long presence in Syria.” Iran has sent officers and allied militias to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad during the war that started in 2011. The Syrian government claims they are there in the capacity of advisers at Damascus’ request.

Speaking under anonymity, an Israeli official denied that Israel was involved in the incident on Monday but said that it was extremely unusual for multiple top Iranian officials to be in one place at the same time.
“Whoever did this clearly did not want to pass up what appears to have been a very, very rare opportunity,” he stated. “That’s not something a country at war would pass up.”
A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that “the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel must be respected in all cases and in all circumstances in accordance with international law” and that the attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises was condemned. The message was reiterated by the European Union.

Nonetheless, the Israeli official stated that the deceased individuals’ names amounted to “an admission that a diplomatic mission in a third-party country is being used as a military headquarters”.
The US has stated that while it has not verified the building’s status, it would be worried if it was a diplomatic establishment. The structure was targeted in Damascus. Washington informed the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that it had no previous notice of the attack and cautioned Iran not to respond against it.
According to a Syrian military intelligence officer, Israel has recently increased its attempts to create human intelligence, and the area around the embassy included buildings that it had previously used to watch and plant devices.

Qasem Mohebali, former Director-General for the Middle East and North Africa at Iran’s Foreign Ministry who is based in Iran, called the strike a turning point in Israel’s attacks against Iran’s presence in Syria.

In an interview with the Iranian news website Jamaran, he said Israel “had previously exercised caution and refrained from targeting official and diplomatic Iranian locations”.

But “direct war with Israel is by no means in Iran’s interest”, he added. “Entering that arena does not just end with war with Israel; the conflict could escalate and involve other players such as the United States,” he said.

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