IRGC commander among dead after Israeli strike on Iran consulate in Syria

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Iran has vowed revenge after Israeli war planes destroyed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing at least seven people, including a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds force.

Iran’s leaders in Tehran described the targeting of a diplomatic mission late on Monday as unprecedented and promised a harsh response.

Iran said that several long-serving diplomats were killed alongside Brig Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi in the attack. It was also reported that Zahedi’s deputy, Sardar Haji Rahimi and Brig Gen Hossein Amirollah, the Chief of general staff for IRGC’s Quds force in Syria and Lebanon, were also among the victims.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said: “We consider this aggression to have violated all diplomatic norms and international treaties.

“Benjamin Netanyahu has completely lost his mental balance due to the successive failures in Gaza and his failure to achieve his Zionist goals”.

Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, said Iran’s response for the strike would be “at the same magnitude and harshness”.

He said the consulate in in the Syrian capital had been hit by six missiles launched by F-35 jets, killing seven people, including three military personnel. Bodies were still being identified in the rubble, he said.

Akbari, who had been working at the nearby embassy, vowed Iran would continue to support Palestinians in Gaza, and had no fear of the Israeli government. But the attack represents a test for Iran, which will feel the need to respond while it remains keen to avoid dragging itself into an open all-out conflict with Israel.

Videos broadcast on Iranian state TV showed smoke rising from rubble of a building that had been completely flattened. An Iranian flag hung from a pole in front of the debris. Nearby cars had been damaged by falling masonry.

Israel has mounted successive strikes on Iranian and Syrian military leaders in Lebanon and Syria since before the latest conflict in Gaza, but this was one of the most audacious.

Monday afternoon’s strike removed a key figure in Iran’s military heirachy. Zahedi commanded units from the Quds forces – the Guards’ clandestine foreign intelligence and paramilitary wing – in Lebanon and Syria and would have been a critical figure in Tehran’s relationship with Hezbollah and Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Zahedi would have been at the heart of the supply of Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah, and was sanctioned by the US as long ago as 2010.

Previously, he had been head of Iran’s air force and ground forces, as well as playing a role in crushing the Iranian protests in 2019.

Syria’s foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, visited the scene of Monday’s attack and vowed that Israeli forces will not be able to damage relations between Iran and Syria.

The strike follows a marked increase in violence between Israel and Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanon border since Hamas’s 7 October attack, as well as the resumption of violence by Iranian-backed militia in Iraq on US and Israeli positions.

The incident came days after the observatory reported Israeli strikes in Syria that killed 53 people, including 38 soldiers and seven members of Hezbollah. It was the highest Syrian army toll in Israeli strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, said the monitor.

Some saw the strike as a response to a drone, apparently launched from Iraq, which struck a building in a naval base in Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat early on Monday morning. But Zahedi would have been on Israel’s assassination list for some time.

Israel as a rule does not comment on its assassination strikes, but Iranian media made no attempt to hide the loss of such a senior figure.

Last year, Israel killed Sayed Reza Musawi, the IGRC head of logistics in the Levant.

The US said it was aware of the reports of the attacks on the Iranian diplomatic mission but had no comment to make. The UN said it was very worried by the reports but would comment fully later.

Ali Vaez, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said: “In Syria, Israel has conducted numerous strikes, focusing especially on weapons transfers. Directly targeting IRGC personnel did occur, but more as an exception than the rule. Today’s strike is significant both for the individuals killed and the location.”

The longer term significance of the incident may lie in Iran regarding the airstrike as an attack on Iranian soil, which would represent an escalation.

Tehran is likely to be closely monitoring the US response and for any signs President Joe Biden approved of the attack – or if he was simply notified when it began. The US has classified the Quds force as a terrorist force, but US diplomats have been working hard to avoid the Gaza war escalating into a wider conflict directly between Iranian and Israel.

Read More: IRGC commander among dead after Israeli strike on Iran consulate in Syria

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