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US says it had ‘nothing to do’ with strike on Iranian consulate in Syria

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Iran’s deterrence strategy against Israel has suffered greatly since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, particularly after the brazen attack on its consulate in the Syrian capital on April 1.

Eighteen members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including key generals, have been killed in Syria in suspected Israeli strikes since early December. But Iran has refrained from responding directly to Israel, choosing instead to increase its support for the “Axis of Resistance” – its network of allies and proxies in the region – to take the fight to Israel.

But the deadly attack on its consulate in Damascus could force Iran to take direct action, experts say.

Nestled between the Iranian and Canadian embassies, the building housing the Iranian consulate and ambassador’s residence was reportedly hit by six missiles and demolished. Seven IRGC members, including senior Quds Force official General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, were killed.

Iranian officials, as they usually do, vowed revenge, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowing on April 2 that Israel would be “punished by our brave men.”

Although Tehran’s threats are usually in vain, analysts say this time the Iranians may have to keep their promise.

“Iran doesn’t have many good options, but the (April 1) attack could force its hand,” said Farzan Sabet, an associate researcher at the Geneva Institute of Advanced Studies.

First “Israeli” attack on Iranian diplomatic premises

Past attacks on Iranian interests in Syria, allegedly carried out by Israel, have targeted military installations used by the IRGC and its affiliates. The April 1 strike was the first against an Iranian diplomatic compound.

Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari said on state television after the attack, three of those killed had diplomatic credentials.

Iran accused Israel violated international law and demanded global condemnation. He also called for a meeting of the UN Security Council.

Israel has long had a policy of not commenting on airstrikes in Syria.

Raz Zimmt, a senior researcher at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said the affected building had been used by the Quds Force, the expeditionary arm of the IRGC designated a terrorist entity by the United States.

He said the attack was part of Israel’s strategy to “escalate things with Iran in an effort to put pressure on the head of the snake, as Israel sees it.”

Israel launched its deadly offensive in Gaza after Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, attacked several communities in Israel on October 7, killing nearly 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The Iranian-led Axis of Resistance has targeted Israel since it attacked the Palestinian enclave and even attempted to impose a naval blockade using Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who in recent months have targeted commercial shipping heading towards Israeli ports.

Israel responded by striking proxy groups that make up the Axis of Resistance, but has particularly intensified its attacks on IRGC positions since December.

“The Israeli strike on Iranian diplomatic facilities in Syria…could be an attempt by Israel to impose a higher cost on Iran for the Resistance Axis pressure campaign,” Sabet said.

“Strategic patience” is not enough

Despite losing more than a dozen officers of various ranks since the start of the Gaza war, the Islamic republic has not directly attacked Israel – because a war with Israel would inevitably turn into a war with the United States.

Instead, Tehran demonstrated what is widely described as “strategic patience”: avoiding direct conflict in the hope that its allies were already sufficiently engaging Israel to provide deterrence.

“The attack on the consulate demonstrated the error of this calculation,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Azizi argued that by gradually escalating its attacks on the IRGC, Israel has forced Iran to a stage where it must either “risk direct confrontation or continue to see its deterrence and regional credibility eroded.”

Commenting on Khamenei’s threatening message, Azizi said: “It seems that Iranian policymakers realize that the strategy of ‘strategic patience’ and exclusive reliance on proxy war has its limits.

Calls for reciprocal action

The Islamic Republic’s hardline support base has demanded retaliation and criticized the lack of a strong response to previous deadly attacks against the IRGC.

“This time it will be very difficult for Iran to do nothing,” said Zimmt, a veteran Iran watcher in the Israeli military. “The question remains what exactly Iran can do to restore its deterrence while not embroiling itself in a direct military confrontation with Israel (which would be) supported by the United States. »

Sabet speculated that Iran would likely continue to respond indirectly, for example by striking targets in Iraqi Kurdistan that he said were being used by Israeli agents. But the devastating attack on the consulate could change that.

At the risk of damaging relations with host countries, Sabet said, Iran could attack Israeli diplomatic missions.

Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 1.

Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 1.

This certainly seems to be a popular option with hardliners in Iran.

Hamid Rasaei, ultraconservative cleric and elected member of parliament from Tehran, described the consulate strike was called an “attack on the soil of our country” and demanded reciprocity.

But Zimmt said an attack on Israeli missions, while possible, could take a long time to plan.

He recalled Iran’s habit of targeting dissidents abroad, including in Western countries, and argued that tarnishing relations with other countries is unlikely to deter the Islamic republic from strike Israeli embassies or consulates.

Whether Iran opts for a direct or indirect response, “any retaliation should be calibrated and limited to avoid unintended consequences,” Azizi said. “Even though there are no guarantees about that.”



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