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2 Apr, 2024 14:41

Top Iranian general killed in Israeli strike: What we know so far

Iran has vowed retaliation against Israel for the death of Reza Zahedi at a diplomatic compound in Syria
Top Iranian general killed in Israeli strike: What we know so far

A top Iranian general was among those killed in an apparent targeted assassination by Israel on Syrian soil on Monday. The airstrike, which hit Tehran’s consulate in Damascus, raises the prospect of a major regional escalation.

The diplomatic compound was hit by a missile, purportedly launched by an Israeli F-35 fighter jet. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) confirmed that seven of its officers were killed, including General Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

The list of IRGC victims also included Zahedi’s deputy, General Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, two military leaders, and senior military advisers in Syria, the statement said. Two Syrian police officers, who were guarding the consular section of the embassy, were killed as well, according to Ambassador Hossein Akbari.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, in line with its usual policy of neither confirming nor denying operations on foreign soil.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed that the attack will not go unanswered. In a statement on Tuesday, he called it a “cowardly crime” and an act of terrorism, as well as “a clear violation of international regulations.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani has urged the UN and the international community to condemn the strike on a protected building. Iran reserves the right to “punish the aggressor” as it sees fit, he warned.

General Zahedi was a senior commander in the Quds force, the IRGC unit responsible for clandestine operations. He was reportedly in charge of the division’s activities in Lebanon and Syria.

His death was arguably the most significant blow to Quds since its then-commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US targeted assassination in January 2020 in Baghdad.

The significance of the killing was highlighted by pro-Israeli accounts on social media, which reacted to the news by posting a group photo featuring the two military leaders alongside three other prominent officials. Two of them, former IRGC commander Ahmad Kazemi and Hezbollah co-founder Imad Mughniyeh, have been assassinated. The sole survivor is Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanon-based militant political party.

Several countries swiftly expressed their condemnation, including Saudi Arabia, a nation that otherwise has frosty relations with Iran. Riyadh said it rejected targeting of diplomatic facilities “for any justification, and under any pretext.”

Moscow’s reaction cited the same reason for denouncing the strike on the consulate. It warned that Israel was risking a major regional escalation with its undeclared operations on foreign soil. Russia urged other nations to clearly state their attitude to the incident and its legality, or illegality.

Israel’s key ally, the US, did not immediately comment on the incident. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Washington was “looking into it”.

However, a scoop by news outlet Axios claimed that Israel tipped off the US just minutes before the strike, but did not say it was about to hit a consulate. Washington told Tehran it was not involved in the bombing, the outlet said, citing a senior US official.

After Soleimani was killed, multiple US military bases in Iraq were bombarded by Iranian ballistic missiles. US military personnel were reportedly given warning hours ahead. According to the Pentagon, nobody was killed, but 34 soldiers suffered from traumatic brain injuries.

A tit-for-tat spiral of retribution between Iran and Israel may lead to catastrophic damage to the entire region, Farkhad Ibragimov, a Russian expert on international affairs, has suggested.

”The sides had some non-public communications to prevent an escalation. Now that is out of the question, and, unfortunately, nobody in the world could stop them,” he said in an interview. He perceives the Israeli strike as a sign of weakness rather than a show of force.

Israel has been increasingly alienating other nations with the way it conducts its military operation in Gaza. The Jewish state claims to be seeking the obliteration of Hamas, a Palestinian militant force that it considers an Iranian proxy. Critics of Israel say the high death toll in Gaza and policies of the Israeli government indicate an intention to ethnically cleanse the enclave.

Washington continues to arm its ally, purportedly “to defend itself”, but it has shifted its rhetoric since last October – when a deadly Hamas incursion into southern Israel triggered the current war.

Some US officials believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu is deliberately escalating diplomatic tensions and manufacturing a crisis for domestic gain, Axios reported last week.

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