How Iran might retaliate for suspected Israeli strike on its Damascus embassy building

Syrian emergency and security personnel search the rubble at the site of an Iranian embassy annex building in Damascus that was hit in an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024. At least 13 people were killed, including two Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals and five personnel from the force. (AFP/File)
Published April 9,  2024
  • Iran has ‘no choice but to respond’ to attack that killed two IRGC commanders, but the risks are considerable
  • Analysts suspect Iran will use its regional proxies to strike Israel rather than opt for direct assault

LONDON: With bated breath, the world awaits Iran’s promised retaliation for last week’s suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy annex in the Syrian capital Damascus. Whatever form Teheran’s revenge takes, there is mounting public fear it could trigger an all-out war.

At least 16 people were reportedly killed in the April 1 attack, including two senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ extraterritorial Quds Force — Mohammad Reza Zahedi and his deputy Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi.

A day after the attack, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi promised the strike would “not go unanswered.” Five days later, Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Israel’s embassies “are no longer safe.”

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the strike, but Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the US has assessed that the Israelis were responsible.

Middle East experts believe Iran’s promised revenge could take many forms, potentially involving direct missile strikes via one of the IRGC’s proxy groups in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Retaliation seems inevitable. But what form it takes is anyone’s guess,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

An attack on an Israeli Embassy “will be on par with what Israel did in Damascus,” said Vaez, but “no one knows for sure what form the Iranian response will take.”



RELATED: Iran’s growing arsenal of drones and missiles: Can they strike Israel?

Tehran has invested heavily in improving accuracy and range of its weapons

Iranian Army Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, left, and Commander Gen Abdolrahim Mousavi visiting an underground tunnel and drone base in Iran’s Zagros mountains. AP
Published April 9,  2024

Iran has warned Israel it will pay a price for attacking its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, an air strike that killed two Iranian generals, among seven officers of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and nine others, including some Syrians.

This leaves the question of which weapons Iran has at hand to strike Israeli targets.

In the past, Iran has delivered long-range drones and missiles to allies to attack Israel, accepting losses among those allies in retaliatory air strikes.

Mark Pyruz, an expert on Iran’s security services, says observers should not expect the Iranians to accept what he calls “reflexive control” after the attack, whereby Iran restrains its retaliatory instincts for fear of provoking something worse.

This was the case after the US assassination of Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani in Iraq in 2020, when Iran halted direct attempts at retaliation after firing one heavy barrage of missiles at American forces.

Today, Iran could be willing to take more losses and more risk, if history is a guide.

“The Iranian-Israeli contest stretches back to the First Lebanon War [1982], with attrition and replacements a feature of raised levels of conflict,” Mr Pyruz says. “A response isn’t expected to divert global public focus away from Israel’s disadvantageous Gaza policy but rather a continuation of targeting observed during this present crisis.”

This form of proxy warfare is already playing out on the Israel-Lebanon border in daily clashes between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel.

Hezbollah is thought to possess a number of guided ballistic missiles that have not yet been used, which could strike Israeli airports and power plants – but the group has hinted it will not play a central role in an Iranian strike.

It is suspected that Hezbollah has not yet used Khaibar-1 missiles, with a 100km range, or Fateh 110 missiles, with a 160km range, because such a move could rapidly expand the war.

This leaves two other proxy fronts in Iraq, where analysts say Iran has sent allied militias shorter-range ballistic missiles, including the Al Aqsa missile thought to have capability of travelling less than 100km.

The militias have, however, fired drones towards Eilat, thought to be Shahed 110s, commonly used by Iran-backed groups against US forces.




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Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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