Iran’s Khamenei promises ‘Israel will be punished’ for Syria strike

The attack and rhetoric raise concern that Israel’s war in Gaza threatens to escalate major conflict across the region.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking during a visit at the IRGC aerospace achievement exhibition in Tehran. [khamenei.ir]

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has promised revenge for an Israeli air raid in Syria that killed senior military officers.

Iran’s supreme leader declared on Tuesday that “Israel will be punished” for the attack the previous day that killed members of the Revolutionary Guards, including two generals, at the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus. The attack and rhetoric have raised concern that Israel’s war in Gaza threatens to escalate major conflict across the region.

“The evil Zionist regime will be punished at the hands of our brave men. We will make them regret this crime and the other ones,” Khamenei said in a message published on his official website.

The statement came as Iranian state television reported that the death toll from the attack on the consulate building has risen to 13, including seven Iranians and six Syrian citizens.

Earlier, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi declared that the “cowardly crime will not go unanswered.”

“Having failed to destroy the will of the resistance front, the Zionist regime [Israel] has put blind assassinations back on its agenda to save itself,” he said.

Hezbollah, the Iran-affiliated armed group that has been swapping attacks with Israel across the border with Lebanon since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza, joined in, warning that the attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises “will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge”.

Heavy price

Israel has not declared responsibility for the Syria attack, which destroyed the consular building adjacent to the main embassy building in the upscale Mezzeh district of Damascus on Monday night.

However, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant struck a defiant tone in comments made on Tuesday, albeit without mentioning Iran.

Israel is in a war on multiple fronts “both offensively and defensively,” he told parliament’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We operate everywhere, every day, in order to prevent our enemies from gaining strength and in order to make it clear to anyone who acts against us – all over the Middle East – that the price for action against Israel will be a heavy one.”

Strong response

The attack has further complicated the situation in the Middle East, where tension has been bubbling since the onset of the Gaza war in October.

Tehran has been trying to avoid a direct conflict with Israel, while backing allies that have engaged with Israeli and US targets. But it is feared that the latest incident could widen hostilities.

“If Iran doesn’t respond strongly enough, many here believe it will be seen as a sign of weakness, not only to Israel and the United States, but also to a number of its proxies in the region,” reports Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari from Tehran.

“If Iran does react strongly, it could risk a full-out confrontation with the US,” she adds. “It’s really a tricky moment.”

Amid the tension, the UN Security Council is set to discuss the situation in a special session requested by Russia, an ally of both Syria and Iran.

China has condemned the attack, insisting that the security of diplomatic institutions “cannot be violated”. The EU, meanwhile, has called on all parties to show restraint.

However, Jabbari suggested that “the rhetoric coming from Iranian officials, as well as the supreme leader, indicates there will be a strong response”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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