Israel has killed a top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander in a rare publicly acknowledged attack in Syria, significantly raising tensions between the arch enemies and sparking vows of retaliation from Tehran.
Key Facts About the Attack
- On Sunday night, Israel carried out an airstrike on a home near downtown Damascus, killing IRGC brigadier general Seyed Razi Mousavi.
- Mousavi was a senior aide to IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani before Soleimani’s assassination by the U.S. in 2020.
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Mousavi was killed alongside at least one other IRGC member.
- Israel did not officially comment. But unnamed Israeli officials confirmed Israel’s military was behind the strike.
- The airstrike targeted the Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood near Damascus. The area houses a major Shiite Muslim shrine that Iran has turned into a military base over Syria’s 11-year civil war.
Iran Vows Harsh Response
Iranian officials issued blistering threats against Israel, warning of retaliation after the killing of a man they described as a high-ranking military officer.
“The Zionist regime has committed a big folly by assassinating IRGC member Seyed Razi Mousavi. The criminal Zionists should await Iran’s revenge,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabollahian tweeted.
Other Iranian military figures similarly warned Israel will “pay for this.”
Gen. Salar Abnoosh, deputy coordinator of the IRGC, said:
“The resistance front will retaliate against these Zionist criminals. The annihilation of the Zionist regime will come closer.”
Why Israel Struck
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside Syria over the course of the country’s civil war, but rarely publicly acknowledges individual operations like this.
Analysts said the public Iranian vows of revenge made it hard to keep the operation under wraps. But there’s likely a broader strategy behind the attack as well.
Israel is trying to prevent Iran from building a Second Hezbollah on Syrian soil, experts say. It has targeted Iranian weapons convoys heading to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon dozens of times over the last decade.
But attacks on senior Iranian figures are far more rare. Mousavi was the most senior commander killed in an Israeli attack in Syria since 2020. Given his senior role advising the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, he likely had an integral part managing Iran’s Syria strategy.
So beyond just disrupting weapons flows, the killing of Mousavi aims to undermine Iran’s Syria project more fundamentally.
Wider Mideast Tensions
The airstrike comes at a sensitive time in the wider Middle East. Israel remains on high alert after months of Palestinian attacks in the occupied West Bank and is currently battling a wave of rocket fire from Gaza.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah has threatened military escalation if Israel begins extracting gas from a disputed Mediterranean gas field.
With Iran already warning of revenge, security officials fear the tensions could ignite violence on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon or Syria. That would open a dangerous two-front conflict for Israel.
It could also complicate international efforts focused on reviving the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal amid stalled negotiations.
What Comes Next?
In the short term, Israeli forces along the northern borders have been put on high alert. Military officials have warned northern residents to prepare bomb shelters in case of retaliation.
But it remains unclear how or when Iran may choose to respond. Below are some possibilities analysts have raised:
Rocket attacks from Syria, Lebanon: Iran could order allied militias like Hezbollah to launch rockets at Israel from over one of these borders. However, this risks major Israeli retaliation.
Attacks on Israeli targets abroad: Iran has targeted Israeli tourists and embassies overseas in the past. But Mousavi’s senior role could warrant retaliation directly against military or government sites inside Israel.
Strikes by Iranian drones/missiles: Iran now has an expanded array of long-range strike capabilities and drones. Direct Iranian missile strikes on Israeli military sites would mark a major escalation not seen before. But cyberattacks or attacks by Iranian proxies abroad remain more likely.
Nuclear escalation: Some worry Iran may use the tensions around the attack to further accelerate nuclear work or limit UN inspector access. However, most analysts don’t foresee Iran dashing back towards a bomb in response at this stage.
In the end, Iran faces difficulties projecting meaningful military power directly against Israel. But the stakes around any retaliation are extraordinarily high. The coming days and weeks will prove pivotal in clarifying whether the strike spurs a wider conflagration or the crisis can be contained.
Table 1: Timeline of key recent events
|Israel expands strikes on Iran arms flows to Syria
|Iran protests pose challenge for regime
|World Cup diplomacy eases Iran-Saudi tensions
|Escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence
|Dec 25, 2022
|Strike kills top Iranian commander in Syria
This story is based primarily on the five sources provided from the “Top news” section, with additional context and background drawn from other provided sources to add color. The narrative focuses on the key facts around the strike, analysis of Israel’s strategic calculus, the wider regional implications of the tensions, Iran’s threats of retaliation, and speculation from experts on what may come next. Please let me know if you would like me to modify or expand the story in any way.
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