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Iran Vows Retaliation After Israel Bombs Its Consulate in Syria

Journalist Akbar Shahid Ahmed says the pace and audacity of Israel’s international attacks have escalated since October.

Iran has vowed to retaliate after Israel bombed the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing at least seven people, including three senior Iranian commanders and at least four other Iranian officers. Among the dead is senior commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the highest-ranking Iranian military officer to be killed since the U.S. assassinated General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020. While Israel sees strikes on foreign soil as “part of their self-defense strategy,” Iran feels it must respond to this “breaching serious diplomatic norms,” says Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent for HuffPost, who reports the pace and audacity of Israel’s international attacks have escalated since October. “While Israel is receiving huge amounts of American support, while Gaza is suffering and Israel is pummeling that Strip, we now see them risking a two-front war, maybe a three-front war.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Iran has vowed to retaliate after Israel bombed the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, Syria, killing at least seven people, including three senior Iranian commanders and at least four other Iranian officers. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the death toll could be as high as 11. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in the al-Quds Force, is dead. He’s said to be the highest-ranking Iranian military officer to be killed since the U.S. assassinated General Qassem Soleimani under Trump in Baghdad in 2020.

Iran’s Ambassador to Syria Hossen Akbari condemned Israel for striking a diplomatic building. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, quote, “We will make them regretful about the crime and similar acts,” unquote. The Arab League condemned the strike and accused Israel of trying to, quote, “expand the war and push the region to chaos,” unquote. The New York Times described Monday’s attack as among the deadliest in a “yearslong shadow war between Israel and Iran.” The attack in Syria also came a day after Israel assassinated a Hezbollah leader in Lebanon.

We’re joined now by Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent for HuffPost.

Can you talk about the significance of this strike and who died, Akbar?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Sure, Amy. So, Zahedi, the commander who was killed, was sort of the connective tissue between Iran and a lot of its proxies, specifically Hezbollah in Lebanon, but also folks he worked with in Syria. So this is someone extremely valuable, extremely important to Iran.

And part of the significance is not just who he is, it’s also where he was killed. Right? This is Israel choosing to target a diplomatic facility. Iran has now said that both Zahedi and other people who were targeted had diplomatic passports. So, from their point of view, this is Israel breaching serious diplomatic norms. And the anxiety today is that because Israel has chosen to go after such a senior high-profile person, there cannot not be a response — right? — either from Iran or from some of its allies. So, what does that look like? And what’s the spiral of violence and escalation we’re now on?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Akbar, could you talk about this? It’s been decades now that Israel has used this policy of assassinations and often attacks in other countries on people that it determines to be immediate enemies of itself. How has the international community allowed this and basically turned away from looking at these consistent acts of what can only be called terror?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: So, Juan, the Israelis see this as part of their self-defense strategy, right? They do a very effective job of convincing lawmakers, U.S. officials, European officials, that they need to do this, or they’ll be at risk. What’s really different now, after October 7th, is the pace of these strikes and the audacity. Right? While Israel is receiving huge amounts of American support, while Gaza is suffering and Israel is pummeling that Strip, we now see them risking a two-front war, maybe a three-front war. And that’s where — yes, there’s a decades-old pattern of them doing this. That’s where we’re in a totally different, more dangerous phase right now. And I think while the U.S. has quietly sort of conveyed its message to Iran — “We don’t want this to escalate, we weren’t involved, we’re not responsible” — it’s really hard to avoid miscalculations on all sides. And again, from the Iranian point of view, they can’t let this go unresponded to.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Akbar, if you can talk about why you think this has happened right now, and what you think this means? We have response from all over. Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera Israel may be pushing to expand the war in what would be a, quote, “win-win situation” for Israel. Why?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Sure. So, this is so much about the political calculus of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And that’s very much the assessment not just here in Washington among a lot of U.S. officials who are really worried about where this is going. It’s also the assessment of a lot of Israelis — right? — that Netanyahu sees this as a moment to create a rally-around-the-flag effect. And timing wise, I think it’s important to remember, six months into their war on Gaza, they haven’t gotten the scalp that they wanted to, of Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza. They haven’t brought home the hostages, the Israelis they wanted to bring home. So it’s a distraction — right? — for Netanyahu.

I think, in terms of the significance, too, we cannot help but think about the most horrifying aspect of this — right? — which is the N-word, the “nuclear” word. Because of President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, which was working, Iran is now closer to developing a nuclear weapon than it ever has been before, right? That’s a Trump decision. Now, if Iran assesses they need to establish deterrence and confidence and send a signal to Israel, will they go down that path? And that’s where the U.S. starts to risk being involved, too.

So, what I’m hearing a lot from my sources across kind of U.S. government and intelligence is there’s a lot of alarm bells going off right now, saying the Israelis seem to want to suck us, as Americans, into a broader war, potentially in Lebanon, potentially with Iran. And what’s really striking is that the highest levels of the Biden administration, whether that’s the White House, the State Department, don’t seem yet to be managing those risks. There are quiet diplomatic channels, but there’s no guarantee. And what you have on the U.S. side is rhetoric, saying, “We don’t want to see a regional war,” but you don’t have actual action. Right? You don’t see the U.S. saying, “We won’t send Israel fighter jets, bombs, etc., etc., because of the risk of war.” And I think that’s what’s lacking right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the domestic problems that Netanyahu faces. As the protests, and massive protests, calling for his resignation grow, is it your sense that the extremism of the actions of the Netanyahu government will also grow, sort of as a means of deflecting — not distracting, but really deflecting — the opposition he faces internally?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: It’s a real risk, Juan. And I think there’s a few factors there, right? So, of course, Hezbollah, which is the Iran-backed militia in Lebanon, Hezbollah has indisputably hit Israelis, right? There is a lot of fear among Israelis, tens of thousands of whom have left northern Israel for fear of an October 7th-style attack by Hezbollah. So, Netanyahu can tap into that fear.

And the added layer of this is that there’s Netanyahu’s political survival, and then there’s the question of who comes after Netanyahu if he does fall. And at a moment where upwards of 70% of the Israeli public are in a sort of pro-war mood — right? — are still feeling under attack, into retaliation, there’s also a benefit for other politicians to seem hawkish, so that means Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who has kind of led the threats against Lebanon. It could also mean some of the candidates who the U.S. really has talked about as alternatives to Netanyahu, like Benny Gantz. There isn’t really an anti-hawkish narrative inside the Israeli body politic right now. There’s an anti-Netanyahu one. So the actual risk of war, I think, is only growing.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent for HuffPost. We’ll link to your articles at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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