Netanyahu Says Killing of 7 Aid Workers in Gaza Was Unintentional: Live Updates

Israel's bombing of the Iranian embassy building in Damascus, which killed Iranian soldiers and top intelligence officials, is a major escalation in the long-running undeclared war between Israel and Iran.

Iran has promised massive retaliation, and the risk of miscalculation is ever-present. But given the stakes for both countries, neither Israel nor Iran wants a major shooting war, even as they press for gains in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Instead, the strike is a clear demonstration of the regional nature of the conflict as Israel seeks to reduce and deter Iran's allies and surrogates that threaten Israel's security from all directions.

It is often referred to as the “war between wars”, with Israel and Iran as the main adversaries, fighting in the shadow of more visible rivalries around the region.

The Iranian officials killed Monday were deeply involved in arming and leading proxy forces in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen for decades as part of Iran's clearly defined efforts to But it is part of an effort to destabilize and even destroy the Jewish state.

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who likely approved such a sensitive strike, the successful elimination of such key Iranian military figures is a political coup. It comes at a time when protests calling for his resignation have intensified, as the war against Hamas continues and Israeli hostages remain in Gaza.

Demonstrating its ability to infiltrate Iranian intelligence, Israel is attempting to target the operational arm of Iran's regional proxies, its so-called axis of resistance against Israel, aimed at Gaza. I have to disrupt and stop them even as the war continues.

Since the war began in October, Israel has begun targeting key Iranian officials responsible for relations with its proxies, not just Tehran, said Ali Waez, the International Crisis Group's Iran project director. which provides modern weapons.

But no matter how many veteran generals Israel removes, “nobody in the Iranian system is irreplaceable,” he said. “Iran knows this is a dangerous game and there is a price attached to it.”

Some fear that the price could be borne by Israel's allies. Ralph Goff, a former senior CIA official who served in the Middle East, called Israel's attack “incredibly reckless” and added that “the Israelis are writing checks that US Centcom forces have to cash.” Ga,” referring to the US military's Central Command

“This will only result in an escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous for US forces in the region” who could be targeted in retaliatory strikes by Tehran's proxies, Mr Goff said. .

Mr. Netanyahu has stressed for years that Israel's greatest enemy is Iran and that the attack could help him “restore his reputation as Mr. security,'' said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. Even so, it may not be enough, he said, as Israel is trapped in Gaza, Hamas remains unbeaten and Iran and its proxies have not been reduced.

Iran has vowed to retaliate and retaliate against what it described as an unprecedented attack, but, since Oct. 7, “Iran has been clear that it does not want a regional war,” Ms. Vakil said. “It sees this conflict with Israel playing out over a longer time frame.”

U.S. officials do not believe Iran attacked Hamas or was even tipped off. Yet Iran still sees Gaza as “their victory, because it has isolated Israel and put it on the defensive in the region and the world,” according to the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Director Suzanne Maloney said.

He said the ongoing war and the civilian toll “made it almost impossible to create a vision for the Middle East that Israel and the US and the Saudis were hoping to engineer before October 7th.” Said, the Arab countries opposed the regional recognition of Israel. Iran's growing influence.

Still, Ms. Vakil said, “it will be difficult for Iran to ignore this attack,” because “it is a direct attack on its territory,” the embassy building, and Iran's Quds Force, outside Iran. Killed three senior military and intelligence commanders. Service of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iran said the Israeli strike killed an Iranian general, Mohammad Reza Zahidi, his deputy, a third general and at least four others, including reportedly senior officials of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is based in Gaza. Also fighting.

The killing of General Zahedi, who was said to be in charge of Iran's military relations with Syria and Lebanon, is widely considered the most significant assassination of an Iranian leader in years.

Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahidi who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian capital on…Fars News Agency, Agence France-Presse – via Getty Images

Yaakov Amderor, a former Israeli national security adviser, called General Zahedi's death “a huge blow to Iran's immediate capabilities in the region.” Mr. Amderor said he had helped oversee Iran's efforts to create a “ring of fire” around Israel and limited Tehran's involvement through its militant proxies.

But how and when Iran chooses to retaliate will raise the stakes. The clearest example of this is the US response to the killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani four years ago. Subsequently, Iran launched a major missile attack on a US base in Iraq, but only after receiving advance warning of the attack. The Pentagon later said there were no immediate American casualties, although more than 100 military personnel suffered traumatic brain injuries.

An anxious Iran, on high military alert, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, mistaking it for an enemy plane.

“But one of the lessons from Soleimani is that even if you criticize someone, the networks and redundancy that Iran has built with the groups survives well,” Ms Maloney said. said

Iran has recently sought to ease tensions with the United States after a drone attack on a US military base on the Jordan-Syria border in January killed three US soldiers.

But Iran may be more willing to risk military escalation with Israel.

It could make other choices – a major cyber attack on Israeli infrastructure or its military, a barrage of rockets from southern Lebanon, a similar assassination of an Israeli commander, an attack on an Israeli embassy abroad, or its nuclear enrichment program. Another fast one. .

The latter would be a direct retaliation for Mr. Netanyahu, who has long warned about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and vowed to prevent it from happening. (Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, even as it has enriched uranium to near weapons grade.)

Or Iran could stick to its timing. Mr Amderor, a former Israeli national security adviser, said he doubted the attack would lead to wider tensions between Israel and Iran, such as an all-out war with Hezbollah on Israel's northern border.

“Their interests have not changed since then. They will seek revenge, but that is something else entirely,” he said, and it should not be limited to the immediate area.

An earlier example he cited was the 1992 Islamic Jihad bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people, and Israel's assassination of Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Mousavi. It came in response.

Aaron Boxerman Reporting from Jerusalem and Eric Schmidt contributed from Washington.

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