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

Special How Iran might retaliate for suspected Israeli strike on its Damascus embassy building
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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)
Special How Iran might retaliate for suspected Israeli strike on its Damascus embassy building
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A top view shows the demolished Iranian Embassy’s consular annex in Damascus, Syria, after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024, killing at least 13 people, including two Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals and five personnel from the force. (AFP/File)
Special How Iran might retaliate for suspected Israeli strike on its Damascus embassy building
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People walk past portraits of slain Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi's and Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi written "Martyrs of Quds" (Jerusalem), on April 3, 2024 in Tehran, after they were killed in a strike at the consular annex of the Iranian embassy in Damascus. (AFP)
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Updated 10 April 2024
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How Iran might retaliate for suspected Israeli strike on its Damascus embassy building

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




Iran's slain Quds Force commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi. (AFP/File)

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.




In this photo taken on October 18, 2023, demonstrators gather outside the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan, in solidarity with the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. A high Iranian official has warned that Israel's embassies “are no longer safe” after the Israeli April 1 air strike on the consular building annex of Iran's embassy in Syria. (AFP/File)

“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.”

FASTFACTS

• Jan. 3, 2020: Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

• Dec. 25, 2023: Seyyed Razi, who headed the IRGC’s logistics and military coordination in Syria, killed outside Damascus in suspected Israeli strike.

• Jan. 20, 2024: Senior Quds Force commander Hajj Sadegh killed when Israel struck a building in Damascus’ Mazzeh neighborhood.

• April 1, 2024: Mohammed Reza Zahedi, his deputy Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, and five other IRGC officers killed in suspected Israeli strike on embassy annex in Damascus.

Israel seems to have taken pre-emptive measures. Not only has it bolstered its air defenses and called up reservists, but it also shuttered 28 of its 103 diplomatic missions around the world on Friday, according to the Jerusalem Post, and stepped up security measures around its various consulates and missions.

Stressing that the strike is “unusual,” especially during such “complex and sensitive times,” Eva J. Koulouriotis, a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, believes “Tehran has no choice but to respond.”

She told Arab News: “Tel Aviv, which chose to assassinate Gen. Zahedi and his companions in the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, was able to assassinate him outside the consulate or at the Masnaa crossing on the Syrian-Lebanese border, or even in his office in the southern suburb of Beirut.




Rubble is cleared at the site of an Iranian embassy annex building in Damascus that was demolished by an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024, killing at least 13 people were killed, including two Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals and five personnel from the force. (AFP/File)

“However, the choice of this place by the Israeli leadership, which is also the residence of the Iranian ambassador, is a message of escalation addressed directly to Khamenei and the IRGC.”

Koulouriotis did not discount the possibility of an attack on an Israeli Embassy.

“Last December, an explosion occurred near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, without causing any casualties,” she said. “Although no party claimed responsibility for the attack, there is a belief in Israel that Iran had a hand in this bombing.

“Therefore, in my opinion, Tehran will take a similar step in the future without claiming responsibility for the attack, but it will not be a direct response to the attack on the consulate in Damascus due to the sensitivity of this step.”

Notwithstanding, Koulouriotis believes “the Iranian response must be publicly adopted to achieve deterrence on the one hand and to satisfy the popular base of the Iranian regime on the other.

“Therefore, for Tehran to go towards a public and direct attack on an Israeli diplomatic mission in one of the countries of the region will mean a dangerous escalation, not with Israel alone, but with the country in which the attack took place.”




A billboard displays a portrait of slain Iran's Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi with a slogan reading in Hebrew, "You will be punished", at Palestine Square in Tehran. Iranian officials have warned that the latest assassination will not go unanswered. (AFP/File)

Phillip Smyth, a fellow at the Washington Institute and former researcher with the University of Maryland, believes the statement from Khamenei’s adviser Safavi about Israeli embassies was “certainly a threat,” but “the issue is if Iran or its proxies can deliver on that promise.”

He told Arab News: “Other operations, such as in India and Thailand — both involving Lebanese Hezbollah — failed. There is a lot of intelligence pressure on these types of operations, too.”

Vaez of the International Crisis Group concurs that a response would be “a very difficult needle to thread for Iran.”

He said: “Tehran doesn’t want to fall into an Israeli trap that would justify expanding the war but also can’t afford to allow Israel to target Iranian diplomatic facilities at no cost.”

Smyth, an expert on Iranian proxies, agreed that a conventional direct retaliation, such as using ballistic missiles as its military did before to target US forces and Kurdish sites in Iraq, “could open up the Islamic Republic to more direct strikes by Israel.”

In 2020, Iran responded to the unprecedented US assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad Airport with a direct attack on US troops, launching a barrage of ballistic missiles at the Ain Al-Assad base in Iraq.




Razi Moussavi (L), a senior adviser for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is shown with Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in this undated handout picture released by the Tasnim news agency on Dec. 25, 2023. Moussavi was killed by an Israeli strike in Syria on Dec. 25, 2023, while Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in 2020. (AFP)

Since the suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian Embassy annex in Damascus, the US has been on high alert, braced for Iran’s “inevitable” response that could come within the next week, a top US administration official told CNN on April 5.   

The US, Israel’s strongest ally, was quick to deny involvement or prior knowledge of the attack and warned Iran not to retaliate against American interests.

“We will not hesitate to defend our personnel and repeat our prior warnings to Iran and its proxies not to take advantage of the situation — again, an attack in which we had no involvement or advanced knowledge — to resume their attacks on US personnel,” Robert Wood, deputy US ambassador to the UN, said in a statement.

US troops in the Middle East, particularly those stationed in Iraq and Syria, have been frequent targets for Iran and its proxies.




Members of Iraq's Al-Nujaba and Kataib Hezbollah militia carry a placard depicting Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani (L) and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as they march during a funeral in Baghdad on December 4, 2023, for five militants killed a day earlier in a US strike in northern Iraq. (AFP)

Smyth said Tehran might resort to using its “well-developed army of proxy groups spread out across the region,” which include Hezbollah in Lebanon, Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq, militias in Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen.

Hezbollah announced on Friday that it was “fully prepared” to go to war with Israel.

In a speech commemorating Jerusalem Day, the group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, described the April 1 strike as a “turning point” and said Iran’s retaliation was “inevitable.”




Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech during a gathering to mark annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemorations in Beirut's southern suburb on April 5, 2024. (AFP)

Middle East analyst Koulouriotis said the most likely first response scenario is that Iran would “give the green light to Hezbollah in Lebanon … to launch a heavy missile strike against a number of cities in northern Israel, the most important of which is Haifa.”

However, “this scenario is complicated and may lead to the opening of an expanded war against Hezbollah that will end with Iran losing the Lebanon card after Hamas in Gaza.”

Tehran might also order its multinational militias in Syria to direct a missile strike against one of Israel’s military bases in the Golan, said Koulouriotis, but this option “is also futile.”

She added: “Moscow may not agree to bring Damascus into a direct conflict with Tel Aviv, which may lead to Assad paying a heavy price, and thus Tehran will have risked the efforts of 14 years of war in Syria.”




Map showing the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.
An analyst said Iran might find Israeli positions in the Golan region an appropriate target as it seeks to respond to Israel's April 1 attack on Iran's consulate building annex in Damascus. (AFP)

As Tehran considers the Damascus embassy annex strike a direct attack “targeting its prestige in the region,” Koulouriotis said it might choose a direct response to Israel using ballistic missiles and suicide drones, “and the Golan region may be suitable for this response.

“Despite the complexities of this scenario linked to the Israeli reaction, which may lead to additional escalation, it saves face for the Iranian regime and sends a message to Tel Aviv that Tehran will not tolerate crossing the red lines.”

Smyth of the Washington Institute believes that while “there may be a (grander) effort to demonstrate a new weapons capability by a proxy or even Iran itself,” Tehran’s response might also take a form similar to the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.




Houthi fighters are seen on board the British-owned Galaxy Leader ship that the Iran-backed militia seized as it passed through the Al-Mandab Strait off Yemen in November 23, 2024. (AFP/ File) 

“They’ve already demonstrated attempts to economically harm the Israelis by establishing quasi-blockades of the Red Sea by using the Houthis,” he said.

Meanwhile, communities across the Middle East can only wait with mounting concern for the seemingly inevitable Iranian response, mindful that they will likely bear the brunt of any resulting escalation.

Indeed, it is not so much a question of if, but when.

“The delay in response is mainly related to the indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington,” said Koulouriotis. “To prevent the Iranian response from leading to an expanded war or a more dangerous escalation in the region.”
 

 


Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants

Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants
Updated 4 sec ago
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Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants

Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants
  • At least 18 Tunisians were rescued on June 15 and 16 with the remainder being from sub-Saharan countries

DUBAI: Security units in Tunisia thwarted 59 attempts to illegally cross its sea borders and rescued 1,806 individuals, state news agency Tunis Afrique Press reported on Monday.

At least 18 Tunisians were rescued on June 15 and 16 with the remainder being from sub-Saharan countries, the Directorate General of the National Guard announced in a statement.

Two bodies were also recovered, and 24 wanted individuals, including smugglers and middlemen, were detained. In addition, the authorities seized boats and outboard motors used in illegal migration operations.


Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials

Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials
Updated 4 min 5 sec ago
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Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials

Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials
  • The minister called on the international community, the UN, and its special envoy to Yemen to condemn this attack.

DUBAI: Yemeni Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Muammar Al-Eryani strongly condemned the Houthi militia on Monday for targeting government officials in Taiz, state news agency SABA reported. 

The attack targeted Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Al-Sabri, undersecretary of Taiz Governorate for defense and security affairs; Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al-Majidi, acting commander of the Taiz Axis; Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Mahfadi, commander of Brigade 22 Mika; Samir Yahya Abdul-Ilah, director-general of the Cairo Directorate; and several other civilian, security, and military leaders. They were on a visit to National Army officers stationed at the old airport camp northwest of Taiz.

Al-Eryani said that the attack occurred less than 500 meters from the recently reopened Al-Kamp-Republican Palace road, after a decade-long siege imposed by the Houthi militia on the governorate.

The attack highlights the Houthi militia’s lack of commitment to peace and their intent to undermine any efforts to alleviate the suffering of citizens, the minister said. 

Al-Eryani called on the international community, the UN, and its special envoy to Yemen to condemn this attack. He urged for the militia to be classified as a terrorist organization, for its financial, political, and media resources to be cut off, and for measures to be taken to support the government in establishing control and achieving security throughout Yemeni territory.


US imposes new sanctions on Houthis

US imposes new sanctions on Houthis
Updated 8 min 49 sec ago
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US imposes new sanctions on Houthis

US imposes new sanctions on Houthis
  • Three individuals and six entities that facilitated the purchase of weapons for the Houthis have been sanctioned

DUBAI: New sanctions on the Iranian-supported Houthi militia have been imposed by the US, Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported.

“We have sanctioned three individuals and six entities that facilitated the purchase of weapons for the Houthis. Additionally, we have designated one ship owned by one of the sanctioned entities as prohibited property,” said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Miller emphasized Washington’s commitment to using “the tools available to obstruct the flow of military materials to Yemen, which enables the Houthis to launch these terrorist attacks.”

He also noted that “Houthi attacks against unarmed commercial ships continue to obstruct navigation in a vital waterway.”


G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate
Updated 12 min ago
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G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate
  • G7 members emphasized that a comprehensive political process led by Libyans and facilitated by the UN remained the only viable path

DUBAI: The G7 has called on parties in Libya to engage in meaningful dialogue in good faith and without preconditions to overcome the current political stalemate, the Libyan News Agency reported.

In the draft final declaration of their summit in Italy, G7 members emphasized that a comprehensive political process led by Libyans and facilitated by the UN remained the only viable path towards free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.

The statement reaffirmed the G7’s commitment to stability, independence, territorial integrity and national unity in Libya. It also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a new special representative without delay.

The 50th summit of the Group of Seven, which includes the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Japan, began on Thursday.


Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
Updated 18 June 2024
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Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
  • The Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates
  • Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015

SANAA, Yemen: Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government are locked in a fight for control of the country’s banks that experts warn is threatening to further wreck an economy already crippled by nearly a decade of war.
The rivalry over the banks is throwing Yemen’s financial system into deeper turmoil. Already, the Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates. They also run rival central banks.
The escalating money divide is eroding the value of Yemen’s currency, the riyal, which had driven up prices for clothing and meat before the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha started on Sunday.
For weeks, Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas have been unable to pull their money out of bank savings accounts, reportedly because the Houthi-run central bank, based in the capital, Sanaa, has stopped providing liquidity to commercial and government banks. Protests have broken out in front of some banks, dispersed by security forces.
Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015. The Saudi-backed internationally recognized government and its nominal ally the Southern Transitional Council, a group supported by the United Arab Emirates, govern the south and much of the east, centered in the southern port city of Aden.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before the war began. Punitive actions by each side against the other’s banks over the past week now threaten to undermine merchants’ ability to import food and basic commodities and to disrupt the transfer of remittances from Yemenis abroad, on which many families depend, said Edem Wosornu, director of operations and advocacy for the UN humanitarian coordination office known as OCHA.
“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she told a UN Security Council briefing on Thursday. The dispute could escalate to the point that banks in Houthi-run areas are barred completely from international financial transactions, which she said would have “catastrophic ramifications.”
The internationally recognized government moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, and since then began issuing new banknotes to replace worn-out riyals. Houthi authorities, which set up their own central bank in Sanaa, banned the use of the new money in areas under their control.
In March, the Houthi-controlled central bank announced it was rolling out its own new 100-riyal coins. The international community and Yemen’s recognized government denounced the move, saying the Houthis were trying to set up their own financial system and warning it will deepen Yemen’s economic divide.
Adding to the confusion, the bills have different exchange rates — riyals issued in Sanaa go for about 530 to the dollar, while those from Aden are around 1,800 to the dollar.
In response, the Aden-based central bank gave banks 60 days to relocate their headquarters to the southern city and stop operating under Houthi policies, or else risk facing sanctions related to money laundering and anti-terrorism laws.
The central bank was “forced to make these decisions, especially after the Houthi group issued their own currency and took unilateral steps toward complete independence from the internationally recognized Central Bank in Aden,” said Mustafa Nasr, an economic expert and head of the Studies and Economic Media Center SEMC.
No banks met the deadline — either because they needed more time or because they feared Houthi sanctions if they moved, Nasr said.
When the deadline ran out last week, the central bank in Aden banned dealing with six banks headquartered in Sanaa, meaning currency exchange offices, money transfer agencies and banks in the south could no longer work with them.
In retaliation, the Houthi-run central bank in Sanaa banned all dealings with 13 banks headquartered in Aden. That means people in Houthi-controlled areas can’t deposit or withdraw funds through those banks or receive wire transfers made through them.
Even as the fight for control is going on, both sides are facing a cash crunch. The Houthi government has few sources of foreign currency and its new coins aren’t recognized outside its territory.
In January, the United States designated the Houthis as a global terror group in response to the rebels’ attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Houthis say the attacks are in retaliation for the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. Because of the US decision, banks around the world might be concerned and reluctant to continue any financial dealings with banks that have headquarters under Houthi control, said Youssef Saeed, a University of Aden economic professor.
The economy in Aden isn’t significantly better. The government’s revenues have been hit hard ever since Houthi attacks on oil ports in late 2022 forced a halt in oil exports, the main earner of foreign currency.
Since March, depositors in Houthi-run areas have been unable to pull money out of their accounts. The central bank in Sanaa hasn’t announced any formal restrictions, but several economists told The Associated Press that it has informally stopped releasing funds that individual banks have put in its coffers — in part because of a lack of liquidity.
At one bank that saw protests by depositors last month, the International Bank of Yemen, a note hung in the lobby said, “In coordination with the Central Bank, withdrawals from old accounts have been suspended until further notice.”
Um Ahmed, a 65-year-old woman who was among those protesting outside the bank, said that she was trying to withdraw money to help her son buy a motor scooter for work, but the bank refused.
“I served this country as a teacher for 35 years and saved every penny and deposited my money at the bank, but they took it all,” she said. “This money belongs to my husband and me and our children.”