Thursday, April 25

Netanyahu says strike that killed 7 Gaza aid workers was unintentional: live updates

Israel’s bombing of the Iranian embassy building in Damascus, which killed senior Iranian military and intelligence officials, represents a major escalation in what has long been a simmering undeclared war between Israel and Iran. ‘Iran.

Iran is promising major retaliation, and the danger of miscalculation is always present. But given the stakes for both countries, neither Israel nor Iran wants a major military war, although they are pushing for an advantage in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Instead, this strike is a vivid demonstration of the regional nature of the conflict as Israel attempts to diminish and deter Iran’s allies and proxies who threaten Israel’s security from all sides.

It is often referred to as “the war between wars,” with Israel and Iran as the main adversaries, clashing in the shadow of the region’s most obvious hostilities.

The Iranian officials who were killed Monday were deeply engaged for decades in arming and directing proxy forces in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as part of Iran’s clearly stated efforts to destabilize and even destroy the Jewish state.

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

Demonstrating its ability to infiltrate Iranian intelligence services, Israel is attempting to strike the operational side of Iran’s regional proxies, its so-called Axis of Resistance to Israel, with the aim of disrupting and deterring them, so even as the war in Gaza continues.

Since the war began in October, Israel has begun targeting key Iranian officials responsible for dealing with its proxies, not just advanced weapons supplied by Tehran, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director for the International Crisis Group .

But no matter how many experienced generals Israel eliminates, “no one is irreplaceable in the Iranian system,” he said. “Iran knows that this is a dangerous game and that there is a price to pay. »

Some fear the price will be borne by Israel’s allies. Ralph Goff, a former senior CIA officer who served in the Middle East, called the Israeli strike “incredibly reckless,” adding that “the Israelis are writing checks that US CentCom forces will have to cash,” referring to at the Central Command of the United States Army.

“This will only lead to escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” for U.S. forces in the region, who could be targeted for retaliatory strikes by Iran’s proxies. Tehran, Mr. Goff said.

Mr. Netanyahu has emphasized for years that Israel’s main enemy is Iran and that this strike could help him “rehabilitate 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, she said, with Israel mired in Gaza, Hamas so far undefeated and Iran and its proxies intact.

Iran has vowed retaliation and revenge for what it called an unprecedented attack, but since October 7, “Iran has made clear that it does not want a regional war,” it said. said Ms. Vakil. “This conflict with Israel will play out over a longer period of time. »

U.S. officials do not believe Iran initiated the Hamas attack or even knew about it in advance. Yet Iran still views Gaza as “a victory for them because it isolates Israel and puts it on the defensive in the region and around the world,” said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.

The ongoing war and its civilian toll make it “almost inconceivable to create a vision for the Middle East that Israel, the United States and the Saudis hoped to implement before October 7,” she said. a vision of regional recognition of Israel by opposing Arab nations. to the growing influence of Iran.

Still, Ms. Vakil said, “this strike will be hard for Iran to ignore” because “it is a direct attack on its territory,” an embassy building, and killed three senior commanders of the Iranian Quds Force, the army and foreign intelligence. service of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran said the Israeli strike killed an Iranian general, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, as well as his deputy, a third general and at least four other people, including senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian affiliate that also fights in Gaza.

The assassination of General Zahedi, who was supposedly in charge of military relations between Iran, Syria and Lebanon, is widely considered the most significant assassination of an Iranian leader in years.

Iranian General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, killed Monday in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian capital.Credit…Fars Press Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, called General Zahedi’s death “a huge blow to Iran’s immediate capabilities in the region.” He helped oversee Iran’s attempt to build a “ring of fire” around Israel through its militant proxies while keeping Tehran’s involvement at bay, Mr. Amidror said.

But the question of when and how Iran will choose to retaliate will raise the stakes even further. The most obvious recent example is its response to the US assassination four years ago of Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force. Then, Iran launched a major missile attack on a U.S. base in Iraq, but only after receiving advance warning of the attack. There were no immediate U.S. casualties, although more than 100 service members suffered head injuries, the Pentagon later said.

A worried Iran, on high military alert, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, thinking it was an enemy plane.

“But one of the lessons of Suleimani is that even if you eliminate someone critical, the network and the redundancy that Iran has established with the groups survives quite well,” Ms. Maloney said.

Iran has recently attempted to ease tensions in its relations with the United States after a January drone attack on a U.S. military base on the Jordan-Syria border killed three American soldiers.

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

He could make other choices: a major cyberattack on Israeli infrastructure or its army, a barrage of rockets from southern Lebanon, a similar assassination of an Israeli commander, an attack on an Israeli embassy abroad, or another strong acceleration of its nuclear enrichment program. .

The latter would be a sort of direct response to Mr. Netanyahu, who has long warned of the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and pledged to prevent it. (Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, even though it has enriched uranium to near weapons-grade levels.)

Or Iran could bide its time. Mr. Amidror, the former Israeli national security adviser, said he doubted the strike would lead to a broader escalation between Israel and Iran, such as an all-out war involving Hezbollah along the border. northern Israel.

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

A previous example I cited was the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires by Islamic Jihad, which killed 29 people and came in response to Israel’s assassination of the leader of Hezbollah Abbas al-Musawi.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Eric Schmitt from Washington.