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Israeli strike on Iranian consulate in Damascus kills key commander, Iran says


An Israeli airstrike hit a building next to Iran’s embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday, killing two senior members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iranian state media reported, a significant escalation in a region that continues to be roiled by the war in Gaza.

The strike killed senior commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hadi Haj Rahimi, along with five other officers, according to a statement from the IRGC.

“Iran reserves its legitimate and inherent right under international law and the United Nations Charter to take a decisive response to such reprehensible acts,” Zahra Ershadi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote late Monday in a letter to the U.N. secretary general.

Israel’s military, which typically does not confirm strikes in Syria, declined to comment.

Israel has carried out strikes in Syria against Iran and its allies for years and throughout its six-month military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. But Monday’s attack stood out both because of its location — in a diplomatic compound, traditionally exempted from hostilities — and because of the seniority of the apparent target.

Zahedi was identified as the head of Iran’s Quds Force in Lebanon in a 2010 Treasury Department sanctions announcement that accused him of playing “a key role in Iran’s support to Hizballah.” He acted as “a liaison” between the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence and was “charged with guaranteeing weapons shipments,” according to the Justice Department statement.

In a statement, Hezbollah eulogized Zahedi as an “exemplary sacrificer in his love for the resistance in Lebanon and the region” and warned that “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

As head of the IRGC in the Levant, Zahedi ran day-to-day operations in Syria and Lebanon, according to Arash Azizi, an Iran analyst and historian.

“IRGC leadership who are on the front lines of the states neighboring Israel are high value targets,” said Azizi, “especially those involved in conducting operations with Hamas and Hezbollah.”

What makes Monday’s strike “escalatory and unprecedented,” Azizi added, is that “the building where Zahedi and his colleagues were hit is owned by Iran, and it’s next to the embassy.”

Images of the aftermath from Damascus on Monday showed thick clouds of smoke rising from a partially collapsed building adjacent to the Iranian consulate.

“We strongly condemn this heinous terrorist attack,” Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad said, according to SANA, Syria’s state news agency.

The strike in Damascus followed a drone attack overnight Monday in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, later claimed by Iran-aligned militants in Iraq. Israel’s military said sirens sounded in Eilat after troops “identified a suspicious aerial target that crossed from the east toward Israeli territory,” ultimately falling on a military base. No injuries were reported.

“A UAV made in Iran and directed by Iranians hit a naval base,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said Monday. “It is a very serious incident.”

The IRGC was set up in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution as a counterweight to the country’s military. A parallel security force that reports directly to Iran’s supreme leader, it has played a central role in expanding the country’s influence across the region, helping guide a network of allied militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen — described by Tehran as the “axis of resistance.”

By working through proxies, analysts say, the IRGC is able to project Iranian power while keeping a strategic distance from the fight. But as its allies have ramped up their attacks in response to the war in Gaza — with Yemen’s Houthis firing on commercial ships in the Red Sea, Hezbollah engaging in near-daily exchanges of fire with Israel in southern Lebanon and Iraqi and Syrian militants targeting U.S. military bases — the risk of a wider conflict has grown.

Suspected strikes by Israel early Friday near the city of Aleppo killed dozens of Syrian soldiers and several members of Hezbollah, according to a spokesperson for the militant group and Syria’s state news agency. In late December, an Israeli strike outside Damascus took out an IRGC “senior adviser,” Iran state media reported; another member of the IRGC, reportedly in charge of facilitating Iranian oil shipments to Syria, was killed in a strike along Syria’s Mediterranean coast in early March.

Ershadi, the U.N. ambassador, hinted darkly that Monday’s strike could “exacerbate tensions in the region and potentially ignite more conflict involving other nations.”

The attack was swiftly condemned by Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which signed a normalization agreement with Israel in 2020.

Regional officials told The Post in February that Iran had privately urged Hezbollah and other armed groups to exercise restraint against U.S. forces, not wanting to provoke a larger war. Analysts fear Monday’s attack could change Tehran’s calculations.

“We are in a very dangerous situation now,” Azizi said. Iran has “a shiny axis of resistance with fighters around the region, but if they can’t respond to Israel killing commanders one after another, they clearly don’t have deterrence.”

Cate Brown contributed to this report.

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