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Four Iranian officials killed by Israeli missile attack in Damascus amid escalating tensions

Israeli airstrikes in December killed two members of Iranian guards and a high-ranking Iranian general Sayyed Razi Mousavi, for which Tehran vowed revenge. Earlier this week, Iran launched missiles and drones towards "Israeli spy headquarters" in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Damascus Updated on: January 20, 2024 17:11 IST
Iran, Iran official killed, Israel strike
Image Source : AP A military drill in southern Iran amid tensions with other countries in the Middle East.

Iran-Israel conflict: An Israeli missile strike on Syria's capital Damascus killed four members of the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Saturday, including the head of the force's information unit in Syria, according to a security source in the region's pro-Syria alliance. The incident threatens to further escalate tensions in the Middle East, already roiled by the escalating Israel-Hamas war, the Houthi attacks on ships and Iran flexing its muscles in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement on Iranian state TV, the Revolutionary Guards confirmed that four of its military advisers were killed in the Israeli strike and said further details would be announced later. State TV said the targeted building was the residence of Iranian advisers in Damascus.

Syrian state media said an alleged Israeli attack had targeted a building in the Mazzeh neighbourhood of Damascus, without giving further details. Other local media in Syria reported explosions heard across the Syrian capital. The security source said the multi-storey building was used by Iranian advisers supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and was entirely flattened by "precision-targeted Israeli missiles".

Essam Al-Amin, head of the Al-Mowasat Hospital in Damascus, told local Syrian outlet Al-Watan Online that his hospital had received one corpse and three wounded people, including a woman, following Saturday's attack. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Last month, Israeli airstrikes killed two members of Iranian guards and a high-ranking Iranian general Sayyed Razi Mousavi. The Revolutionary Guards said Israel would suffer for killing Mousavi, who held the Guards' rank of brigadier-general. Israel has for years carried out attacks against what it describes as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran's influence has grown since it backed President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war that erupted in Syria in 2011.

Tensions in the Middle East

Iran's involvement has threatened a spillover of the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East, with attacks from Hezbollah on Israel and Yemen-based Houthis on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Both groups are financially backed by Iran, drawing strong condemnation from the United States, Iran's staunch rival and Israel's closest ally.

Earlier this week, Iran raised tensions after attacking an "Israeli spy headquarters" in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region as well as targeting the bases of Islamic State in Syria. "In response to the recent atrocities of the Zionist regime, causing the killing of commanders of the Guards and the Axis of Resistance ... one of the main Mossad espionage headquarters in Iraq's Kurdistan region was destroyed with ballistic missiles," the Guards said in a statement, in retaliation for Mousavi's death.

The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility earlier this month for two suicide bombings targeting a commemoration for Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general slain in a 2020 US drone strike. The attack in Kerman killed at least 84 people and wounded an additional 284 at the ceremony.

Iran has in the past carried out strikes in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, saying the area is used as a staging ground for Iranian separatist groups as well as agents of its arch-foe Israel. Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have launched near-daily drone attacks on bases housing US forces in Iraq and Syria, which the groups have said was in retaliation for Washington's support of Israel, and in an attempt to force US troops to leave the region.

Soon after, Iran attacked militant bases in Pakistan's Balochistan on Tuesday, killing two children, further intensifying tensions and causing Islamabad to recall its ambassador from Tehran. Pakistan responded with a series of "highly coordinated" precision military strikes two days later that killed nine people. However, both sides agreed to tone down tensions for the spirit of 'mutual spirit and cooperation'.

Iran's axis of resistance

Iran stands at the centre of what it calls an 'Axis of resistance', with an alliance of groups it backs - Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and well-armed groups in Iraq and Syria. Most of the groups have been designated as terrorist entities by Western countries, particularly the US. 

Under General Qassem Soleimani’s direction, Iran incubated a network of proxy forces in several Arab countries which grew in the years after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has grown in numbers since. Iran denies that it closely directs its proxies in their attacks, saying that they act on their own initiative. It says it broadly supports their anti-Israel and anti-US actions.

Iran and its proxies share the goal of halting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, and driving US troops out of the region once and for all. Beyond that, they have their own local interests.

(with inputs from Reuters)

ALSO READ | US launches sixth attack against Houthis, strikes three anti-ship missiles aimed towards Red Sea

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