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

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

Iran promises major retaliation and the danger of miscalculation is ever present. But given what is at stake for both countries, neither Israel nor Iran wants a major shooting war, even as they push for advantages in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

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

It is often called “the war between wars,” in which Israel and Iran are the main adversaries, facing each other in the shadows of the more obvious hostilities in the region.

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

For Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who presumably approved such a sensitive attack, the successful elimination of such key Iranian military figures is a political coup. It comes as demonstrations calling for his resignation have increased in intensity, as the war against Hamas drags on and Israeli hostages remain in Gaza.

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

Since the war began in October, Israel has begun targeting key Iranian officials responsible for relations with its proxies, not just the advanced weapons delivered by Tehran, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director at 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 this is a dangerous game and it comes with a price.”

Some worry that the price will fall on Israeli 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 American CentCom forces will have to cash,” referring to Central Command. of the US Army.

“It will only result in escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” for U.S. forces in the region, which could be targeted by retaliatory attacks by Tehran’s proxies, Goff said.

Netanyahu has emphasized for years that Israel’s main enemy is Iran and that the attack could help him “rehabilitate his reputation as ‘Mr. Security,’” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. Still, it may not be enough, he said, with Israel deadlocked in Gaza, Hamas so far undefeated and Iran and its proxies unabated.

Iran has promised retaliation and revenge for what it called an unprecedented attack, but, since Oct. 7, “Iran has made it clear that it does not want a regional war,” Vakil said. “He believes that 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 was informed about it in advance. However, Iran still sees Gaza as “a victory for them, because it isolates Israel and puts it on the defensive in the region and in the world,” said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.

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

Still, Vakil said, “this attack will be difficult for Iran to ignore” as “it is a direct attack on its territory,” an embassy building, and killed three senior commanders of Iran’s Quds Force, Iran’s military. external and intelligence services. service of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran said the Israeli strike killed an Iranian general, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, along with his second, a third general and at least four other people, reportedly including senior officials of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian affiliate that He is also fighting in Gaza.

The assassination 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.

General Mohammad Reza Zahedi of Iran, who was killed in the Israeli airstrike on the Syrian capital on Monday.Credit…Fars News 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 had helped oversee Iran’s attempt to build a “ring of fire” around Israel through its militant proxies while keeping Tehran’s involvement at arm’s length, Amidror said.

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

An anxious Iran, on high military alert, also shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing 176 people, believing it to be an enemy plane.

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

Iran has recently sought to reduce tensions in its relationship 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.

It could make other decisions: a major cyberattack 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 another sharp acceleration of its nuclear enrichment program. .

The latter would be something of a direct response to Netanyahu, who has long warned of the danger 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 level.)

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

“His interests have not changed since. They will seek revenge, but that is something else entirely,” she stated, and it need not be limited to the immediate region.

An earlier example he 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 Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi. .

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

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