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Israel Boosts Defenses After Iran Revenge Threat

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Iran’s strategy of deterrence against Israel has suffered greatly since the outbreak of the Gaza war — particularly after the brazen attack on its consulate in the Syrian capital on April 1.

Eighteen members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including key generals, have been killed in Syria in suspected Israeli strikes since early December. But Iran has refrained from directly responding to Israel, instead opting to increase its support for the “Axis of Resistance” — its network of allies and proxies in the region — to take the fight to Israel.

But the deadly strike on its consulate in Damascus may compel Iran to take direct action, experts say.

Nestled between the Iranian and Canadian embassies, the building housing Iran’s consulate and the ambassador’s residence were reportedly struck by six missiles and demolished. Seven members of the IRGC, including top Quds Force General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, were killed.

Iranian officials, as they normally do, have vowed vengeance, with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowing on April 2 that Israel would be “punished by our courageous men.”

Though the threats by Tehran are usually idle, analysts say this time Iranians might have to make good on their pledge.

“Iran doesn’t have many good options, but [the April 1] attack could force its hand,” said Farzan Sabet, a senior research associate at the Geneva Graduate Institute.

First ‘Israeli’ Attack On Iranian Diplomatic Premises

Past attacks on Iranian interests in Syria allegedly carried out by Israel have targeted military installations used by the IRGC and its affiliates. The April 1 strike was the first on an Iranian diplomatic compound.

Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari told state television after the attack that three of those killed had diplomatic credentials.

Iran has accused Israel of contravening international law and has demanded global condemnation. It has also requested a UN Security Council meeting.

Israel has long practiced a policy of not commenting on air strikes in Syria.

Raz Zimmt, a senior researcher at the Israeli-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said the building hit was used by the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of the IRGC that has been designated a terrorist entity by the United States.

He said the attack was part of Israel’s strategy of “escalating matters with Iran in an attempt to put pressure on the head of the snake, as Israel sees it.”

Israel launched its deadly offensive in Gaza after Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, attacked several communities in Israel on October 7 that killed nearly 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The Iran-led Axis of Resistance has been targeting Israel since it attacked the Palestinian enclave, and even tried to impose a naval blockade using Yemen’s Huthi rebels, which in recent months have targeted commercial ships heading to Israeli ports.

Israel has responded by hitting the proxy groups that make up the Axis of Resistance but has particularly ramped up its attacks on IRGC positions since December.

“The Israeli strike on the Iranian diplomatic facility in Syria…may have been an effort by Israel to impose a higher cost on Iran for the Axis of Resistance pressure campaign,” said Sabet.

‘Strategic Patience’ Not Cutting It

Despite losing more than a dozen officers of varying ranks since the Gaza war began, the Islamic republic has not directly gone after Israel — because a war with Israel would inevitably turn into a war with the United States.

Instead, Tehran has exercised what is widely dubbed as “strategic patience” — avoiding direct conflict in the hope that its allies were already sufficiently engaging Israel to ensure deterrence.

“The consulate attack demonstrated the fallacy of this calculation,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Azizi argued that by gradually escalating its attacks on the IRGC, Israel has forced Iran to a juncture where it must either “risk direct confrontation or continue to see its deterrence and regional credibility erode.”

Commenting on Khamenei’s threatening message, Azizi said, “It appears that there’s a realization among Iranian policymakers that the strategy of ‘strategic patience’ and sole reliance on proxy warfare has its limits.”

Calls For Reciprocal Action

The Islamic republic’s hard-line base of support has been demanding retaliation and has been critical of the lack of a firm response to previous deadly attacks on the IRGC.

“It will be very difficult this time for Iran to do nothing,” said Zimmt, a veteran Iran watcher with the Israel Defense Forces. “The question remains what exactly Iran can do in order to rehabilitate its deterrence but at the same time not drag itself into a direct military confrontation with Israel [that would be] supported by the United States.”

Sabet speculated that Iran would likely continue to respond indirectly, such as striking targets in Iraqi Kurdistan that it claims are used by Israeli operatives. But the devastating attack on the consulate could change things.

At the risk of damaging relations with host countries, Sabet said, Iran might go after Israeli diplomatic missions.

Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of a suspected Israeli air strike against the Iranian Consulate in Syria's capital, Damascus, on April 1.

Emergency and security personnel extinguish a fire at the site of a suspected Israeli air strike against the Iranian Consulate in Syria’s capital, Damascus, on April 1.

That certainly seems to be a popular option with hard-liners in Iran.

Hamid Rasaei, an ultraconservative cleric and lawmaker-elect from Tehran, has described the consulate strike as “an attack on our country’s soil” and demanded reciprocity.

But Zimmt said an attack on Israeli missions, though possible, might take a long time to plan.

He recalled Iran’s history of targeting dissidents abroad, including in Western countries, and argued that tarnishing relations with other countries is unlikely to deter the Islamic republic from hitting Israeli embassies or consulates.

Whether Iran opts for a direct or indirect response, “any retaliation is expected to be calibrated and limited to prevent unintended consequences,” Azizi said. “Though there is no guarantee for this.”



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