Iran vows revenge at funerals of commanders killed in Israeli airstrike

Iran vowed on Friday to avenge Israel's killing of senior commanders and other officers of its elite Quds Force at a public funeral held for the dead, raising fears of open war but leaving unsaid how would have reacted or when.

US officials in Washington and the Middle East said Friday they are preparing for possible Iranian retaliation for Monday's Israeli airstrike in Damascus, Syria. US military forces in the region have been placed on high alert. Israel also put its military on high alert, canceled leave for combat units, recalled some reservists to air defense units and blocked GPS signals, according to an Israeli official.

Two Iranian officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly said that Iran has placed all of its armed forces on high alert and that the decision has been made that Iran must respond directly to the attack in Damascus to create deterrence.

“Our brave men will punish the Zionist regime,” General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told crowds attending the funeral of officers killed in Damascus in Tehran. “We warn that no act of any enemy against our sacred system will go unanswered and that the art of the Iranian nation is to break the power of empires.”

The Israeli airstrike hit a building that was part of the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, killing three generals and four other Quds Force officers. The force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards, conducts military and intelligence operations outside Iran, often working closely with allies who oppose Israel and the United States, including Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas .

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeed Iravani, said Thursday that he will give interviews to U.S. news outlets “following Iran's response to Israel.”

There is precedent for a strong response from Iran. Four years ago, after the United States killed Quds Force chief Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, wounding more than 100 soldiers.

Although its proxy militias across the Middle East have launched a series of attacks against Israel since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, Iran has been careful to avoid a direct conflict that could lead to war real.

Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, gave a video speech broadcast in Iran and Lebanon during the funeral, saying that a response from Iran could come at any moment and that “we must be prepared for all eventualities.”

“Be assured that the Iranian response to the attack on Damascus will inevitably come,” Nasrallah said.

In recent months, Iranian media reported, Israel has killed at least 18 members of the Quds Force, including four senior commanders who are veterans of wars in the Middle East. But the airstrike in Damascus was decidedly out of the ordinary, both because it killed so many senior figures at once and because it hit a diplomatic building, normally considered off-limits in conflicts. Israeli officials said the building served as a base for the Revolutionary Guards and was therefore a legitimate target.

The building housed the official residence of the Iranian ambassador to Syria, who told state television that he and his family had left the building when it was hit.

The final decision on such an important issue as an attack on Israel rests with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It was Khamenei who ordered the 2020 attack in retaliation for the killing of General Suleimani.

U.S. military analysts assess that Iran is more likely to strike Israel itself than for its proxies to attack American troops in the region, including Iraq and Syria, as they have done more than 170 times in the four months since the Hamas uprising. led the October 7 assault on Israel. Strikes against American targets stopped in early February, but Pentagon officials said they were watching the situation closely.

An Israeli defense official said that Israeli analysts had reached the same conclusion, that Iran itself would attack and not act through Hezbollah, its closest militant ally, which has been engaged in regular exchanges of fire with its Israeli forces since the beginning of the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before a security cabinet meeting on a potential Iranian attack, said Thursday: “We will know how to defend ourselves and we will act on the simple principle that whoever harms us or intends to harm us – we will do them of evil.”

Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Middle East, told the Defense Writers Group in Washington this week: “From a military standpoint, the biggest concern I have is, does this lead to some kind of regional escalation? We are watching very carefully, we are listening to what the Iranians are saying in terms of how they intend to respond.”

“I continue to believe that the Iranians are not interested in a broader regional conflict,” he added. “They want to take advantage of the crisis as it is, but right now they are not interested in war with Israel, war with the United States or war with anyone else.”

The funeral ceremony held in Tehran on Friday coincided with the annual Quds Day demonstration, a demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinians held on the last Friday of Ramadan in many Muslim countries. The crowd chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” and waved the Palestinian flag. In videos shown by state media, an angry crowd trampled on an effigy of Netanyahu.

The Quds Day rally, held in many Iranian cities, attracts families with children and usually has a carnival atmosphere. But this year the event appeared more somber, overshadowed by the funeral, rising tensions with Israel and fears that an Iranian response could spark a war between the two countries.

Iran's President Ibrahim Raisi and Quds Force Commander-in-Chief General Ismail Ghaani, wearing black civilian clothes rather than uniform, marched with mourning crowds in Tehran, state media showed. Also present were Ziyad al-Nakhaleh, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Abu Fadak al-Muhammadawi, head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, a Shiite militia aligned with Iran.

The coffins of slain Quds Force officers, draped in the Iranian flag and placed on the backs of trucks adorned with flowers and green leaves, slowly snaked down a long road in central Tehran, where thousands of people had gathered.

The night before, the coffins were taken to the residential compound of Mr. Khamenei, the supreme leader, and placed in an open hall where he performed the Muslim prayer for the dead over them. Usually the ayatollah grants such honors only to his closest collaborators and senior officials who have been declared “martyrs” because they were killed by Israel or the United States.

Leily Nikounazar contributed to the reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *