Iran army chief promises ‘maximum damage’ as it seeks to avenge killing of top general

Mohammad Bagheri speaks at memorial ceremony for top IRGC general killed in strike blamed on Israel, says Jerusalem will ‘regret’ its actions

Demonstrators burn an Israeli flag during the funeral for seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in a strike in Syria, which Iran blamed on Israel, in Tehran on April 5, 2024.  (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Demonstrators burn an Israeli flag during the funeral for seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in a strike in Syria, which Iran blamed on Israel, in Tehran on April 5, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iran on Saturday again threatened retaliation for the deaths of seven Revolutionary Guards in a strike on Damascus, with the army chief saying his country’s enemies will “regret” the killings and threatening to exact “maximum damage.”

Tehran has vowed to avenge Monday’s airstrike on the Syrian capital it blamed on Israel, which has not commented.

The attack leveled the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus, killing seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members including two generals.

Iran’s response “will be carried out at the right time, with the necessary precision and planning, and with maximum damage to the enemy so that they regret their action,” Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri said on Saturday.

He was speaking at a ceremony in the central city of Isfahan to commemorate Mohammad Reza Zahedi, one of the two dead brigadier generals from the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign operations arm.

Zahedi, 63, was believed to be the Quds Force commander for the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Lebanon.

File: Chief of the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri addresses a military parade commemorating the anniversary of the start of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, in front of the shrine of the late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

He had held several commands during a career spanning more than 40 years, and was the most senior Iranian soldier killed since a United States missile strike at Baghdad airport in 2020 killed Quds Force chief General Qassem Soleimani. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

On Saturday, crowds at the gathering in Isfahan chanted “Down with Israel!” and “Down with the United States!”

The Islamic Republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Israel “will be punished” for the killings.

Monday’s strike in Damascus took place against the backdrop of the Gaza war which began with Hamas’s October 7 assault on Israel. Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

Tehran backs Hamas but has denied any direct involvement in the attack which sparked a massive Israeli operation to destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Friday, IRGC chief commander General Hossein Salami warned that Israel “cannot escape the consequences” of the Damascus strike.

Bagheri’s warning came after the Iran reportedly put its military forces on “full high alert” ahead of their expected strike.

Two Iranian officials quoted on Friday by The New York Times said Iran has made a decision to directly attack Israel, in a move meant to create deterrence.

Meanwhile, a US official said the United States was on high alert and preparing for a possible attack by Iran targeting Israeli or American assets in the region.

“We’re definitely at a high state of vigilance,” the official said in confirming a CNN report that says an attack could come in the next week.

A senior administration official who spoke with CNN said the US is bracing for a “significant” attack and that both Washington and Jerusalem believe an Iranian response was “inevitable.”

CBS News reported that the US gathered intelligence indicating Iran is planning an attack that would involve explosive Shahed drones and cruise missiles. US officials who spoke to CBS said they did not know the timing and target of Iran’s anticipated response, but the report said it was expected to come before Ramadan ends next week.

Emergency and security personnel gather at the site of strikes that hit a building next to the Iranian consulate in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (Maher Al Mounes/AFP)

Israel has not commented on Monday’s strike, which leveled the Iranian embassy’s consular annex in Damascus, but analysts saw it as an escalation of its campaign against Iran and its regional proxies that runs the risk of triggering a wider war beyond the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to respond to efforts to harm Israelis, as the country geared up for a possible Iranian response.

Speaking at a meeting of the security cabinet soon after a phone call with US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said “Iran has been acting against us for years — directly and via proxies. And, therefore, Israel acts against Iran and its proxies — defensively and offensively.”

Netanyahu added: “We will know how to defend ourselves, and we will act according to the simple principle: that those who harm us or plan to harm us, we will harm.”

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