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Iran army chief threatens to ‘teach Israel a good lesson’ after tanker targeted

Mohammad Bagheri warns of military response, implies Israel behind attack on Iranian vessel off Syria, amid sky-high tensions and talks over renewing nuclear deal

Chief of Staff of Iran's Armed Forces, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri delivers a speech during a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Chief of Staff of Iran's Armed Forces, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri delivers a speech during a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, on September 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran’s Armed Forces chief Mohammad Bagheri on Sunday threatened to “teach Israel a very good lesson,” appearing to hint the Jewish state was behind a reported attack on an Iranian tanker off Syria’s coast over the weekend, but stopping short of blaming Jerusalem directly for the incident.

Bagheri told reporters: “We don’t announce anything about the incidents that happened recently, nor do we know who did it, but the Resistance Front will teach Israel a very good lesson,” according to several Iranian journalists.

“Israelis think they can keep hitting Syria and making mischievous moves elsewhere and in the seas and not receive any response,” said Bagheri, according to tweets by Iranian journalists Reza Khaasteh and Abas Aslani.

“The moves made in the past few days and future moves against their interests will bring them to their senses,” Bagheri added. “It is not clear how Iran will respond, but the Zionist regime will not remain peaceful.”

A screenshot of video aired by Syrian state TV on April 24, 2021, shows a fire on a ship off the coast of Banyas, which Syria says was apparently started after the ship was attacked by a drone. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Bagheri seemed to be referring to recent apparent targeting of an Iranian tanker off Syria’s coast on Saturday, outside the Baniyas refinery, which allegedly killed at least three people, according to a pro-opposition war monitor.

Israel’s Channel 12 news said Saturday night, however, that nobody was injured in the incident and that the resulting fire caused no significant damage. Channel 13 news said the fire apparently had nothing to do with Israel.

The alleged attack came after a Syrian officer was killed and three soldiers wounded last week in strikes launched by Israel, after a Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli Air Force jet went off-course and landed in the Negev Desert.

Israel has long sought to prevent Iran from establishing itself in war-torn Syria.

In a report published last month that cited US and Middle East officials, the Wall Street Journal said Israel had targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil since late 2019.

In recent months, at least three Israeli-owned cargo ships have been damaged in alleged Iranian attacks, one in the Gulf of Oman, another as it was sailing to India, and the most recent near the UAE.

Hundreds of Israeli airstrikes have also struck Syria since the war began in 2011, mostly targeting Damascus regime allies from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group as well as Syrian government troops.

Bagheri’s threat comes as Israel sends a delegation to DC Monday to voice objection to the US return to the Iran nuclear deal. Israeli officials believe Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish state, and adamantly oppose the US returning to the deal, putting Jerusalem at odds with the new White House administration.

Iran is currently engaged in indirect talks with the US, mediated by Europe in Vienna, aimed at reviving the nuclear pact, even as it enriches uranium to its highest-ever levels.

This satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

Iran has blamed Israel for an explosion two weeks ago that knocked out power at Natanz, a major Iranian nuclear site, reportedly damaging a large portion of the uranium enrichment centrifuges inside.

Last week, Iran published a picture of a man it said was a key suspect in the attack, who had fled the country.

Since the explosion, Iran announced that it was raising enrichment levels to 60 percent, a short technical step from the purity needed to make nuclear weapons, and a significant violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Bagheri’s statement Sunday is not the first time the military chief has waged threats against Israel.

Members of Iranian forces pray around the coffin of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during the burial ceremony at Imamzadeh Saleh shrine in northern Tehran, on November 30, 2020. (HAMED MALEKPOUR / TASNIM NEWS / AFP)

After top Iranian officials pointed to Israel as the likely culprit in the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020, Bagheri accused “the malicious Zionist entity of committing a brutal act.” He said Fakhrizadeh’s death was “a “major blow to the Iranian defense system.”

Bagheri also promised that “the path started by the likes of Fakhrizadeh will not stop” and said that “terrorist groups, commanders and elements involved in this cowardly act [should know] a difficult retaliation awaits them.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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