Iranians gather to cheer on attack against Israel; gas lines reported in Tehran

Pro-government demonstrators in capital chant ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America,’ rally outside British embassy; prominent Iranian opposition figures denounce attack

Demonstrators wave Iran's flag and Palestinian flags as they gather at Palestine Square in Tehran on April 14, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Demonstrators wave Iran's flag and Palestinian flags as they gather at Palestine Square in Tehran on April 14, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Iran early Sunday in a show of support for the unprecedented drone and missile attack against archfoe Israel.

“Death to Israel” and “Death to America” chanted pro-government demonstrators in Tehran’s Palestine Square shortly after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced the launch of Operation Honest Promise.

A mural saying “the next slap is fiercer” was unveiled in the square where a huge banner has hung for days calling, in Hebrew, for Israelis to “take shelter.”

On Sunday, demonstrators waved Iranian and Palestinian national flags alongside banners reading “God’s victory is near.”

Iran’s attack came in retaliation for an April 1 strike that leveled the five-story consular annex of the Iranian embassy in Damascus and killed seven IRGC members, including two generals.

Tehran has since vowed to avenge the strike, which was widely blamed on Israel.

Iranian demonstrators chant slogans during an anti-Israeli gathering in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, early Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged that the “evil [Israeli] regime will be punished.”

‘Punished from four directions’

Iranian media described the attack on Israel as “complex,” as it also involved Iranian allies in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

“This attack did not come from Iran only, and this regime [Israel] is being punished from four directions,” the Tasnim news agency said.

A large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the British embassy in Tehran.

Supporters of the retaliatory attack also demonstrated in Iran’s third largest city Isfahan, where Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, one of the generals killed in the Damascus strike, is buried.

A demonstrator holds up a poster of the late IRGC Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone attack in 2020 in Iraq, during an anti-Israeli gathering in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, early April 14, 2024. The demonstration was held as Iran launched its first direct military attack against Israel. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Demonstrators also gathered near the grave in the southern city of Kerman of prominent IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a 2020 US drone strike in Baghdad.

Tehran had earlier appealed to Washington to keep out of its conflict with Israel, but Iranian hopes were dashed after a Pentagon official confirmed that US forces were shooting down Israel-bound drones.

Iran claimed it acted in “self-defense” after the targeting of its diplomatic mission in Damascus. It said it hoped its action would prompt no further escalation and “the matter can be deemed concluded.”

War fears

The latest developments took place against the backdrop of the Gaza war, which was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages.

Tehran is a longtime patron of Hamas, but has denied any direct involvement in its attack on Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 33,686 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, an unverified figure that doesn’t differentiate between combatants and civilians, and is also believed to include Palestinians killed by terror groups’ errant rockets.

Iran cut diplomatic ties with Israel following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the two countries have fought a shadow war for years.

Anticipation of conflict with Israel had gripped Iran ever since the April 1 strike on its consulate.

Iranians walk next to an anti-Israel poster in Tehran on April 13, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, witnesses saw long lines at gas stations early Sunday as people appeared worried about what may come after Iran’s retaliatory attack.

“It is better to reach a compromise so that the war does not begin, and innocent people don’t die,” said Maryam, a 43-year-old private sector worker.

“God willing, our government will favor reason over emotion,” said Salehi, a 75-year-old retired government employee in central Tehran.

Ehsan, a 43-year-old university professor, said it was “logical” to retaliate.

“War is always bad and worrying — a person who has experienced war would never support it, but sometimes to achieve peace, a war is necessary,” he added.

‘Khamenei’s war not Iran’s war’

Prominent Iranian opposition figures meanwhile condemned Iran’s drone attack on Israel, calling it contrary to the will of most Iranians, whom they urged to oppose Khamenei’s regime.

“Khamenei’s war is not Iran’s war or that of the Iranian nation,” Reza Pahlavi, the crown prince of Iran, who is living in exile in the United States, wrote on Facebook.

“Khamenei and his regime have turned Iran into a backward and isolated country, and by involving the nation and the state in another war, they only add to the misery of Iranians,” Pahlavi said

The path to “lasting peace and security in the Middle East,” he continued, “is to support the people of Iran who are fighting to reclaim our country and our rightful place in the world.”

Reza Pahlavi at a ceremony marking Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day for the six million Jews killed during World War II, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 17, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Afshin Ellian, a well-known law professor who fled Iran for the Netherlands, said: “Despite the attack on Israel, the Iranian population has been and is against this criminal regime [of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei]. The Iranian resistance movement is ready to fight Khamenei’s regime.”

Pouria Zeraati, a television anchor at the UK-based channel Iran International, called the Iranian Revolutionary Guards “terrorists” on X, and mocked its codename for the attack, “Honest Promise.”

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