Khamenei says Israel will ‘be slapped’ for strike on Iran Guard general in Damascus

US, UK and France block UN Security Council statement condemning strike, with Washington saying Iran's claim bombed building was consulate has not been confirmed

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him meeting with politicians and government officials in Tehran on April 3, 2024. (KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that Israel would “be slapped” after an airstrike on a building in Damascus killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, two of them generals.

“The defeat of the Zionist regime in Gaza will continue and this regime will be close to decline and dissolution,” Khamenei said in a speech to the country’s officials in Tehran.

“Desperate efforts like the one they committed in Syria will not save them from defeat. Of course, they will also be slapped for that action,” he added.

Israel has not publicly commented on or claimed responsibility for the attack, which destroyed a building adjacent to the main Iranian embassy complex in the Syrian capital. Tehran has claimed the building was an Iranian consular annex. However, the US, backed by British and French officials at the United Nations, on Wednesday maintained that the circumstances of the strike need to be clarified.

Though it was blamed by Iran and its allies, Israel has not officially commented on the Damascus attack, which killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the IRGC’s most senior official in Syria, along with his deputy Gen. Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi, five other IRGC officers and at least one member of Hezbollah.

Zahedi was reportedly responsible for the IRGC’s operations in Syria and Lebanon, for Iranian militias there, and for ties with Hezbollah, and was thus the most senior commander of Iranian forces in the two countries. The IRGC is a US-designated terrorist organization.

In an online statement, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also blamed Israel for the attack, saying the “cowardly crime will not go unanswered.”

“After repeated defeats and failures against the faith and will of the Resistance Front fighters, the Zionist regime has put blind assassinations on its agenda in the struggle to save itself,” his statement added.

Emergency service workers clear the rubble at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria, April 1, 2024 (SANA via AP)

Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and France on Wednesday opposed a Russian-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have condemned the strike on the building as an attack on a diplomatic mission.

Press statements by the 15-member council have to be decided on by consensus. Diplomats said the US, backed by France and Britain, told council colleagues that many of the facts of what happened on Monday in Damascus remained unclear and there was no consensus among council members during a meeting on Tuesday.

“This serves as a clear illustration of the double standards employed by the Western ‘troika’ and their actual, rather than declarative, approach to legality and order in the international context,” Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said in a post on X.

The UN Security Council has issued statements in the past condemning attacks on diplomatic premises. The European Union on Wednesday condemned the strike – saying the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel must be respected – and called on countries to show restraint.

The US says it has not confirmed the status of the building struck in Damascus, but that it would be concerned if it was a diplomatic facility.

Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday that Iranian government websites listing diplomatic locations in Syria do not include the building that was hit.

Emergency services work at Iran’s consulate after it was hit by an alleged Israeli strike in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

Iran has accused Israel of violating the founding UN Charter, and international law, and also cited several conventions.

The 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations define premises as buildings, parts of buildings, and land – regardless of ownership – used for the purposes of the diplomatic or consular mission, including the head of the diplomatic mission.

Those conventions state that the diplomatic or consular premises “shall be inviolable.” But they also say the premises should “not be used in any manner incompatible” with the diplomatic and consular functions.

Iran also cited the 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents — suggesting those killed were covered by these rules.

Shortly after the strike, the US sent an urgent message to Iran that it was not involved in the bombing.

But that may not be enough for the US to avoid retaliation targeting its forces in the region, with a top US commander warning of danger to American troops.

US Air Force commander for the Middle East, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, said Iran’s assertion that the US bears responsibility for Israeli actions could bring an end to a pause in militia attacks on US forces that has lasted since early February.

He said he sees no specific threat to US troops right now, but “I am concerned because of the Iranian rhetoric talking about the US, that there could be a risk to our forces.”

Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, the head of US Air Force Central, speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 20, 2023. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

Grynkewich told reporters the US is watching and listening carefully to what Iran is saying and doing to evaluate how Tehran might respond.

Israel has also beefed up its air defenses against a possible response from Iran.

Though Israel hasn’t acknowledged a role in the airstrike, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Tuesday that the US has assessed Israel was responsible. The Biden administration insists it had no advance knowledge of the airstrike.

Multiple arms of Iran’s government served notice that they would hold the United States accountable for the fiery attack.

US officials have recorded more than 150 attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria on US forces at bases in those countries since the war between Hamas and Israel began on October 7. One, in late January, killed three US service members and injured dozens more at a base in Jordan.

In retaliation, the US launched a massive air assault, hitting more than 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria, including command and control headquarters, drone and ammunition storage sites, and other facilities connected to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with and arming of regional militias. There have been no publicly reported attacks on US troops in the region since that response.

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