Experts say direct conflict between Iran and Israel unlikely, as regime not prepared for all-out war

Iran is likely to respond and target Israelis after a top commander of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus. “Given the target and location of the strike – at a building adjacent to the consulate — I expect the Iranians to respond,” Bill Roggio, managing editor of Long War Journal, told Digital. Roggio’s comments come after Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior IRGC commander, was reportedly killed Monday in an air strike on the Iranian consulate in the city, according to a report from Reuters. Iran’s consulate was flattened in the strike, according to the report, which noted that Syrian and Iranian media had blamed the carnage on an Israeli air strike. Israel declined to comment on the apparent strike, Reuters reported, with an official telling the outlet that it does “not comment on reports in foreign media.” But the strike, which Iranian state television reported also killed several Iranian diplomats, is likely to draw some sort of response, Roggio said. “It is difficult to say how the Iranians respond,” Roggio said. “The Iranians may try to target Israelis overseas, and may also leverage its militias – Hezbollah, the Houthis, and the Iraqi and Syria militias, to strike at targets within Israel.” Israel has stepped up strikes in Syria and on Iranian-backed targets since the Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, Reuters noted, hitting both Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror groups as well as IRGC targets. Yigal Carmon, a former adviser to two Israeli prime ministers on countering terrorism and founder and president of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), told Digital that, “Khamenei’s policies over the years reflect cowardice. The Iranian pattern of reaction is such that he escalates when he feels that the other side is afraid of him, and backs down when the other side shows deterrence.” He continued, “In the attack on an official Iranian government target in Damascus, Israel escalated against Iran, telling Iran that Israel will not continue with the proxy game so commonly played by Iran. The Israeli escalation was to serve as a warning: we are ready for battle with you, Iran, directly, at this time, even though we are at war in both Gaza and Lebanon.” Carmon’s said his assessment is that, “Khamenei will not react to the Israeli escalation by escalating against an Israeli target BY IRAN ITSELF. Rather, he will continue with the proxy game, targeting Israel by the Houthis, Hezbollah and possibly by terrorists in the West. He does not need and is not ready for an all-out war with Israel at this time.” Another expert on the region, Casey Babb, a Fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, and a Professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, told Digital that the latest strike is an example of the Israeli military’s significant reach. “It signals to Israel’s enemies — including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran, and other hostile actors — that the reach of Israel is immeasurable. No one is safe,” Babb said. Babb said that the strike will deal Iran a “serious organizational blow” and disrupt the IRGC’s ability to “mobilize, plan, and carry out effective attacks” while also destabilizing “the psyche of Iranian leadership and their proxies.” “It makes them feel vulnerable, it makes them feel inferior, and crucially, it makes them question themselves,” Babb said. “At the end of the day – all of these barbarians know their death warrants have been issued. This latest killing is just a reminder of that.” Responding to the attack during a news conference, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said the U.S. did not have confirmation of the target or the responsible party, but noted the department’s concern that the reported strike could be seen as “escalatory” and potential “cause an increase in conflict in the region.” Meanwhile, Trey Yingst reported Monday that Iran has vowed a “swift, direct, and harsh” response to the apparent Israeli attack. However, Babb argued that Iran is unlikely to mount any sort of “significant” response. “Hezbollah, Iran, and other potential entities that could respond don’t want a full scale war with Israel,” Babb said. “They know they’d be in ruins relatively fast – so they’ll likely respond in some calibrated way – but not enough to trigger a full on military confrontation.” Joe Truzman a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and an expert on Iran and its proxies, told Digital that while Iran has generally steered clear of a direct conflict with Israel and used its proxies to carry out attacks, “The attack in Damascus specifically targeted high-ranking IRGC officers, as well as the Iranian consulate. As a result, Iran is likely to respond more forcefully to this incident compared to past attacks on its officers in Syria, he said. “This possible shift in tactics suggests that the conflict between Iran and Israel may be entering a new and potentially more dangerous phase,” he warned.

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