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Attacks in Syria and Iraq Ratchet Tensions in a Region Already on Edge

Attacks in Syria and Iraq Ratchet Tensions in a Region Already on Edge


Iran accused Israel of launching an airstrike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday that killed senior Iranian navy figures, the most recent in a sequence of Israeli assaults on officers from Iran and two of its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran vowed to retaliate, elevating fears of even deeper regional turmoil rippling out from the battle in Gaza.

Separately, a number of U.S. troops in Iraq have been being evaluated for traumatic mind accidents on Saturday night after their air base within the western a part of the nation got here underneath heavy rocket and missile hearth from what American officers mentioned have been Iran-backed militants. It was the most recent of roughly 140 such rocket and missile strikes in opposition to U.S. troops primarily based in Iraq and Syria over the previous a number of months.

The two incidents underlined the volatility that has been rising within the Middle East since Oct. 7, when Hamas, an ally of Iran, charged into Israel and carried out its terror assaults. Israel has responded with a ferocious battle in Gaza. Across the area, a dizzying array of strikes and counterstrikes danger spinning the battle right into a wider battle.

In the final week alone, the listing of assaults and reprisals has been lengthy and daunting: Iran fired missiles towards Iraq, Syria and Pakistan; Pakistan responded by putting Iranian territory. Turkey hit Kurdish targets in northern Iraq and Syria; Hamas fired rockets towards Israel; Israel continued to pound southern Gaza and struck southern Lebanon, the place Hezbollah militants have fired rockets towards Israel in latest months. Houthi militants in Yemen took purpose at industrial ships within the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and the United States retaliated with seven rounds of strikes in opposition to Houthi targets.

Some of these assaults had no obvious connection to the battle in Gaza. But taken collectively, they highlighted the hazard {that a} significantly lethal strike — an accident or a deliberate provocation — might result in irreversible escalation and a broader battle.

Among these killed within the strikes in Damascus on Saturday have been Hojatallah Omidvar, the top of intelligence in Syria for the Quds Force, the abroad arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and his deputy, in keeping with the Iranian information media and an Israeli protection official.

The Iranian state information media reported that President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the strikes on Syria, saying, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is not going to depart the crimes of the Zionist regime unanswered.”

The Israeli protection official, who requested anonymity to debate delicate intelligence points, wouldn’t say who was behind the assault, however didn’t deny that it was Israel.

The Revolutionary Guards mentioned in an announcement printed on-line that 5 of its members who have been in Syria as navy advisers have been killed, together with a number of Syrians. Syria is a detailed ally of Iran and a conduit for Iranian weapons shipments to its proxies, particularly Hezbollah.

For years, Israel has been locked in a shadow battle with Iran, conducting covert strikes and focused killings geared toward crippling Iran’s nuclear and navy capabilities and its provide traces to proxy forces across the area.

The Quds Force has performed a serious function in supporting these proxies, together with the Houthis in Yemen in addition to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. General Omidvar, the senior Iranian officer killed within the strike in Damascus on Saturday, oversaw intelligence sharing and gathering with the proxy militias and coordinated weapons distribution all through the area, in keeping with Israeli protection officers and an Iranian affiliated with the Guards. The officers requested to not be named as a result of they weren’t approved to talk publicly concerning the basic.

After the Oct. 7 assaults and the outbreak of the Gaza battle, Iran saved a low profile, content material to function via its proxies and generally disavowing any involvement of their assaults. But after a string of Israeli assassinations of Iranian safety officers and others, Tehran modified course lately, launching assaults with its personal forces and publicly framing them as acts of vengeance.

Tensions started to escalate in December, when Iran accused Israel of killing a high-level navy determine, Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to the Revolutionary Guards, with a missile strike in Syria. Israel declined to remark straight on the accusation.

General Mousavi was mentioned to have helped oversee the cargo of missiles and different arms to Hezbollah, which has been buying and selling rocket and artillery hearth with Israel since battle broke out in Gaza.

Early this month, an Israeli strike killed the deputy political chief of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon. That was adopted by a suicide bomb assault by the Sunni terrorist group ISIS that killed practically 100 individuals within the Iranian metropolis of Kerman. The United States additionally assassinated a senior commander in an Iranian-aligned militia in Baghdad.

Tehran responded first by sending its personal commandos to grab an oil tanker off the coast of Oman. It launched a missile strike this week on town of Erbil within the Kurdistan area of northern Iraq, saying it was geared toward an Israeli “espionage heart.” Iran mentioned its assaults over the previous week have been in retaliation, amongst different issues, for the assassination of General Mousavi.

Israel has not responded to the declare that the goal in Erbil was an Israeli spy outpost. But Iraqi officers rejected the accusation, saying that solely civilians had been killed, together with a businessman, his toddler daughter and her babysitter.

So far, Iran has appeared to cease wanting a serious escalation that may additional inflame an intensifying regional battle centered on the battle between an Iran-backed Hamas and Iran’s regional archenemy, Israel. Analysts say Iran needed the assaults to be measured, flexing its muscle groups with out getting right into a direct combat with Israel, the United States or their allies.

The Houthis in Yemen are on the heart of escalating tensions on one other regional entrance. The group has been attacking ships within the Red Sea, scary retaliatory airstrikes lately by the United States and the United Kingdom.

On Saturday, the U.S. Central Command mentioned American forces had performed airstrikes in opposition to a Houthi anti-ship missile “that was aimed into the Gulf of Aden and was ready to launch.” It was the seventh time in 10 days that the United States has struck Houthi targets in Yemen.

The strikes have up to now failed to discourage the Houthis from attacking transport lanes within the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that join with the Suez Canal. The Iran-backed group says it’ll sustain its assaults till Israel halts its navy marketing campaign in Gaza.

President Biden mentioned on Thursday that U.S. airstrikes in opposition to the Houthis will proceed regardless that they haven’t halted the group’s assaults on Red Sea transport.

“Are they stopping the Houthis? No,” Mr. Biden mentioned. “Are they going to proceed? Yes.”

Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington, Alissa J. Rubin from Iraq, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Lara Jakes from Rome, David E. Sanger from Berlin and Thomas Fuller from San Francisco.

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