Iranian leaders say “axis of resistance” will retaliate against Israel for Syria strikes

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | May 3, 2018
Iranian leaders say “axis of resistance” will retaliate against Israel for Syria strikes

On an official visit to Damascus this week, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee said that the Islamic Republic would retaliate against Israel for last month’s strikes on an air Syrian military base that killed several Iranian nationals. “We will respond to any aggression on Iran at the appropriate time and place,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi said at a news conference in the Syrian capital on Tuesday. The senior Iranian lawmaker made the remarks after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and top Syrian officials and parliamentarians. “We consider it our right to respond to the Zionist regime’s aggression on the presence of our military advisors in Syria.” In his earlier meeting with Assad, Boroujerdi congratulated the Syrian dictator on recent battlefield victories and reiterated Tehran’s support for Damascus, which he described as the “frontline of the resistance”.

The senior Iranian lawmaker also predicted the demise of Israel. “The Zionist regime is on the verge of financial, psychological and social collapse. This regime has been defeated by the axis of resistance and our optimism stems from the indicators on the battlefield,” he said.

Separately, the Iranian defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, also emphasized that Iran and its allies would exact revenge from Israel for Syria strikes. “The brave combatants of the axis of resistance will not hesitate to avenge the blood of their comrades,” he said on Tuesday. After Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu’s speech on Iran’s nuclear activities, Hatami warned Tel Aviv and its allies to “stop their conspiracies and dangerous behavior” or they will face the Islamic Republic’s “surprising” response.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei echoed a similar threat, stressing that the era of “hit and run” is over.

Comment: After suspected Israeli strikes in Syria on Sunday, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported that 18 Iranian nationals were killed, and Raja News, a mouthpiece of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, also confirmed that Iranian military personnel were among the casualties. But the reports were soon retracted. Later, Tasnim News Agency, which is also affiliated with the IRGC, rejected media reports that Iranian “advisors” were killed. Last month, IRGC outlets had retracted reports about seven Iranian military personnel killed in Israeli strikes on Syria’s T-4 airbase.

There may be several reasons for IRGC outlets retracting reports about its casualties in Syria. The IRGC may not want to disclose information about its operations in Syria. Admitting casualties in Syria, particularly in alleged Israeli attacks, is also a bitter pill to swallow for Iran’s elite force. Losing men in Israeli raids without the ability to directly and quickly retaliate against Israel diminishes the prestige of the Guards both at home and among its regional proxies. Iranian leaders frequently threaten to demolish Israeli cities if there is a war between the two countries, but the fact that Israel hits Iranian targets inside Syria at will demonstrates to the Iranian people that their leaders’ rhetoric is all bluster. Moreover, the IRGC’s costly involvement in the Syrian war has increasingly become unpopular among the Iranian people.

The possibility of a direct confrontation between Iran and Israel in Syria has increased dramatically recently. Iranian leaders have vowed revenge for the death of their military personnel in latest Israeli strikes but have hinted that their response may not necessarily come immediately. Last month, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Khamenei, also emphasized that the T-4 strikes “will not go unanswered.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry and Revolutionary Guards commanders have echoed similar warnings. The Israeli government has taken Iran’s warnings seriously and is bracing for a retaliation from Tehran or its allies in the region.

Over the past six years, the Israeli military has conducted more than 100 strikes against suspected Iranian targets inside Syria. And Israeli leaders have made it clear that they will continue to hit Iranian positions if Tehran chooses to establish a long-term military presence in Syria. “No matter the price, we will not allow a noose to form around us,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio last month.a

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