West Asia on edge as fears of Iran’s retaliation loom 

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem told American citizens in Israel that the “security environment remains complex” in Israel.

Updated - April 12, 2024 09:26 pm IST

Published - April 12, 2024 07:36 pm IST -  Jerusalem

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran | Photo Credit: AP

West Asia continued to stay on edge on April 12 amid fears of an imminent attack by Iran targeting Israel in retaliation against the April 1 air strike on Iran’s consular annex in Damascus, Syria, with several countries, including India, the U.S. Russia and France issuing travel and security alerts to their citizens.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to punish the “evil regime” of Israel after the attack on the consular building in which Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a high-ranking commander of the Quds Force, the elite foreign operational wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was assassinated. Iran and Syria immediately blamed Israel for the strike. Israel has neither confirmed nor dismissed its role in the attack.

“The question is not if but when. The Supreme Leader, the government and senior military leaders have all warned that a response is coming. Iran cannot back off this time,” a strategic analyst based in Tehran with close links to the regime told The Hindu on the phone, requesting anonymity.

On Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reiterated that Iran’s response was necessary. “When the Israeli regime completely violates the immunity of individuals and diplomatic places in violation of international law and the Vienna Conventions, legitimate defence is a necessity,” Mr. Abdollahian told his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock in a phone call, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported.

“Had the UN Security Council condemned the Zionist regime’s reprehensible act of aggression on our diplomatic premises in Damascus and subsequently brought to justice its perpetrators, the imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime might have been obviated,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations wrote on X. on Thursday.

In Israel, political leaders as well as military and diplomatic officials said they were ready for any scenario. Asked if it was Israel that carried out the attack, Michael Ronen, head of South and Southeast Asia Division at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “They say Israel carried out the strike. Well, I don’t know. What I can say is that Israel is ready for any response from Iran.”

American media reported on Friday citing U.S. and Iranian sources that an Iranian attack could come within the next 48 hours. Mr. Khamenei is considering different options, from launching direct air strikes on Israel from Iran to attacking Israeli assets in the region either directly or through proxies, according to these reports. Israeli leaders have warned that they will strike inside Iran if the origin of the attack is Iran.

“Iran is the source of all problems in the Middle East. Hamas, Houthis, Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad... What do all these terrorist entities have in common? Iran is the godfather of all of them,” Yossi Zilberman, deputy spokesperson of the MFA, told The Hindu here. “Iran is the puppeteer. Unless Iran is reined in, there won’t be peace in the Middle East,” he said.

Israel has frozen all leaves for combat units “in accordance with the situational assessments” and drafted reservists to strengthen for air defences. The IDF has also scrambled the GPS system, which could be used to misguide incoming weapons. On Thursday, those who turned on their GPS in Tel Aviv found that their location was shown in Beirut. In the northern settlement of Tefen in the Upper Galilee region, the GPS showed the location was Syrian Golan.

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Friday told American citizens in Israel that the “security environment remains complex” in Israel. U.S. government employees and their family members were asked not to travel “outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice.” India’s Ministry of External Affairs advised Indians not to travel to Iran and Israel until further notice. “All those who are currently residing in Iran or Israel are requested to get in touch with Indian Embassies there and register themselves,” it said.

(The reporter was in Israel as part of a media delegation)

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