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Iran’s Khamenei says Israel ‘will be punished’ for Syria consulate bombing

Khamenei's remarks come as the region awaits a response to the suspected Israeli strike on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus.
TEHRAN, IRAN - MARCH 01: Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) arrives to cast his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station on March 1, 2024 in Tehran, Iran. Iranians are voting in parliamentary elections and will also cast ballots for the Assembly of Experts, which selects and nominally oversees the work of Iran's supreme leader. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed on Wednesday to “punish” Israel over the recent bombing of the Iranian Consulate in Syria, as the region awaits the Islamic Republic’s response to the attack on April 1.

Khamenei gave a speech in Tehran during Eid al-Fitr prayers, which mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In the address, he said the “evil regime” of Israel “will be punished” for the attack on the Iranian Consulate, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

“Consulates and embassies of any country are regarded as the soil of that country. When they attack our consulate, it means that they have attacked our soil,” said Khamenei. “The evil regime made a mistake, and it should be punished and will be punished.”

A suspected Israeli strike hit the Iranian consulate in Damascus last week. The strike left seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) dead, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon. The consulate, which is located near the Iranian Embassy, was heavily damaged. Israel typically does not discuss its military operations abroad and did not comment on its alleged responsibility for the strike.

Emergency and security personnel gather at the site of strikes which hit a building next to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. Syrian state media said Israeli strikes hit an Iranian consulate annex in the capital on April 1, while a war monitor reported eight people were killed and Iranian state media said a senior commander of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was among the dead, amid rising regional tensions due to the Gaza war. (Photo by Maher AL MOUNES / AFP)
Emergency and security personnel gather at the site of strikes that hit a building next to the Iranian Embassy in Syria's capital, Damascus, April 1, 2024. (Photo by Maher AL MOUNES / AFP) (Photo by MAHER AL MOUNES/AFP via Getty Images)

Khamenei additionally attacked unnamed Muslim countries for allegedly supporting Israel during the war in Gaza.

“This is a betrayal — a betrayal to the Islamic Ummah … because they are strengthening the weakening Zionist systems, which will eventually harm them,” he said.

Israel is not receiving direct support from any regional states in the war, but Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have maintained diplomatic relations with Israel since the war began with Hamas’ attack last October. All four have heavily criticized the Israeli military’s conduct in the conflict.

He added that relations with Israel are unpopular in the Muslim world.

“If referendums are held in Islamic countries, all people will definitely vote for cutting ties with the Zionist regime by their governments. There is no doubt about that,” he said.

Khamenei also criticized Western governments over the war, referencing “the arrogant and cruel governments of the US and the UK.”

“Western governments, over the years, have always helped and supported the Zionist regime, and backed it in international bodies and provided all kinds of aid to this regime,” he said. “They should have prevented the regime’s crimes during this disaster. But Western governments did not fulfill their duty.”

The United States heavily supports Israel in the war, including via military sales, but the Biden administration has grown more critical recently. Last week, the administration said it would condition aid to Israel on “concrete” steps to protect civilians.

Why it matters: Khamenei’s speech comes as Israel, the United States and regional states await an Iranian response to the Syria attack. The Israel Defense Forces called up reservists in air defense units last week in anticipation of potential strikes.

Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed to respond to the Syria incident. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Syria and reiterated Iran’s intention to hold Israel accountable for the strike. The response has yet to occur, however.

Iran and its proxies have exercised caution before in the wider regional conflict over the Gaza war. In late February, The New York Times reported that Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria had scaled back their attacks on US forces in the region. The decrease followed US strikes on the militias.

Khamenei's criticism of Muslim countries over their relations with Tel Aviv follows an IRGC naval commander claiming on Tuesday that Israel is expanding its presence in the UAE. To this end, Rear Adm. Alireza Tangsiri called for a coalition of countries to fight Israel, Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Tehran reported. Iran has been critical of Muslim-majority countries for refusing to sever ties with Israel since the war began.

Know more: The Islamic Republic and its allies have themselves been implicated in attacks on embassies. In 1979, supporters of the Islamic Revolution took dozens of US diplomats at the embassy in Tehran hostage. In 1992, an affiliate of the Iran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Iran-backed militias have repeatedly targeted the US Embassy in Baghdad as well.