Apr 1, 2024 - World

U.S. tells Iran it "had no involvement" in Israel strike

Debris is being cleared away after the Israeli attack on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, Syria.

Debris is cleared away after an Israeli attack on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, on Monday. Photo: Ammar Ghali/Anadolu via Getty Images

The U.S. told Iran that it "had no involvement" or advance knowledge of an Israeli strike on a diplomatic compound in Syria that killed a senior Iranian general, according to a U.S. official.

The big picture: The rare message shows the Biden administration is deeply concerned that the Israeli strike could lead to a regional escalation and the resumption of attacks by pro-Iranian militias against U.S. forces.

  • Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi is the most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer to be killed since the U.S. assassinated Qassen Soleimani in 2020.

A National Security Council spokesperson told Axios that the U.S. "had no involvement in the [Israeli] strike and we did not know about it ahead of time."

  • A senior U.S. official said the U.S. "has communicated this directly to Iran".

Zoom in: Iran has vowed to seek revenge and accused Israel — which flattened a diplomatic building in Damascus with its airstrike — of a "breach of all international conventions."

  • Iran hasn't directly intervened in the current conflict and mostly relies on its proxies.

Behind the scenes: Israeli intelligence has been following Zahedi, who was in charge of arming and coordinating with Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias in Lebanon and Syria, for a long time.

  • An operational window to take him out only opened up in recent days, an Israeli official said.
  • Israel notified the Biden administration a few minutes before its air force conducted the strike but didn't ask for a U.S. green light, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
  • A U.S. official said the Israeli heads-up wasn't detailed and arrived when the military jets were already in the air. The Israelis didn't tell the U.S., for example, that they were planning to bomb a building in the Iranian embassy compound.

Between the lines: The strike took place shortly before White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken started a secure video conference call with top Israeli officials to discuss alternatives to an Israeli ground invasion in Rafah.

  • The air strike in Syria did not come up during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, a U.S. official said.

State of play: In the hours after the strike, several drone attacks were launched from Syria into Israel and were intercepted by IDF air defense systems.

  • A U.S. defense official said a one-way attack drone was detected and destroyed by U.S. forces at Al-Tanf Garrison in Syria several hours after the strike in Damascus. No injuries and no damage to infrastructure were reported.

What to watch: A senior U.S. official said it is highly likely that there is going to be an escalation in fighting between Israel and Iran and its proxies.

  • A senior Israeli official said the IDF is on high alert for retaliatory strikes from Iranian-allied militias in Syria.
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