Apr 11, 2024 - World

Iran signals it will limit response to Israel attack to avoid escalation

Iranians with big guns

Iranians attend a commemoration for the IRGC members killed in a strike on the country's consular annex in Damascus. Photo: Hossein Beris/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his German counterpart on Thursday that Iran is determined to respond to Israel's bombing of its consular building in Damascus last week, but will do so in an "appropriate" and limited way, a source with direct knowledge of the call told Axios.

Why it matters: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock initiated the call at the request of the Biden administration, which is highly concerned that an Iranian attack on Israel over the strike in Damascus — which killed a senior general — could lead to regional escalation.

Driving the news: Iran has publicly vowed to "punish" Israel for the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a top Iranian Quds Force general in charge of Iran's military operations in Lebanon and Syria.

  • Zahedi was the most senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer to be killed since the U.S. assassinated Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
  • Amir-Abdollahian also spoke Thursday with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to discuss regional tensions, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.
  • Those calls took place after White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk had called the Arab foreign ministers and asked them to pass a message to Iran about the need for de-escalation, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Behind the scenes: The 90-minute call between Baerbock and Amir-Abdollahian focused almost entirely on the recent tensions, according to the source with knowledge of the call.

  • The source added that while the Iranian foreign minister said during the call that the Iranian response will be limited, it is unclear how Iran defines a limited response.
  • Baerbock conveyed a message from the U.S., warning Amir-Abdollahian not to underestimate the scope of the Israeli response to an attack against it from Iranian soil, the source said.
  • Iran's Foreign Ministry said Amir-Abdollahian told his German counterpart that Israel had violated international law and the Vienna Convention with its attack, and "legitimate self-defense with the aim of punishing the aggressor is a necessity."

What they're saying: The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "Avoiding further regional escalation must be in everyone's interest. We urge all actors in the region to act responsibly and exercise maximum restraint."

  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that Iran's threats to attack Israel "are completely unacceptable" and stressed that the U.K. "fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against that."
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken also spoke to the foreign ministers of China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and asked them to urge Iran not to escalate, and the U.S. has also asked European allies to send that message, State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said in a briefing on Thursday.

State of play: The U.S. and Israeli defense ministers spoke Thursday to discuss preparations for a potential Iranian attack against Israel.

  • "A direct Iranian attack on Israeli on Israeli territory will compel us to respond in an appropriate way against Iran," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on the call, per a statement.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin assured Gallant Israel can count on full U.S. support to defend against Iranian attacks, the Pentagon said.
  • CENTCOM commander Gen. Erik Kurilla also met on Thursday in Tel Aviv with the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Herzl Halevi to coordinate ahead of a potential attack, an IDF official said.
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