FOCUS on Public Diplomacy Conflicts – Israel and Iran

Neve Walker

Staff Writer

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An Israeli airstrike hit the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria on April 1, demolishing the building and killing two Iranian generals and five officers, along with six Syrian citizens, according to Iranian officials and reported by The Associated Press. The casualties included a top member within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and six other IRGC officers. This strike has been seen as a symbol of escalation from Israel, which has begun targeting military officials from Iran. The reason for this attack seems to be Iran’s shared border with Lebanon along with its support for militant groups in Gaza that are fighting Israel.  

Clashes between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have increased since the war in Gaza began six months ago. As of right now, the terrorist group Hamas is ruling Gaza and is also backed by Iran. 

Israel has yet to make a comment about the attack, nor do they acknowledge the strike against Iranian targets. Yet, an Israeli military spokesman blamed Iran for a done strike earlier that day against a naval base in southern Israel, according to The Associated Press.

Tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have escalated recently, to the point where both groups have warned of the possibility of a declaration of war. Along with Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been launching long-range missiles towards Israel.  

In response to the attack on their embassy in Damascus, Yahya Rahim Safavi, the senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said that “the embassies of the Zionist regime are no longer safe,” according to VOA News. Tehran, Iran’s capital, has vowed to avenge the seven who have died in the Israeli drone strike.

VOA News also reported that this was the fifth attack in Syria that has been blamed on Israel. Furthermore, Zahed was the highest-ranking commander to be killed since Qasem Soleimani’s assassination in early 2020, according to Al Jazeera. This has caused the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran to intensify, Foreign Affairs adds.

International reactions to this attack were initiated by the United Arab Emirates, which was the first country to condemn the airstrike, according to the Atlantic Council. The Emirati foreign ministry released a statement, “[condemning] the targeting of the Iranian diplomatic mission in the Syrian capital, Damascus.” After this statement was released, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia also denounced the attack. The only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council to not release a statement as of yet is Bahrain. 

International law determines embassies as “inviolable.” It is also directly stated in article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that the “receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.” Because of this attack, the Israeli government has breached international law. Furthermore, because Syria is the host country, or receiving state, of this consulate, by not taking the steps to protect the Iranian Embassy, it can be interpreted that Syria violated article 22 as well. Despite this, Iran instead used Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to justify their response to Israel.

Iran’s response to these attacks has greatly differed from Mexico’s reaction to its embassy being raided by Ecuadorian police (which also violates Article 23 of the Vienna Convention). While Mexico plans to take Ecuador to the International Court of Justice, Iran responded by launching over 200 drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles into Israeli territory, according to CNN

Iran’s response to the attack of their embassy now raises questions about the use of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which allows a country to defend themselves against an armed attack until the UN Security Council convenes regarding the issue. Israel also quoted Article 51 as a justification for their response to the October 7 attacks and the six months of war that has persisted since. 

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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