Emergency and security personnel inspect the site of the attacks that hit a building next to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, the capital of Syria, on April 1, 2024. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.

(CNN) ––

This Monday's attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, the capital of Syria, may represent the most dangerous escalation outside Gaza in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas began almost six months ago.

Syria and Iran blamed Israel for the airstrike that destroyed a consular building, killing Mohammed Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and several other officials. , including another top commander, Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi. Israeli officials have not commented on the events.

This attack is the latest in a series of apparent Israeli bombings in Syria targeting the IRGC and the Iranian-backed Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah. So far, the attacks have not sparked a response beyond the skirmishes that have raged for months on Israel's border with Lebanon, despite repeated threats from Iran and Hezbollah's leadership to react in kind to Israel's attacks.

  • Iran accuses Israel of killing Iranian military commanders and others in airstrike on consulate in Syria

However, this Monday's incident may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Technically, Iran's consulate is part of that country's sovereign territory, making this attack the most direct against Iranian soil in years. Additionally, Zahedi is the highest-profile target since former US President Donald Trump ordered the January 2020 strike against famed IRGC general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

“Today's events in Damascus indicate that the Israelis have (Iranian supreme leader) Ali Khamenei in a box,” wrote Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iran analyst and editor of the online magazine Amwaj.media, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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“Iran's supreme leader is being embarrassed in front of his own Praetorian Guard, and the Quds Force will find it increasingly difficult to justify Khamenei's indecision to Iran's regional allies.”

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It is difficult to imagine a response from Iran that does not involve its most powerful ally group, Hezbollah. This Lebanese Shiite group has been involved in daily crossfire with Israeli forces since October 8. For almost six months, it has walked a fine line between trying to limit its field of operations to the border area and at the same time trying to impose its tit-for-tat rules of engagement. This has become more difficult as Israel strikes targets far beyond the border area with increasing frequency (Israeli airstrikes hit a major city in eastern Lebanon last week).

Iran's regional allies say they began clashes with Israel on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, where more than 32,000 people have been killed, according to local authorities. This has boosted his regional popularity and shored up his political positions at the national level. But they have tried to avoid a full regional escalation, which has been a relief for Washington, which has put all its weight into preventing a war in the Middle East.

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That may be an untenable position after Monday's attack, which has once again brought the region to the brink of an expanded war.

war Israel and HamasIranMiddle East