Iran hit with attacks ahead of funerals for commanders killed by Israeli strike in Syria

At least eleven reported dead after south-eastern Iranian province targeted

President Ebrahim Raisi and military commanders watch a show of Iranian military power during a National Army Day parade in Tehran. Photo: Wana
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At least eleven members of Iranian security forces have been killed in a wave of attacks on military and police bases in the south-east of the country, ahead of public funerals of commanders killed in an Israeli strike in Damascus.

The attacks took place in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, home to a Sunni separatist movement that claims to have been long marginalised by the central government. One of the targets was the headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the military wing of Iran's theocratic regime.

"Two soldiers, two border guards, and seven IRGC and Basij volunteers" were among the dead, state-owned news agency Irna quoted an official as saying. Sixteen militants were reported to have died.

“The terrorists did not succeed in their goal of capturing the [Islamic Revolutionary] Guards' headquarters in Chabahar and Rask, and are under siege,” Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi told Iranian state TV. “The terrorists are stationed around these headquarters and are shooting blindly, with the courageous members of the Guards and the police confronting them."

Overnight gun battles were raging in the vicinity of at least one police station, while videos shared on social media purportedly showed a military depot on fire.

The attacks came after Iran buried the commanders and operatives killed in the Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Damascus, heightening regional tensions.

The strike that levelled the Iranian ambassador’s residence, which is also used as a consulate and is adjacent to the main embassy building, killed at least 16 people – among them seven from the IRGC, including the head of the Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

The seven IRGC members were buried in “a special ceremony” in the Syrian capital on Wednesday. Their funerals will be held in Tehran on Friday and Isfahan on Saturday.

Growing speculation

The wave of attacks against military and police bases also came ahead of "International Quds Day", when thousands of people take part every year on the last Friday of Ramadan in large anti-Israel demonstrations in Tehran and other cities around the region.

"The current attacks cannot be separate from Israel's strike [in Damascus]," a source close to Iranian diplomatic circles told The National, without elaborating. "The connection is clear."

Monday's strike in Damascus was one of several Israeli attacks on Syria since Israel's war in Gaza started on October 7 and came days after dozens of regime soldiers and Iran-backed fighters were killed near Aleppo. It is the most significant hit on an Iranian target yet and increases fears that Iran will be drawn into a direct confrontation with Israel.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi have vowed to retaliate and “slap” Israel. Sources close to the Iranian-backed groups in the region have told The National the response will probably come through those militant groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, but a “direct response” should not be disregarded.

In Israel, there was growing speculation regarding the nature of Iran's response. The military said that after a situational assessment “it was decided to increase manpower and draft reserve soldiers to military air defence systems”.

The warning comes as residents of Tel Aviv report a sharp rise in GPS jamming, a measure security services employ to prevent guided missile attacks, typically from Lebanon. The tactic has been used extensively in northern parts of Israel recently but is much rarer further south in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities said the attacks against the police and military bases were the work of Jaish Al Adl, a Sunni insurgent separatist group listed as a terrorist organization by the US in 2019. Alireza Marhamati, Deputy Security and Law Enforcement Governor of Sistan and Baluchistan, told state-owned media that the group "is affiliated" with Israel.

If confirmed, the attacks are among the largest by the group, formerly known as Jundullah, since its formation about 15 years ago.

Iran said it struck the group, alongside targets linked to ISIS in Syria in January, following a suicide bombing at a memorial service for Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike near Baghdad in 2020. The attack in Kerman on January 3 killed about 100 people.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 9:18 AM