Nasrallah says Israeli strike on Iranian embassy a 'turning point' in Quds Day speech

Thousands marched in Tehran for annual pro-Palestine event amid heightened Israel-Iran tensions

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Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah pledged that Iran will retaliate against Israel, describing its attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus as a "turning point", as thousands marched to mark Quds Day amid heightened tensions in the region.

The Israeli strike on the Iranian embassy in Syria this week sparked fears of a broader escalation, with Israel temporarily closing at least 28 embassies around the world amid the threat of potential retaliation.

Iran's leaders including President Ebrahim Raisi attended the public funerals for the slain commanders that were held on Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, an international pro-Palestine event that takes place each year on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Marchers, some wearing masks of the slain officials, burned Israeli and American flags.

Mr Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, delivered a televised speech for the occasion. Stages were set up for crowds to watch in Beirut and Baghdad, as Mr Nasrallah spoke from an undisclosed location.

In his speech, Mr Nasrallah repeated his position that there would no ceasefire on the Israeli-Lebanese border, where Hezbollah have been engaged in near-daily cross-border fighting with Israel, without a ceasefire in Gaza.

He condemned Israeli forces for acting in Gaza as if they had “lost their minds”.

Mr Nasrallah also mocked Israel's progress in its assault on Gaza, pointing out that dozens of hostages remain in the Palestinian enclave after six months of war.

He said Israel had no serious plan for how Gaza would look or be run when the war eventually ends. Mr Nasrallah said Israel had “no vision or a plan for the day after” and that “the Israelis are lost”.

The Hezbollah leader spent much of the speech praising Iran.

He commemorated the Iranian generals killed in the Israeli strike on the embassy in Damascus, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Forces in Lebanon and Syria. He said the generals' deaths marked a “turning point”, without explaining how.

“This is a turning point. There is what was before it, and what was after it,” said Mr Nasrallah.

He said that the Iranians would “no doubt” retaliate against Israel, and would be “studying options,” claiming that the response could come today, tomorrow, next week, next month or another time.

Experts told The National they do not expect a major escalation soon after the strike.

“Iran needs to respond at some stage. But if we don't see a direct military response within the first 24 hours, it means it is a postponed response and might be a security attack,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.

The embassy attack marked a shift in unspoken “red lines” between the two countries and reignited fears of a regional conflagration amid the war in Gaza, he added.

Experts said they did not expect there to be major escalation from the “axis of resistance”, an informal Iranian-led coalition that includes Hezbollah. Mr Hage Ali said he “fails to see a flare-up in Lebanon based specifically on that attack”.

Israel has expanded its attacks in Lebanon, but Hezbollah has appeared to remain cautious and has avoided a full-scale conflict.

“The repercussions for Lebanon are currently unknown. It depends how Iran will answer, but I don’t see it crossing lines,” a western diplomatic source said. “Israel capitalises on Iran's reluctance to go to war by strategically targeting key figures and infrastructure within the 'axis'.”

The diplomat said Israel faced an “uncertain endgame”.

In this context, the risks from any miscalculation remain at an all-time high. Iran finds itself in an untenable position, needing to retaliate without providing Israel with a pretext to start a conflict it does not want.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 10:54 AM