Netanyahu Says Strike That Killed 7 Aid Workers in Gaza Was Unintentional: Live

Israel’s bombing of an Iranian Embassy building in Damascus, which killed senior Iranian military and intelligence officials, is a major escalation of what has long been a simmering undeclared war between Israel and Iran.

Iran promises major retaliation, and the danger of a miscalculation is ever-present. But given the stakes for both countries, neither Israel nor Iran wants a major shooting war, even as they press for advantage in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Instead, the strike is a vivid demonstration of the regional nature of the conflict as Israel tries to diminish and deter Iran’s allies and surrogates that threaten Israel’s security from every direction.

It is often called “the war between the wars,” with Israel and Iran as the main adversaries, sparring in the shadows of the more evident hostilities around the region.

The Iranian officials who were killed Monday had been deeply engaged for decades in arming and guiding proxy forces in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen as part of Iran’s clearly stated effort to destabilize and even destroy the Jewish state.

For Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who presumably approved such a sensitive attack, the successful elimination of such key Iranian military figures is a political coup. It comes at a time when demonstrations calling for his resignation have increased in intensity, as the war against Hamas drags on and Israeli hostages remain in Gaza.

Displaying its ability to infiltrate Iranian intelligence, Israel is trying to hit the operational part of Iran’s regional proxies, its so-called Axis of Resistance to Israel, aiming to disrupt and deter them, even as the war in Gaza continues.

Since the war began in October, Israel has begun to target key Iranian officials responsible for relations with its proxies, not just the advanced weapons Tehran delivers, said Ali Vaez, Iran project director for the International Crisis Group.

But no matter how many experienced generals Israel eliminates, “no one is irreplaceable in the Iranian system,” he said. “Iran knows this is a perilous game and there is a price tag attached.”

Some worry that price may be borne by Israeli allies. Ralph Goff, a former senior C.I.A. official who served in the Middle East, called Israel’s strike “incredibly reckless,” adding that “the Israelis are writing checks that U.S. CentCom forces will have to cash,” referring to the U.S. military’s Central Command.

“It will only result in escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” to U.S. forces in the region who could be targeted in retaliatory strikes by Tehran’s proxies, Mr. Goff said.

Mr. Netanyahu has emphasized for years that Israel’s main enemy is Iran and the strike could help him “rehabilitate his reputation as ‘Mr. Security,’” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. Even so, it may not be enough, she said, with Israel bogged down in Gaza, Hamas so far unbeaten and Iran and its proxies undiminished.

Iran has vowed retaliation and revenge for what it called an unprecedented attack, but, since Oct. 7, “Iran has been clear that it does not want a…

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