Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched a barrage of ballistic missiles against targets in Syria and northern Iraq, including what the elite force described as an intelligence centre run by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.
The guards said the missile strikes on an “espionage centre” in the Iraqi city of Erbil were in retaliation for Israeli strikes that killed an Iranian commander in Syria, as well as members of Iran-backed militant groups in the region.
Iran’s attacks will heighten fears that the Middle East is sliding dangerously towards a broader regional conflagration as tensions have soared since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas more than three months ago.
The US state department condemned the attacks in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, saying they would further destabilise the region.
“We oppose Iran’s reckless missile strikes, which undermine Iraq’s stability,” said Matthew Miller, US state department spokesperson. “We support the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s efforts to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people.”
Iraq’s foreign ministry condemned what it called Iran’s “aggression” on Erbil, which amounted to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Baghdad said it would take “all legal measures”, including filing a complaint to the UN’s security council.
Kurdish authorities said the Iranians fired ballistic missiles at several civilian areas in Erbil, killing four people and wounding six others. Some reportedly struck near the US consulate in the city, but they caused no damage to the diplomatic mission.
“No US facilities were impacted. We’re not tracking damage to infrastructure or injuries at this time,” a US official said.
Three armed drones were shot down on Tuesday over Erbil airport, where US and other international forces are stationed, Iraqi Kurdistan’s counter-terrorism service said.
Kurdish authorities called the earlier attack “a blatant violation of the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region and Iraq”, adding in a statement that Baghdad and the international community “must not remain silent regarding this crime”.
The guards also said they launched missile strikes in Syria targeting Isis, which they said were in response to this month’s suicide bombing in southern Iran that killed almost 100 people, according to Iranian state news agencies. Isis claimed responsibility for that attack.
The Israel-Hamas war has triggered intensifying hostilities across the region with Iran-backed Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant movement, trading daily cross-border fire with Israel; Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea; and Iran-supported Iraqi militants launching missiles and drones against US forces in Iraq and Syria.
Iran has for months indicated it does not want to become directly embroiled in a wider conflict that could lead to it being dragged into a war with the US or Israel. But it has supported its proxies in the so-called Axis of Resistance as they have mounted attacks in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas, which is also backed by Tehran.
So far, the hostilities involving Iran-backed militant groups have remained contained within each theatre.
But fears about the risks of the outbreak of a wider conflict have increased in recent weeks as apparent Israeli strikes have killed a senior guards commander in Syria, and seven Hamas militants, including one of the group’s senior leaders, in Beirut. Israel has also stepped up its rhetoric and strikes against Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.
“We assure our dear nation that the Revolutionary Guards’ offensive operations will continue until avenging the last drops of martyrs’ blood,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.
The US also killed a senior Iraqi militia leader in an air strike in Baghdad this month after Iran-backed Iraqi groups launched more than 120 rocket and drone attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria.
Last week, US forces launched strikes against Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, in an attempt to deter the rebels from attacking ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis have severely disrupted maritime trade through the vital waterway after carrying out about 30 attacks against merchant vessels since mid-November.
Iran had also vowed revenge after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a cemetery in Iranian city of Kerman this month, as people gathered to commemorate Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander killed in a targeted US drone attack in 2020. Senior guards commanders had initially claimed the Kerman attacks were orchestrated by Israel, without providing evidence, before Isis released a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing.
It was not the first time Iran has mounted strikes in northern Iraq, including attacks against Iranian opposition groups based in the area.
Two years ago, the Revolutionary Guards launched a missile attack in Erbil, also claiming it was targeting an Israeli intelligence centre. That came days after an Israeli air strike near the Syrian capital Damascus killed two of the guards commanders.
Iranian forces are deployed in Syria, where they have supported President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war, which erupted in 2011 after the Syrian regime brutally cracked down against a popular uprising.
The Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7 after the Palestinian militant group carried out an attack on southern Israel that killed at least 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Another 240 people were taken hostage in the raid.
Israel has responded with a ferocious air and land assault against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 24,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials, and caused outrage across the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington
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