Israel Risks Dire Consequences After Two Deadly Airstrikes

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Within 24 hours, two Israeli strikes occurred on targets that could not be more different. Both however, have the possibility of dramatically altering the course and consequence of the wars Israel is currently fighting.

The first strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, on Monday, killed as many as 13 people—including Mohammed Reza Zahedi, a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Israel was quick to argue that the attack was not on an official Iranian diplomatic facility but, rather, on a “military building of the Quds forces disguised as a civilian building in Damascus.”

The strike on the building was justified by Israeli officials, who told Reuters that those targeted had “been behind many attacks on Israeli and American assets and had plans for future attacks.” Iran immediately condemned the strike and Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised to retaliate. Whether that retaliation results in a major escalation of Israel’s conflicts in the region is the question that loomed large in the wake of the aerial bombardment.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged that “all concerned” should “exercise utmost restraint and avoid further escalation.” Former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, writing in Ha’aretz, said that while Israel has thus far been conducting a “covert ‘shadow war’” against Iran, “the attack on an annex building of the Iranian consulate hosting Quds Force commanders in charge of operations in Syria and Lebanon was a direct and explicit hit on Iran.”

Pinkas, echoing concerns expressed by Guterres and other experts, raised the possibility that this could be seen as a “reckless act of premeditated escalation that could not only lead to an expansion of the (Gaza) war, but also involve the United States, (depending on Iran’s scale and timing of retaliation).” The U.S. said after the attack that it had no involvement in it, and was not consulted beforehand.

U.S. and other international officials have long been concerned by Iranian regional provocations that seemed designed to trigger an escalation of the Gaza conflict—notably attacks by Iranian proxies like Hezbollah on northern Israel and by the Houthis on international shipping. The Israeli attack on Monday seemed calculated to test whether and how Iran might ramp up its multi-front pressure on Israel—in the wake of such a direct assault on unmistakably Iranian targets.

As a consequence, the nerves of the war-torn region, already frayed, are now even more on edge.

Photograph of the remains of the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria

Emergency and security personnel gather at the site of strikes which hit a building next to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024.

Maher Al Mounes/Getty

Is Israel’s prime minister—whose political career now seems dependent on maintaining a state of war in Gaza—seeking to increase his odds of remaining in office longer by provoking an expansion of that war along Israel’s Lebanese and Syrian borders? Is he so cynical? Surely the conduct of the war in Gaza suggests he is.

The second Israeli attack was on a team of aid workers from World Central Kitchen (WCK), the food charity founded by chef José Andrés. Although Israel immediately indicated the drone attack, which killed seven people, was an accident, significant evidence makes that assertion implausible.

The three-vehicle WCK convoy was clearly marked. One shot of a destroyed vehicle showed an Israeli munition piercing the logo on the roof of the car, an identification that would have been clearly visible to drone operators. Further, the Israeli military had been apprised of the whereabouts of the aid workers. The vehicles in the convoy were spread out over an area of over a mile and a half—and they were hit several times.

According to a report in the Israeli press, “some of the passengers were seen leaving (the first car hit) and switching to one of the other two.” Members of the convoy reported the first attack but “seconds later another missile hit their car.” This was not a stray round. These were not vehicles with mysterious intentions.

The victims of the attack were, by any measure, a special group of people, working hard, most of them far from home, for people in need they did not know. One of the victims, Zomi Frankcom, 43, from Australia, the leader of the WCK aid team, had been working with the group since 2019 when she volunteered to help in a relief kitchen in Guatemala in the wake of a volcanic eruption there.

“She had the warmest smile and the biggest laugh. Everyone loved Zomi. And she worked so hard in service to others, always willing to jump on a plane to a disaster zone, no matter how far away,” recalled Nate Mook, former CEO of World Central Kitchen.

Mook, who had been in touch with Frankcom several weeks ago, spoke to her then about her efforts to help in Gaza. At the time she was working in Jordan organizing air drops of food.

Mook also spoke of another of those killed with whom he spoke a few weeks ago, Damian Sobol, 35, from Poland. “He started working in our kitchen in Przemysl and served Ukrainian refugees as they crossed the border into Poland. He had the kindest soul and was so loved by the many volunteers who came through the kitchen.” Mook remembered being greeted each time he saw Sobol with “a big hug.”

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people,” that remark rings hollow—given the tens of thousands of innocent people who have died in Gaza as a result of assaults by Israel’s sophisticated military during the past six months. Or by the fact that during the Gaza war, an estimated 200 aid workers have died, according to the U.N.

President Joe Biden called Andrés in the wake of the attack to express his grief, and a White House spokesperson used the term “outraged” to describe their reaction to the attack.

Photograph of the remains of a bombed World Central Kitchen car

Palestinians are standing next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Majdi Fathi/Getty

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also lamented the attacks, and the U.S. government called for steps to improve the security of humanitarian workers. Speaker of the House Emerita Nancy Pelosi condemned the attack saying: “The killing of World Central Kitchen workers delivering deeply needed food aid in Gaza is an outrage. Our prayers are with these heroes and their families during this sad time.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was another among many U.S. officials to express their horror at the attack and declared: “No more aid for Netanyahu’s war machine.”

While the Israeli government has indicated they will conduct an “independent” investigation of the attack, they have no credibility in such matters. Further, if they think handling this the way they do other such incidents will work, they are underestimating the degree to which many in Washington’s government leadership are extremely close to and admiring of Andrés and the work of WCK.

This incident, even though it may pale in comparison to the daily horrific and indefensible losses of innocents in Gaza, is likely to have a disproportionate effect in mobilizing new opposition to the Netanyahu government and its war in Gaza.

Significant as that may prove to be over time, in the near term, the consequence of this strike that looms the largest is that in the wake of the attack, World Central Kitchen and other aid organizations like Project Hope and Anera are now suspending their activities.

This means that at a moment when famine is gripping Gaza and hospitals have been destroyed and medical assistance is scarce, vital assistance will not be forthcoming.

In other words, while seven WCK aid workers who had put their lives at risk to help the innocent people of Gaza have died, they will not be the only victims of this attack. Others will suffer and die as a result of the interruption of aid in a moment of acute crisis.

The two attacks were very different in their nature and that of their victims, but it is clear that both are likely to have broad and long-lasting consequences that are almost certain to make the grim situation in the Middle East much worse. It is also clear that by virtue of recklessness, cynicism, or worse, the Netanyahu government seems intent on compounding its already grievous crimes to date—making its removal from office more urgent and necessary than ever.



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