Netanyahu must know Tehran will respond militarily to the attack on its embassy in Syria, the question is whether American troops will be a target.

by Paul R. Pillar, Responsible Statecraft

The latest Israeli heightening of violence in an already violent region presents the Biden administration with one of its biggest challenges yet in keeping the United States out of a new Middle East war.

Israel’s bombing of an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus, killing a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and several other Iranian officials in addition to at least four Syrian citizens, was a marked escalation. Besides being as much an act of aggression in Syria as many previous Israeli aerial attacks, hitting the embassy compound constituted a direct attack on Iran.

Tehran Iran

Iranian leaders will feel heavy pressure to respond forcefully. The extent of that pressure can be appreciated by imagining if the roles were reversed. If Iran had bombed an embassy of Israel or the United States, a violent and lethal response would be not just expected but demanded by politicians and publics alike.

In Iran, too, popular sentiment can play a similar role in such situations, as illustrated by the outpouring of public emotion when a U.S. drone strike assassinated prominent Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani four years ago. In a more calculated vein, just as a need to “restore deterrence” is often heard as a justification for violent responses by the United States or Israel, so too can such calculations figure in Iranian decision-making.

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