Israel targets 'line of control' from Iran to proxy militias by killing military figures, says ex-MI6 chief

Israel targets 'line of control' from Iran to proxy militias by killing military figures, says ex-MI6 chief

Israel is seeking to weaken the “line of control” from Tehran to its so-called proxy militias abroad by killing senior Iranian military figures, says an ex-MI6 chief.

Sir John Sawers, the former head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, made the remark after suspected Israeli warplanes bombed Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria, on Monday in a strike that Iran said killed seven of its military advisers, including three senior commanders.

The attack marked a major escalation in Israel’s war with its regional adversaries and comes four years after Iran’s most powerful military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a US air strike in Iraq.

“Looking back at the assassination of Qasem Soleimani four years ago that has had a wider impact on weakening Iran than was originally assessed,” Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I think the Israelis believe that by taking out senior Iranian commanders they can undermine that line of control between Tehran and the so-called proxy militias, Hezbollah and those in Syria.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said seven Iranian military advisers died in the strike including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in its Quds Force, which is an elite foreign espionage and paramilitary arm.

It is accused by the West of fuelling terrorism abroad.

Israel is operating all over the Middle East to exact a price from those who threaten it, the country's defence minister said on Tuesday, though he did not refer directly to the suspected Israeli air strike in Damascus.

"We are currently in a multi-front war – we see evidence of this every day, including over the last few days," Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told a parliamentary committee, according to a statement from his office.

"We operate everywhere, every day, in order to prevent our enemies from gaining strength and in order to make it clear to anyone who threatens us – all over the Middle East – that the price for such action will be a big one."

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the attack, widely believed to have been carried out by Israel, would not go unanswered, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington remained “concerned about anything that would be escalatory or cause an increase in conflict in the region” but did not expect the strike to affect talks on freeing Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Iran’s ambassador to Syria said the strike hit a consular building in the embassy compound and that his residence was on the top two floors.

Israel has long targeted Iran’s military installations in Syria and those of its proxies, but Monday’s attack was the first time Israel hit the vast embassy compound itself.

The New York Times cited four unnamed Israeli officials as acknowledging Israel had carried out the attack.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese group seen as Iran’s most powerful armed proxy in the region, vowed to retaliate.