Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have claimed responsibility for Sunday’s missile attack on what the elite force said was an Israeli intelligence center in northern Iraq, adding to tensions in the region as world powers seek to revive stalled talks with Tehran on the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
The move follows an alleged Israeli air strike near the Syrian capital Damascus last week that reportedly killed two commanders from the guards. The force had vowed to avenge the attack.
“Following the latest crimes of the Zionist regime. . .[their]strategic center for conspiracies and atrocities were hit by our powerful and precise missiles, ”the guards said in a statement on Sunday. “Repetition of any kinds of atrocities will be met with a harsh, decisive and destructive response.”
The guards did not give any details of Sunday’s operation. People on the ground in Iraq said the attack was launched from inside Iran in the early hours of the morning, with at least a dozen missiles hitting targets in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
Local media said nobody had been killed in the strike. Film footage showed damage to the building occupied by the Kurdistan 24 television station, but it remained unclear what other facilities had been hit.
Israel made no comment on Sunday afternoon. A spokesman for the US state department described the strike as an “outrageous attack against Iraqi sovereignty” but said no US citizens or sites had been affected.
The Kurdish regional government condemned the assault, which it said had hit civilian locations. “Iran has repeated these attacks many times and the silence of the international community in the face of these cowardly attacks will pave the way for their continuation,” it said in a statement.
The twin Revolutionary Guard admissions that Israel has killed some of its personnel and that it has retaliated against an Israeli target are rare public acknowledgments by the secretive organization. Tehran, which denies the Jewish state’s right to exist, and Israel usually remain tight-lipped about operations against each other.
Analysts suggest the disclosures may be a show of strength to demonstrate the Islamic republic’s tough stance amid talks in Vienna on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and leading powers.
The negotiations were suspended on Friday owing to “external factors”, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. The delay comes amid global tensions with Russia, one of the parties to the negotiations, over its invasion of Ukraine last month.
The fate of the talks remains unclear. Iran has vowed not to compromise on its missile program even if a deal is struck. The Revolutionary Guards, meanwhile, launched a second military satellite into orbit earlier this month. Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said on Twitter that the move showed “no sanction can stop the great nation of Iran”.
Meanwhile, media in Iran on Sunday said Tehran had suspended talks with Saudi Arabia on restoring diplomatic ties between the two nations. They were severed in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the kingdom’s embassy in the Iranian capital following a mass execution in Saudi Arabia in which a prominent Shia cleric was killed.
Iran and Saudi Arabia see themselves as defenders of Shia and Sunni Muslims respectively.
It was not immediately clear if Iran’s decision was linked to the kingdom’s execution of 81 people convicted of terrorism on Saturday. Saudi anti-government activists said almost half of those killed were Shia.