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Fears Grow That Syria Strike Could Spur Retaliatory Attacks on Israel and U.S.

WorldMiddle EastFears Grow That Syria Strike Could Spur Retaliatory Attacks on Israel and U.S.

Ms. Stroul said assessing the post-Suleimani era is instructive because the command and control of the Quds Force was degraded.

“We have seen Iran-backed militia groups take decisions into their own hands under the leadership of Qaani, as well the rise of rival power centers in Iran,” Ms. Stroul said, referring to Gen. Ismail Qaani, the current Quds Force commander. “This has led to a more diffuse, but not less lethal, Quds Force-led network abroad. But Iran’s core strategy never changed. Tehran will continue to invest in its terrorist network abroad in order to keep the fight away from its own borders.”

More broadly, Ms. Stroul said, the message is that Islamic Revolutionary Guards “operatives and leaders are not safe anywhere.”

She continued: “It should have strategic effect on how the Quds Force operates abroad and should erode any semblance of invincibility or deniability that this terrorist organization only brings instability and violence to the places it seeks to operate.”

Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired four-star general and former leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said the deaths of the senior Quds Force officers was “a blow.”

“Their long-term, carefully developed relationships will be lost,” he said.

Ms. Stroul said the strike would further inflame Tehran. “The question is, will Iran respond in a manner that de-escalates the situation, or will it climb further up the escalation ladder?” she said.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, sought on Tuesday to tamp down fears of escalation, saying that the United States had no involvement in the airstrike and did not know about it ahead of time.

Ms. Singh said at a news conference that the message had also been conveyed directly to Iran. “Tensions being high in the region, we wanted to make it very clear in private channels that the U.S. had no involvement in the strike in Damascus.”

General McKenzie said he expected Iran would retaliate in some way, but he downplayed fears of a major escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran.

“Iran’s options to hit Israel are very, very limited,” General McKenzie said. “And the Israelis aren’t going to back down.”

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