Fears are growing that attacks in Syria could spur retaliatory strikes against Israel and the United States

Current and former U.S. officials expressed fears Tuesday that Israel's airstrikes against the Iranian embassy in Syria could escalate hostilities in the region and provoke retaliatory attacks against Israel and its American ally.

Officials said Monday's attack, which killed three Iranian Quds Force generals and four other officers, dealt a major blow to the force, external military service and intelligence services of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Ralph Goff, a former senior CIA official who served in the Middle East, called the Israeli attack “incredibly reckless.”

“The result will just be an escalation on the part of Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” for American troops in the region who could be targeted in retaliatory attacks by Tehran's proxies, Goff said .

Indeed, after the Israeli attack on Damascus, Syria's capital, on Monday, American troops based in southeast Syria shot down an attack drone, a Defense Department official said. It was unclear whether the drone was aimed at American forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. If so, it would be the first attack by Iran-backed militias against American troops in Iraq or Syria in nearly two months. No injuries or damage were reported.

The official said there were no other attacks overnight, but that Pentagon officials were closely monitoring the situation.

Goff said the deadly attack in Syria fits Israel's “long-term strategy of degrading” Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force unit, and “punishing them for ongoing plots to kill or kidnap Israeli Jews around the world.”

In the years-long shadow war between Iran and Israel, Syria has been a key terrain for Israel as it has helped weaken Iran's ability to move advanced weapons by land and air closer to Israel's borders.

“Yesterday's attack constitutes a significant escalation and risks plunging an already volatile and unstable region into full-scale war,” said Dana Stroul, the Pentagon's former top policy official for the Middle East and now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This is the Israeli version of the US attack on Qassim Suleimani,” he said, referring to the former longtime Quds Force leader who was killed by a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in 2020.

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