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Politics

Israeli Strike on Iranian Consulate in Damascus: Diplomatic Immunity Contested

April 3, 2024
Faramarz Davar
3 min read
The suspected Israeli attack on the consulate of the Islamic Republic in Syria's capital on April 1 is not deemed an incursion onto Iran's soil
The suspected Israeli attack on the consulate of the Islamic Republic in Syria's capital on April 1 is not deemed an incursion onto Iran's soil
Under international law, diplomatic premises such as embassies or consulates, along with the ambassador's residence, enjoy various immunities. However, despite common belief, they are not considered extensions of foreign territory
Under international law, diplomatic premises such as embassies or consulates, along with the ambassador's residence, enjoy various immunities. However, despite common belief, they are not considered extensions of foreign territory

The suspected Israeli attack on the consulate of the Islamic Republic in Syria's capital on April 1 is not deemed an incursion onto Iran's soil. 

Instead, it represents an act of military aggression by Israel against Syria, violating the national sovereignty of the Ba'ath Party government led by Bashar Assad.

Under international law, diplomatic premises such as embassies or consulates, along with the ambassador's residence, enjoy various immunities. However, despite common belief, they are not considered extensions of foreign territory.

Therefore, neither the Islamic Republic's consulate in Damascus nor, for instance, the Saudi embassy in Tehran, constitutes the territorial domain of their respective countries.

In this instance, Israel's actions amount to territorial aggression against Syrian soil and a breach of diplomatic immunity, which should, by law, safeguard such premises from military aggression and assault.

Israel's objective appears to be the closure of the Islamic Republic's consulate in Damascus, yet exceptions to this significant legal provision exist.

According to international law, when a foreign government launches military operations from its territory against another sovereign state, the targeted government may respond with measures justified by 'legitimate defense.'

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) states that its deployment in Syria occurs with the official invitation of the Assad government, aiming to assist in quelling domestic unrest and countering the activities of ISIS.

Current international regulations permit the Islamic Republic and Syria to engage in such collaboration.

Having established a presence in Syria, the IRGC has proceeded to equip regional militia groups and supply them with weaponry for use against Israel.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has openly declared Syria as 'the frontline of resistance' against Israel.

Over the past decade, Israel has frequently targeted the IRGC's positions in Syria.

However, following the October 7 assault by the Hamas terrorist group, Israel's attacks have expanded in scope.

This time, military personnel and IRGC commanders, along with weapon depots, have become primary targets of Israel's strikes.

These attacks are deemed legal under international law and are justified as 'legitimate defense.'

Now, another question arises: Is Israel's assault on the consulate of the Islamic Republic in Damascus, which holds diplomatic immunity according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, legal?

The principle of immunity shields such establishments from aggression and military strikes, but this protection extends only to activities conducted under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

If these premises are used as a guise for military actions against a third country, such as Israel, they may forfeit their immunity.

In essence, engaging in unprotected activities within these protected locations undermines their inviolability.

Although consulates are primarily tasked with services like passport renewal, visa issuance, and managing the personal affairs of nationals, members of the Quds Force have been conducting military operations there.

This development follows recent visits to Tehran by key figures like Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political office of Hamas, who met with Khamenei and other high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic.

In these meetings, Khamenei openly commended Hamas's attacks on Israel and called for their continuation.

During Israel's military strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, seven IRGC members were killed.

The operation was executed in the absence of Islamic Republic authorities and consular agents, with all casualties being soldiers.

Even Hossein Akbari, the Islamic Republic's ambassador in Damascus, whose official residence is within the consulate, escaped unharmed.

Israel targeted the Islamic Republic's consulate, which was being used for military purposes against Israel, and the commanders of the IRGC, which is deemed 'legitimate defense' under legal scrutiny.

Consequently, this attack does not constitute military aggression against Iran's territory and does not breach the principle of diplomatic immunity.

Therefore, most governments refrained from condemning the attack.

Had the Islamic Republic only offered consular services at the consulate, as mandated, or had the IRGC commanders, who openly endorse Hamas's war with Israel, refrained from holding military meetings there, such an attack might not have occurred.

Attacking a location with diplomatic immunity is illegal, yet attacking a place where such immunity is abused for military planning against a third country is deemed lawful.

Utilizing civilian premises for military purposes, including residential areas, hospitals, medical centers, and schools, is considered a major international crime under criminal law, known as a 'war crime,' and may be subject to prosecution.

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