U.N. Debate: Israeli Attack on Iranian Site in Syria

On April 2, 2024, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the Israeli airstrike on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus that killed three Revolutionary Guard generals and four other military officers. The majority of countries on the 15-member council condemned the attack, which was carried out by two U.S.-made warplanes on April 1. Secretary General António Guterres “reaffirms that the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel must be respected in all cases in accordance with international law,” his spokesperson said.

Russia and China – permanent members of the Security Council who have strong military or economic ties with Iran – denounced the attack. China’s Deputy Ambassador Geng Shuang described the strike as “a grave violation of the U.N. Charter and international law” and a breach of both Syrian and Iranian sovereignty. Russia called for a united denunciation of the attack to deter future strikes on diplomatic facilities by any nation. “This is not the first attack carried out by Israel in the densely populated area of Damascus… If we don’t reaffirm this position of solidarity, next time, the diplomatic mission by any State can be targeted by an air raid,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the world body.

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Western powers--including the United States, Britain and France--declined to comment on the details of the attack, although they concurred that diplomatic facilities should not be targets, even in wartime. Envoys from Britain and France emphasized the broader need for de-escalation across the Middle East. The following are excerpts of statements before and during from the meeting by countries on the U.N. body.


 U.N. Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric

 “The Secretary-General condemns the attack on diplomatic premises of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Damascus on 1 April, as well as the reported casualties. The Secretary-General reaffirms that the principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises and personnel must be respected in all cases in accordance with international law.

“He also reminds all parties to respect all their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, as applicable. He also repeats his calls on all concerned to avoid attacks that could harm civilians and damage civilian infrastructure. The Secretary-General further calls on all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and avoid further escalation. He cautions that any miscalculation could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region, with devastating consequences for civilians who are already seeing unprecedented suffering in Syria, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the broader Middle East.”


Assistant U.N. Secretary General Khaled Khiari

 “Any miscalculation could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region, with devastating consequences for civilians who are already seeing unprecedented suffering in Syria, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the broader Middle East.”


British Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki

 “We underline the importance of respect for the inviolability of diplomatic premises and protection of diplomatic and consular staff for the proper conduct of diplomatic relations. The safety and security of diplomatic premises and staff is a fundamental principle guiding diplomatic relations.

“We are clear that Iran’s role in destabilizing the region, through its military, financial and political support to groups which have been conducting and threatening attacks, is unacceptable. Amongst the groups which Iran has continued to support are Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, militias in Syria and Iraq, and the Houthis. As well as attacking Israel, these groups have been responsible for the attacks against international shipping, including the deaths of innocent mariners and attacks against international forces in Iraq and Syria. Our Foreign Secretary has raised repeatedly with his Iranian counterpart the need for this support to cease and for Iran to use its influence over the groups to prevent their attacks.


“The UK is deeply concerned about the potential for escalation in the region and calls on all parties to reduce tensions. We are committed to de-escalation in the Middle East. We have long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause in Gaza leading to a sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life, as the fastest way to get hostages out and aid in. This Council sent a clear signal on this just last week when it passed resolution 2728. We stand ready to work with all members of this Council and the international community to promote and protect international peace and security in the region and throughout the world.


French Ambassador Nicholas de Riviere

“Strikes yesterday in Damascus have taken place in a context of heightened tensions in Syria and the region.

“Since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, Iran and its regional partners have borne a heavy responsibility for this escalation. Civilian populations remain the front line victims, and the security of states in the region is directly threatened by this escalation. Our collective responsibility is therefore to do everything we can to ease tensions. All actors in the region must show restraint.

“For its part, France will continue to work to prevent a regional spillover. In coordination with our partners, we are working towards of de-escalation, in the Security Council and elsewhere wherever necessary.

“That is the case in Lebanon, where we have warned against any threats for escalation. The parties must urgently work for the full implementation of Resolution 1701. In our discussions with parties, we have called for a cessation of hostilities. UNIFIL has a crucial role to play in this context, and we welcome its action in these difficult circumstances.

“Given the very disturbing situation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, France recalls its commitment to freedom of navigation. We firmly condemn destabilizing actions carried out by the Houthis, these actions must stop. France will continue to do its part to ensure security in the Red Sea.

“Finally, in Syria, France calls for the implementation of resolution 2254, adopted unanimously by this Council, and deplores the refusal of the Damascus regime, supported by its Russian and Iranian allies, to commit to a credible and inclusive political process. The Syrians continue to pay the price of this refusal.”

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne (in Paris)

 “There are a number of stakeholders who obviously are trying to expand the conflict in the north of Israel and in the Red Sea... So the escalation is entirely their responsibility…The whole purpose of our action is to prevent this escalation. And we will accordingly not comment on what happened.”


Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia

“We condemn this attack in the strongest terms. We regard as categorically unacceptable any attacks on diplomatic and consular facilities, the inviolability of which is guaranteed by the relevant Vienna Conventions of 1961 and 1963.

“We should like to draw particular attention to the fact that this is not the first attack by Israel Israel in the densely populated Damascus metropolitan area, which has posed high risks of mass civilian casualties. Since the beginning of the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation on October 7, 2023, the number of Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure of Syria and neighboring countries has multiplied. On the night of March 29, the Israeli aviation carried out missile strikes on various facilities in the vicinity of Aleppo. Dozens of people fell victims to that attack, many were injured. Earlier, on March 28, two civilians were injured after an Israeli airstrike in Damascus Province. On March 17 and 19, Israeli bombardments were already launched from the occupied Syrian Golan and aimed at the northeastern and southern suburbs of Damascus.

“In the past few months alone, Israeli aircraft have repeatedly attacked the international airports in Damascus and Aleppo, which serve as the main gateways for the entry of United Nations humanitarian aid into Syria, as well as the areas of Deir ez-Zor and Abu Kemal, where the Syrian military continues its persistent struggle against the remaining fighters of terrorist groups to whom our American colleagues, contrary to their high-sounding statements, are in fact providing tutelage and patronage. But we will leave that to a Security Council meeting on Syria.

“The Russian Federation strongly condemns the ongoing raids against the sovereign territory of Syria, viewing them as a flagrant violation of SAR’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We believe that such aggressive actions by Israel, which are designed to further fuel the conflict, are absolutely unacceptable and must stop

“We urge West Jerusalem to abandon the practice of provocative military actions on the territory of Syria and other neighboring countries, which are fraught with extremely dangerous risks and consequences for the entire region, which has already been destabilized by the six months of escalation of violence around Gaza.

“We call on the international community to unequivocally condemn Israel's reckless actions, which violate the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic and the inviolability of diplomatic property. We consider it necessary for all responsible members of the international community to provide an objective legal assessment of Israel's aggression in the Middle East, which ignores not only the provisions of the UN Charter and relevant UNSC and UNGA resolutions, but also the fundamental principles of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.

“Colleagues, I hope for solidarity among the members of the Security Council that attacks on diplomatic institutions are unacceptable. After all, unless we confirm this solidarity, whatever the next raid will be, it may target a diplomatic mission of any state. We trust that each of you today will give a fair assessment to Israel's actions against the Iranian diplomatic presence.


Chinese Deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang

“This was a grave violation of the UN Charter and international law… a breach of the sovereignty of both Syria and Iran…The red line of international law and the basic norms of international relations has been breached time and again.”


Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin (from Beijing)

 “China condemns the attack on the Iranian Embassy in Syria. The security of diplomatic institutions should not be violated and Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected. Amid the ongoing turbulence in the Middle East, we oppose any act that would escalate the tensions.”


 South Korean Deputy Ambassador Sangjin Kim

“History tells us that an unexpected event could expand into irrecoverable tragedies.”


Ecuador’s U.N. Ambassador Javier De La Gasca Lopez Domínguez

 “Nothing justifies these types of attacks.”


 Slovenian Ambassador Samuel Žbogar

“We continue to see other extremely concerning incidents in the region, including the one in Damascus yesterday… It should be in no one’s interest to have further dangerous escalation in the Middle East.”


 Malta’s U.N. Ambassador Vanessa Frazier

“From Damascus, to Gaza, the Red Sea to the Blue Line, all our diplomatic expertise and collective leverage must be brought to bear to quell the flames of war before they are fanned out of control… Cool heads must prevail, or the consequences will be catastrophic.”