The Iranian press has reported that 18 senior officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been killed in Syria since 2012. That four of those deaths came in close succession from October 8-18 – one, just before a major offensive – is suggestive. Either Tehran’s involvement in the war is a lot deeper and broader than has been admitted; or its top officers are being targeted for assassination.
Interestingly, the victims were not selected at random but for maximum effect. They were not just important generals, but officers in key positions whose loss set back broader prospects of the war and therefore concerned Moscow as well as Damascus.
Although some hints were thrown out about Israel’s hand in these assassinations, it must be said that Jerusalem keeps to strict red lines in its targeted assassinations. Ignoring their importance for operational missions in Syria, Israel is exclusively concerned with the extent of the damage Iranian commanders present to its national security. Its targets therefore fall into two categories:
1. Officers who are engaged in building a joint terror network with Syria and Hizballah for cross-border strikes into Israel. For example, on Jan. 18, Israeli drones assassinated Gen. Ali Allah Dadi when he traveled in the Quneitra district of the Syrian Golan with a group of Hizballah commanders. They were checking out sites for installing the 90th Brigade of the Syrian army in positions that would serve as a launching pad for Palestinian, Druze and Lebanese terrorist squads to hit IDF military bases and civilian settlements on the Israeli Golan.
Iranian officers moving hardware for Hizballah are fair Israeli targets
Last week, the Iranian media reported that a senior Iranian commander, IRGC Col. Nader Hamid, died of wounds suffered in battle in the same Quneitra region.
That was the first time a second Iranian military presence had been reported in that border town directly opposite IDF positions.
But the location of his death was not conclusive evidence of the hand behind it. Strong suspicion fell on the Syrian rebels fighting in the district, who were presumably tipped off to his presence with the Syrian army and Hizballah units and laid an ambush to kill him.
2. Officers organizing high-tech weaponry shipments, including missiles, to Hizballah. These kinds of operations have never succeeded in completely cutting off the flow of Iranian weapons to Lebanon via Syria and so their usefulness to Israel was peripheral. Most of this hardware is smuggled through in Hizballah trucks or armored vehicles on the move between Lebanon and Syria, which Israel never attacks.
Iran recently managed to transfer from Syria to Lebanon the Pantsir-S1, which NATO calls the SA-22 Greyhound. It is a short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system, designed for use against aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles, precision munitions and helicopters.
Israel’s aerial tactics revamped since Pantsyr (Greyhound) reached Hizballah
The Pantsir-S1 serves for the protection of air defense units from precision munitions, especially at low range, the very weapons used hitherto by the Israeli Air Force to strike Hizballah and other terrorist targets in Lebanon. It took years to perfect this form of attack. But now, the delivery of the Pantsir has forced Israel to revamp these methods of attack in Lebanon.
DEBKA Weekly has obtained the list of the five Iranian officers killed this month in Syria.
Col. Moslem Khizab, commander of the Ya Zahra Battalion of the 14th “Imam Hossein” Division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Isfahan, was killed in fighting in northwest Syria. He was the fifth IRGC officer to lose his life in this group.
Nader Hamid, from the IRGC’s paramilitary Bassij force, died of injuries suffered in battle. He was responsible for organizing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s paramilitary forces.
Maj-Gen. Farshad Hasounizadeh, former commander of the IRGC’s special forces Saberin Brigade, died on Oct. 12.
Brig. Hamid Mokhtarband, another high-ranking IRGC commander and former chief of staff of the 1st Brigade in Ahvaz, died the same day.
Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani, deputy chief of the IRGC’s Al Qods Brigades under Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was killed Oct. 8 near Aleppo. Hamedani is the most senior Iranian general to die in the Syrian war.
Since none of the generals slain this month dealt with the matters related to Israel, it may be assumed that someone else is running surveillance on specific Iranian generals and tipping off certain rebel forces on their whereabouts for hits.
Assad turns a blind eye to regular Damascus-Raqqa bus service
DEBKA Weekly’s sources have no confirmed information on who these tipsters are, but there is no shortage of likely candidates when American, Russian, Turkish, Jordanian and Israeli special forces units are all digging for this kind of information.
Any one of these units may have put the rebels up to knocking off an Iranian officer in order to sabotage the anticipated attack on Aleppo by Russian, Iranian, Syrian, and Hizballah troops.
It is also important to note the close intelligence ties some Syrian rebel groups maintain with the Islamic State. Their cooperation serves many purposes, such as supporting the logistics for moving and selling oil from the Syrian fields commandeered by ISIS, or mutual trade in weapons.
This may sound crazy, but the Assad regime turns a blind eye to a daily bus service which runs regularly between Damascus and the ISIS central command post at Raqqa.
The checkpoints on the road to Damascus maintained by the Syria army and the rebels are both clearly under orders from their superiors to let the bus through without interference.
This bus service would be an ideal conduit for Syrian rebels and ISIS to swap information on the whereabouts of Iranian commanders. The jihadis have thus been enabled to accomplish an objective which eluded them in Iraq, namely, assassinations of Iranian commanders.