"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)

Lübnan Marunîleri / Yasin Atlıoğlu


Monday, April 01, 2024

Who was Mohammad Reza Zahedi, killed by Israel in Damascus? -L'Orient Today

 On Monday April 1, the Syrian capital was once again the target of a strike attributed to Israel. The strike came on a wave of increasing and deadly Israeli attacks targeting leaders of the "Axis of Resistance" in the country. As usual, Tel Aviv did not comment on the strike, which reportedly flattened an annex of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, according to AFP. At least seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were killed, according to Iranian media, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

Who was Mohammad Reza Zahedi?

Zahedi is believed to be the most senior Iranian representative ever killed on Syrian soil, often accompanying the IRGC Commander-in-Chief on his trips to the Levant. This high-ranking member of the elite al-Quds force led the air and ground forces of this branch of the Revolutionary Guards, which specializes in operations abroad. According to analysts, he also coordinated for years with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad — being one of the first Iranian Revolutionary Guards sent to Syria to suppress the peaceful revolution of 2011 — and Hezbollah in Lebanon — Beirut was his place of residence, or so Western governments believed.

The military official was in charge of a unit of the al-Quds forces which, among other things, transferred precision weapons and ammunition to Lebanon. He was also on the US secondary sanctions list and targeted by UN sanctions relating to Iran's nuclear and ballistic proliferation.

According to some media reports, Mohammad Reza Zahedi was at the Iranian consulate, where he was killed, to meet with leaders of Islamic Jihad. Iran is at the head of the "Axis of Resistance," of which the Palestinian movement is a member along with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. This network of pro-Iranian militias has been active since the start of the war in Gaza to put pressure on Israel and its most loyal ally, the United States, to signal their support for the Palestinian cause and Hamas, but also to force Washington to negotiate directly with Iran.

Why is the strike significant?

Attacking a diplomatic representative, whose premises are normally protected and inviolable, and whose officials enjoy immunity, sends a strong message to the Islamic Republic. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, called on the international community to provide a "serious response" to this "violation of all international obligations and conventions."

Israel signaled, with this strike, that no representative of Iran, which feeds the "Axis of Resistance," will be spared, wherever they may be. The strike also comes a day after an attack claimed by Iraqi militias on the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

In the midst of the Gaza war, and while the Lebanese front remains volatile, Israel has been targeting senior leaders in Palestinian factions and Hezbollah across the region. It has also been targeting members of the IRGC, but never as high up as Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

At the end of December 2023, a strike attributed to Israel killed Razi Moussavi, one of the Revolutionary Guards' most senior advisors in Syria and a close associate of the assassinated commander Kassem Soleimani. The man was said to have been the shadowy leader of the Pasdaran, particularly active in Syria and Lebanon, and responsible for the transfer of weapons from Iran to these two countries, as well as to Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian territories. In mid-January, Hojatollah Omidvar, deputy head of military intelligence for the al-Quds force, was killed near Damascus.

What are the consequences of this strike?

The assassination of certain high-ranking officers has already provoked reactions from pro-Iranian militias in the region, and from the Iranian government directly, such as in January, after a series of assassinations of regional network leaders, notably targeting Erbil and northern Syria.

But Teheran, which since the start of the war in Gaza has been keen to avoid a regional escalation, has so far been reluctant to confront the United States and Israel directly, preferring to aim at symbolic targets to appease its domestic audience. The American strike that killed General Kassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020 has still not been "avenged" as the Iranians threatened to do "in due course."

Despite consecutive losses, the Iranian network is certainly equipped to replace its chain of command quickly, but the deputies' effectiveness is sometimes questionable. Esmail Qaani, who took over from Kassem Soleimani after his assassination, has often been criticized for being too self-effacing, particularly in favor of Hezbollah, and for his poor knowledge of the region — whereas his predecessor was a perfect Arabic speaker.

Although he succeeded in getting — almost — all the Iraqi militias to suspend attacks on American interests after the death of three American soldiers in Jordan, this kind of volatile atmosphere could have led the region into a generalized conflict that Iran does not want and would not have been able to fully control.