Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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Syria Strike - January 2015

By Isaac Gerstman

On Sunday, January 18, 2015, Israel launched a missile attack on a three-car convoy on the Syrian side of Golan Heights killing all the occupants. Israel has long been an ardent believer in carrying out helicopter-borne or more recently UAV-borne missile attacks on high-value moving targets. Obviously, the chances of collateral damage are greatly diminished and the possibility of verifying the presence of the particular target is greatly enhanced, whether through SIGINT, HUMINT and/or IMINT. However, the recent strike is unique even for Israel for a number of reasons, some of which carry geopolitical ramifications that might even risk a further conflagration in the ever volatile Middle East.

Mohammed Ali Allahdadi

Initially, Israeli news outlets followed by international news teams reported that the target of the strike was no other than Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Imad Mughniyeh, the arch-terrorist who was responsible for so many deaths and kidnappings in Lebanon, especially during the 1980s. 

What struck me right away was the fact that Jihad, who was only recently appointed a few months earlier by Hezbollah, was just 26 years old and with little to no operational experience. Despite being the darling of Hassan Nasrallah it beggars belief to think that the Israelis would risk an international operational strike in a neighboring Arab country for such a low-level target. While one Israeli newspaper pointed to the fact that Jihad's funeral was one of the largest in recent memory, attesting to his 'symbolic significance to the movement', I am quite confident that Israeli Military Intelligence was not looking for a symbolic victory when carrying out the strike. 

Also killed in the strike, aside from a number of bodyguards from Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp. ("IRGC"), was Mohammed Issa, a regional Hezbollah commander and Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, a general in the IRGC's Quds Force, an elite unit specialising in special operations outside of Iran.

Stating the Obvious

This was no run-of-the-mill tactical strike. Why? Because the strike was in Syrian sovereign territory; previous strikes in Syria (the 2007 nuclear reactor strike, May 2013 and December 2014 strikes on Damascus Airport warehouses) undoubtedly had the Israeli Prime Minister's approval; it is impossible to carry out a mission like this off-the-cuff since the organisational requirements to prepare such missions are onerous and time-consuming. The helicopter and UAVs reported in the area were not loitering looking for some fortuitous target to strike. This was a well-planned operation and all those killed were, at the very least, the intended targets. The real question is whether they were all the intended targets. While Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi undoubtedly makes a tempting target for Israeli Military Intelligence, the geopolitical risks and ramifications of the strike in such a volatile region on one of the main political faultiness in the Middle East (where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet) makes me wonder whether the real target was Mohammad Ali Allahdadi. 

It has been reported that no other than Gen. Qasim Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's Quds Force was in Lebanon at the time. Gen. Soleimani is one of the most important players in the Middle East and is single-handedly responsible for planning and implementing Iranian extraterritorial military policies, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Jordanian Al Bawaba website claims that "informed Syrian sources" had told the Lebanese daily Al Akbar that Gen. Soleimani "stopped in Damascus about 10 days ago [on January 12th] on his way to Beirut to meet the leadership of the resistance". This would place Gen. Soleimani in Lebanon at the time of the strike. As such, it is reasonable to assume that Gen. Soleimani, Hassan Nasrallah and Mohammad Ali Allahdadi had all met in Beirut. Perhaps the Israelis were hoping that Gen. Soleimani himself was part of that convoy - inspecting positions just as Gen. Soleimani had inspected in Syria and Iraq as part of the IRGC's efforts against ISIL, which had been heavily reported in both the Iranian and Arab press as well as in the Western press.

In any event, one thing is certain. Hezbollah and Iran will be forced to retaliate. While Hezbollah would like its pound of flesh, Iran will be extremely careful to ensure that any such retaliation by Hezbollah does not lead to an all-out confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel. Border skirmish yes, war no. 

Iran on the other hand will be looking to exact its revenge on a different front altogether. Either way, it is not in Iran or Hezbollah’s interest to open a new front with Israel due to their commitments fighting ISIL and Syrian rebels in Syria and combatting ISIL in Iraq.


  1. Excellent start to your blog!

    I think we are seeing the first response to the Israeli strike. The border attack by Hezbollah today has clearly been authorised at the most senior levels within that organisation. Whether Hezbollah will be satisfied with the attack or will seek more Israeli 'blood' over the next few days/weeks has yet to be seen, but Iran have their own 'pride' to assuage and their response in my opinion is likely to be against an Israeli overseas target.

  2. I agree Noah. Iran will want to strike Israel away from the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border. I expect to see an attack on an Israeli soft target in Africa or Asia, say an attack on an Israeli diplomat or businessman or perhaps Israeli backpackers.