A top Iranian general met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah late last month, following an air strike that killed several operatives in Syria according to Lebanese reports.
Qassem Soleimani, a shadowy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, also visited the graves of Hezbollah fighters killed in the January 18 airstrike on the Golan Heights widely attributed to Israel.
Soleimani traveled to Lebanon a day after the strike, which killed six Hezbollah men and an IRGC brigadier general, Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, according Lebanese media reports.
Israeli media reported at the weekend that Soleimani appointed two Quds Force members to help orchestrate Hezbollah’s response to the strike, last Wednesday, in which two IDF soldiers were killed and 7 injured in a cross-border missile attack.
The January 18 attack highlighted the increasingly public Iranian involvement in Hezbollah’s activities, both in southern Lebanon and in Syria, where the Lebanese group is fighting in that country’s civil war to support the forces of the Assad regime.
Among the dead in the Golan strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was wanted in Europe and the US for terror activities and was assassinated in Syria in February 2008 in an operation believed to have been conducted by Israeli and possibly other Western intelligence agencies.
Soleimani “is thought to have been the mentor of Jihad Mughniyeh,” the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported.
Quoting the news outlet As-Safir, The Daily Star reported Soleimani conducted a meeting with several Hezbollah leaders in his mid-January visit, followed by a visit to the Mughniyeh family home to offer condolences.
“At midnight, the senior commander visited Rawdat al-Shahidayn cemetery in Beirut’s southern suburbs and laid wreaths at the graves of Jihad and Imad Mughniyeh before heading back to Tehran the same night,” it reported.
In photos published in the media, Soleimani is seen kneeling at Jihad Mughniyeh’s grave and reading the Quran.
Mayadeen TV shows images of Iran Intel Chief Qassem Suleimani visiting grave of Jihad Imad Mughniya pic.twitter.com/nxcDyeeEly
— سلطان سعود القاسمي (@SultanAlQassemi) January 29, 2015
Soleimani, commander of the guard’s powerful and secretive Quds Force, has achieved legendary status for his work in Iraq in particular. He is credited with helping the Iraqi military forces and allied Shiite and Kurdish militias win some of their first major victories against the Islamic State group.
Iran openly admits that senior commanders like Soleimani are acting in an advisory role battling Sunni militants in both Iraq and Syria. But the government consistently denies the presence of Iranian combat troops in either country.
On Friday, two days after two Israeli soldier were killed in the Hezabollah retaliatory strike near the northern border, IRGC head General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted by the Iranian IRNA news agency as saying that Iran’s and Hezbollah’s responses to any future Israeli attack would be “the same.”
Wednesday’s attack, in which Major Yochai Kalangel and Staff Sergeant Dor Chaim Nini were killed when anti-tank missiles fired by a Hezbollah unit hit their convoy, was largely seen as a response to the alleged Israeli air raid the previous week near Quneitra.
Both Iran and its proxy Hezbollah effectively outlined a new policy on Friday, according to a report on Channel 2, in which any Israeli operation in Syria would be met with a powerful response.
Both Jafari and Nasrallah touted “new rules of engagement” on Friday during respective remarks in Beirut.
According to the Channel 2 report, Iran was seeking to solidify its hold on southern Syria and open a new front using Hezbollah members operating under an Iranian umbrella.
AP contributed to this report.