IDF names Iranian general as mastermind of thwarted drone attack plot

Launching Persian-language social media accounts, army says Javad Ghafari, from IRGC’s Quds Force, is overseeing Tehran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria

In this photo from June 30, 2018, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, who heads the IRGC's Quds Force, attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the guard's officers in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this photo from June 30, 2018, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, who heads the IRGC's Quds Force, attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the guard's officers in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Launching new Persian-language social media accounts, the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday identified an Iranian general as the mastermind behind a thwarted drone attack against Israel from Syria.

The army said Javad Ghafari, a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, oversees Iranian forces in Syria and is in charge of Tehran’s efforts to establish a military presence in the country.

“Tens of thousands of Shiites from various nations are operating under Ghafari in Syria,” the IDF said in a statement.

The army said Ghafari was in charge of a cell in Syria that planned to fly explosives-laden drones at Israeli territory, which the IDF thwarted over the weekend.

The statement was the first released by the IDF’s new Persian-language social media channels. The military said its newly launched Instagram, Twitter and Telegram channels were “official information platforms designed for an Iranian audience.”

A chart released by the Israel Defense Forces on August 27, 2019, shows Iran Quds force chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Brig. Gen. Javad Ghafar, who the IDF says oversaw an Iranian plan to launch drone attacks on Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Alongside the Persian-language statement statement, the IDF published an organizational chart that showed the links between Quds Force head Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Ghafari and the two Hezbollah fighters that were killed in the Israeli strike on Saturday night.

At least five people were killed in the raid, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Israel identified two of those killed as Lebanese nationals Hassan Yousef Zabeeb, 23, from the town of Nabatieh, and Yasser Ahmad Daher, 22, of Blida, both of whom were Hezbollah members.

The military on Monday distributed photographs of the two men traveling together on Iran’s Mahan airline, which Israel and the United States have identified as a major transporter of weaponry and materiel to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon. It said Zabeeb and Daher were working under the direct command of Soleimani.

The IDF chief of staff had previously blamed Soleimani for the plot.

On Saturday night, the Israeli military said its strike targeted operatives from the Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives. The Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent,” the army said, prompting the Israeli Air Force to take action and bomb their base. A satellite image distributed by Israeli private intelligence firm ImageSat International showed that the compound had been completely destroyed.

An IDF spokesman said the military has been monitoring the Iranian plot for “a number of weeks,” and that Israeli forces near the Syrian border had been put on high alert.

On Sunday night, the IDF released footage of what it said was another failed attempt by the Iran-backed fighters to launch an explosives-laden drone into northern Israel from Syria on Thursday. The military said it foiled that attempt to launch the unmanned aerial vehicle, but declined to specify how.

Hassan Yousef Zabeeb, left, and Yasser Ahmad Daher, two Hezbollah members killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria to thwart a plot to launch armed drones into Israel, seen flying to Iran from Lebanon in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday threatened retaliatory attacks against Israel in the wake of the Syria strike and after two UAVs crashed in and around the terror group’s Beirut offices — an incident also blamed on the Jewish state.

“From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, be prepared and wait for us,” said the Hezbollah leader in a televised address, taunting that a retaliation could come in “one day, two days, three days…”

Soleimani also threatened to retaliate against Israel, saying the “insane operations will surely be the last steps of the Zionist regime.”

Israel was also blamed for a Monday strike on a Palestinian site deep in Lebanon and a Sunday raid against a pro-Iran militia in Iraq.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon, Nasrallah and Soleimani to “be careful” with their words and actions.

IDF footage of what the army says are Iranian operatives attempting to launch an explosives-laden drone into northern Israel from a Syrian border town on August 22, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu told a conference in Jerusalem that Nasrallah “knows very well that the State of Israel knows how to defend itself well, and to repay its enemies.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that senior US officials were putting pressure on Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah in order to avoid an escalation in violence, and were also attempting to defuse potentially explosive tensions.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the Lebanese government asked for Moscow to help “prevent a further escalation of tensions between Israel and Lebanon.”

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