An Israeli security official said on Tuesday that an alleged Israeli helicopter missile strike on the Syrian side of the Golan earlier this week that killed a top Iranian general was aimed at what was believed to be a caravan of low-ranking Hezbollah fighters.
The remarks by the unnamed official to Reuters came despite Israel’s refusal to officially take responsibility for the air attack that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Mohammed Allahdadi. Several others also died in the strike, including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh and head of the Shiite group’s operations in the Syrian Golan Heights, and Mohammed Issa, another senior Hezbollah officer.
“We did not expect the outcome in terms of the stature of those killed – certainly not the Iranian general,” the source was quoted as saying. “We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence.”
“We got the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it was an enemy vehicle and took the shot. We saw this as a limited tactical operation.”
The comments were seen as an apparent attempt by Israel to prevent an escalation in tensions on its northern border as Iran, the major sponsor of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, vowed to avenge the slain general.
“They are almost certain to respond,” the source said of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. “We are anticipating that, but I think it’s a fair assumption that a major escalation is not in the interest of either side.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said that Israel should anticipate “devastating lightning,” according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, and that Iran would widen its support for Muslim fighters in the Middle East “until the final collapse of the Zionist regime.”
Israel refused to comment on the Sunday incident, but has ramped up alertness along the northern border, deploying Iron Dome anti-missile batteries and canceling leave for some soldiers in anticipation of a possible retaliatory strike by Hezbollah.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also joined the chorus of Iranian officials blaming Israel for the airstrike.
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.