‘Strike targeted Hezbollah bid to set up missile bases on Golan’

Hezbollah goal was to fire at Israel without sparking war in Lebanon, Israeli TV report says; Iranian commander warns of ‘destructive thunderbolts’ in response

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Lebanese Hezbollah supporters carry the coffin of Jihad Mughniyeh, killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike,  during his funeral in a southern Beirut suburb on January 19, 2015. (photo credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)
Lebanese Hezbollah supporters carry the coffin of Jihad Mughniyeh, killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike, during his funeral in a southern Beirut suburb on January 19, 2015. (photo credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

The reported Israeli strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Sunday, in which an Iranian general and several leading Hezbollah figures were killed, targeted a Hezbollah project to establish missile bases in the area from which to strike at Israel, an Israeli TV report said Tuesday night.

The report, which quoted Lebanese media and sources, seemed to confirm an earlier story in the London Times which said the Iranian general killed, Mohammed Ali Allahdadi, was a ballistic missile expert who was visiting Syria as part of a project to set up the missile bases near the border with Israel.

Israel’s Channel 2, quoting Lebanese sources, said Jihad Mughniyeh, son of late Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh and head of the Shiite group’s operations in the Syrian Golan Heights, and Mohammed Issa, another senior Hezbollah officer, were overseeing the establishment of the missile bases. Issa was responsible for coordinating the transfer of missiles from Syria, Lebanon and Iran to be emplaced in the area.

The idea was to enable Hezbollah to strike at Israel without doing so from Lebanon and thus without sparking a repeat of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, the report said.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Jihad Mughniyeh (photo credit: @khamenei_ir, Twitter)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Jihad Mughniyeh (photo credit: @khamenei_ir, Twitter)

Israel has not taken formal responsibility for the strike, but a senior Iranian commander on Tuesday warned of imminent “devastating thunderbolts” in response to the strike.

“These martyrdoms prove that we should not distance ourselves from the jihad, the Zionists should prepare themselves for our devastating thunderbolts. They have experienced our rage in the past,” said Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ highest-ranking commander, in a statement released to the state media on Tuesday.

According to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, Jafari also said Iran would widen its support for Muslim fighters in the Middle East “until the final collapse of the Zionist regime.”

The Israeli cabinet met earlier Tuesday to prepare possible responses to any escalation across the border. Some roads near the Lebanon border have been closed, and farmers told not to work their fields. Israeli forces in the area have also been bolstered, the TV report said. Security details in northern communities were reportedly put on high alert, although residents near the Syrian and Lebanese borders have not been given special warnings or instructions.

General Allahdadi, whom Tehran acknowledged was killed in the missile strike near the Syrian city of Quneitra along with several Hezbollah fighters, was tasked with building four new Hezbollah missile bases near the Israel-Syria frontier, the London Times report said.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed that Allahdadi was dispatched to Syria “provide military advice to Syrian government and nation in their war with Takfirist and Salafist (radical Sunni) terrorists, and provided valuable analysis and advice in neutralizing the plots of this Zionist-backed conspiracy in the Syrian soil.”

Iranian general Mohammad Ali Allahdadi (Photo credit: Facebook)
Iranian general Mohammad Ali Allahdadi (Photo credit: Facebook)

Israeli defense officials said earlier Tuesday the country was on high alert for possible attacks from Hezbollah.

Officials said the country had boosted deployment of its Iron Dome missile defense system along its border with Lebanon, and has increased surveillance activities in the area.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps website on Monday said that Allahdadi and “a number of fighters and Islamic Resistance (Hezbollah) forces were attacked by the Zionist regime’s helicopters.”

A Hezbollah source said Monday that a reprisal attack would be severe, but not all-out war.

Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke with Nasrallah by telephone and offered his condolences for the deaths of the Hezbollah fighters, according to a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai.

Israel’s Channel 2 said Nasrallah was also phoned by Iran parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, and that both he and Assad warned the Hezbollah leader not to respond in a fashion that would spark a major new conflict.

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, the country’s former prime minister, also sent a letter of condolence to Nasrallah, saying “the Zionist criminals and vampires must know that the pure blood of the martyrs, like Jihad Imad Mughniyeh, will augment the resistance in face of oppression, corruption and tyranny,” according to Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet al-Manar.

Former Shin Bet chief and Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that Hezbollah likely suffered a serious blow with the death of its commanders in the airstrike on Sunday.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a very emotional element for Hezbollah because of what they’re calling the death of ‘the prince,'” Peri said. “The Iranians who direct Hezbollah, and Hezbollah itself, are also doing things that the political echelon needs to examine,” he said, without elaborating.

“I’m confident that these things are being evaluated,” said Peri, who resigned from his post as science and technology minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in December.

Former IDF intelligence chief and would-be Labor defense minister Amos Yadlin told Israel Radio that Hezbollah would likely prefer to exact vengeance against Israel as far as possible from the border with Lebanon, and that its response would not necessarily be immediate.

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