An alleged Israeli airstrike Sunday near Syria’s Quneitra border crossing with Israel that killed six members of Hezbollah also killed six Iranians, a source close to the Lebanese Shiite terror group told AFP on Monday.
“The Israeli strike killed six Iranian soldiers, including commanders, as well as the six members of Hezbollah. They were all in a convoy of three cars,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iranian general Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was among those killed in the strike, Iranian officials said.
“General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and a number of fighters and Islamic Resistance (Hezbollah) forces were attacked by the Zionist regime’s helicopters,” said a statement on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) website.
“This brave general and some members of Hezbollah were martyred.”
The statement did not name further Iranian nationals among the dead.
According to Israel’s Channel 10 Allahdadi, who had previously commanded Iran’s forces in the country’s Yazd province, had recently been reassigned to Syria to provide support for Shiite militias fighting for President Bashar Assad.
The operatives killed in the strike included Abu Ali Tabatabai, who Channel 10 called the head of the group’s offensive operations; Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah commander killed in Damascus in 2008; and Mohammed Issa, responsible for the organization’s operations in Syria and Iraq.
Tabatabai’s identity was disputed: Channel 10 reported that Tabatabai was the most senior official killed in the group, and was likely the primary target of the Israeli strike. According to its report Tabatabai was considered a central Hezbollah figure and was charged with planning the group’s offensive on Israel’s northern border in a future war — including the invasion and takeover of northern Israeli communities.
Meanwhile other outlets, including Israel Radio and Walla News, had Tabatabai as an Iranian officer and a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, sent to assist Hezbollah in an advisory position.
As for Mughniyeh, Dubai-based news outlet Al-Arabiyah reported that he was under the command of Issa, who was responsible for Hezbollah’s forces and fortifications on the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights.
The bases they commanded in Syria contained missiles belonging to the Syrian regime, as well as missiles sent by Iran and Hezbollah. Those weapons were meant to be used in “a new front” with Israel if Assad were to fall, the report said.
As the son of slain Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh, and with close personal connections to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the commander of the Iranian Republican Guard’s special forces unit, Qassem Soleimani, Jihad Mughniyeh was known as “the Prince” within the Lebanese terror organization.
Sources in Hezbollah said on Monday that retaliation for the airstrike was inevitable, but would be restrained enough to not provoke a war.
The Lebanese daily As-Safir, which is identified with Hezbollah, cited sources close to the group as saying that it would choose a time and place to hit back, but would do so in a manner that wouldn’t cause an escalation in the conflict.
The attack would “be answered with an appropriately painful and unconventional response. However, it will likely be controlled so as not to expand into all-out war,” the Hezbollah sources told As-Safir.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in response to the strike that Tehran condemned “all actions of the Zionist regime [of Israel] as well as all acts of terror.”
Although there was no official conformation that Israel was behind the attack, an unnamed Israeli security source told AFP that an Israeli helicopter had conducted a strike against “terrorists” near Quneitra, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
In late December the IRGC claimed that its troops had been along Lebanon’s border with Israel.
A Twitter account associated with the Guards tweeted the statement along with several pictures of Iranian soldiers posing with uniformed Lebanese counterparts.
A report by MEMRI, a US-based Middle Eastern media watchdog, tracked the photos to a December 17 blog post affiliated with the Iranian Army, and noted that the pictures were taken in the Beqaa and Baalbek regions of southern Lebanon.
انتشار رزمندگان سپاه پاسداران انقلاب اسلامى در مرز فلسطين اشغالى pic.twitter.com/stMp0hr7Rf
— سپاه پاسداران (@IRGCnetwork) December 25, 2014
The soldiers in the pictures could be seem wearing military fatigues that included patches of the flags of Iran and Hezbollah.
The pictures from the blog post — which was titled “We are arriving… near the Mother of Corruption, the accursed Israel; soon we will pass over their bodies, Allah willing” — were stamped with the date October 24, 2014.
Elhanan Miller, Stuart Winer and AP contributed to this report.