Hassan Shateri, the Iranian general whose killing was reported last week, was actually slain last month in an alleged IAF airstrike that was said to have targeted a weapons convoy heading from Syria to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Britain’s Sunday Times reported.
Iran was quick last week to blame “mercenaries and supporters” of Israel for Shateri’s death, although it made no indication that he had been killed in the January airstrike. Tehran “will take revenge on Israel for the killing of a Quds Force general in Syria,” said Ali Shirazi, liaison for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force.
Shateri was a high-ranking member of the Quds Force, which is tasked with international operations, and was instrumental in Iran-Hezbollah relations, overseeing the reconstruction of Hezbollah’s armaments in the wake of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Sunday’s report said.
For Israel, he was long a “prime target,” according to an Israeli security figure quoted by The Times.
The report described how, despite the tight security surrounding Shateri, Israeli agents spotted him in Damascus and trailed him as he boarded the convoy headed for Lebanon, after which the airstrike option was utilized.
According to Israeli and Western defense officials quoted by the foreign press at the time, the convoy was delivering Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles that, in Hezbollah’s hands, would be considered game-changing in that they would disrupt Israel’s ability to carry out reconnaissance flights over Lebanon.
But according to Sunday’s report, even the specter of advanced surface-to-air weaponry in the hands of Israel’s sworn enemy would not be sufficient, without further cause, to merit a risky strike deep in Syrian territory.
A senior Israeli source was quoted as saying that Shateri was the real target of the strike and that “a weapons convoy to Lebanon is not on its own a good enough reason for Israel to risk its pilots in an attack through a heavily protected air defense zone.”
Bracing for Iranian relation, Israel has been operating on high security alert, especially internationally, since the January strike, the report said.
Iran condemned the alleged Israeli airstrike at the time, with a top official saying that Israel would regret its “latest aggression” on Syria and calling on the entire Muslim world to defend the Syrian people.
“Just as it regretted its aggressions after the 33-day, 22-day and eight-day wars, today the Zionist entity will regret the aggression it launched against Syria,” said Saeed Jalil, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, evoking past wars between Israel and Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group.
Israel has not officially acknowledged having carried out an airstrike in Syria, although Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to Israeli involvement, saying, “What happened in Syria… that’s proof that when we say something we mean it.”