April 20, 2024

Mohammed Reza Zahedi, the top commander in the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for Lebanon and Syria was assassinated in an airstrike on Monday, along with his lieutenant and about five other officers, the IRGC said that night. 

Zahedi is the highest-ranking Iranian killed since the current war started, even higher than Sayyed Reza Mousavi, killed in December, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Reuters reporters at the site in the Mezzeh district of Damascus saw emergency workers clambering atop the rubble of a destroyed building inside the diplomatic compound, adjacent to the main embassy building. Emergency vehicles were parked outside. An Iranian flag hung from a pole in front of the debris.

The Syrian foreign minister and interior minister were both spotted at the scene. Initial reports indicated that at least six people were killed in the strike, which targeted the building adjacent to the Iranian consulate, reported to be used as a military command center for the IRGC. Syrian state media said at least six people were killed and several more were injured. These reports could not be verified by press time.

Besides his wide-ranging responsibilities for terror on Israel’s borders, Zahedi was the highest-level interlocutor for Tehran with Hezbollah.

Smoke rises after what the Iranian media said was an Israeli strike on a buidling close to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria April 1, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/FIRAS MAKDESI)

This means that although Israel has not taken credit, Iran and Hezbollah are already accusing Jerusalem of escalating Israel’s war against Iran’s regional proxies, since removing Zahedi could be seen as a blow to the management of the Lebanese terror groups’ rocket attacks on Israel.

Iranian press reported that Zahedi was meeting with leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad at the time of the strike, but these reports could not be independently verified.

Zahedi commanded the Quds Force’s Unit 18000, responsible, among other things, for smuggling ammunition and precision weapons into Lebanon. He had also commanded the IRGC’s Air Force and Imam Hussein Division in the past.Israel has long targeted Iranian military installations and those of its proxies in Syria and has ramped up those strikes in parallel with its campaign against Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Monday’s attack was the first time the vast embassy compound itself had been hit.

Israel typically does not comment on attacks by its forces on Syria. Asked about the strike, an Israeli military spokesperson said: “We do not comment on reports in the foreign media.”

Iranian FM, embassy in Lebanon respond: “breach of all international conventions”

The Iranian Embassy in Syria said in a statement that “F-35 planes fired six missiles at the Iranian consulate in Damascus” and that “the exact number and names of those killed will be published following the clearing-out of the rubble.”

Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari, who was not injured, said at least five people had been killed in the attack and that Tehran’s response would be “harsh.”

The Iranian Embassy in Lebanon said that the “barbaric Israeli aggression is a flagrant violation of international laws, diplomatic norms, and the requirements of the Vienna Convention.”

In a call with the Syrian foreign minister on Monday, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that Tehran holds Israel responsible for the consequences of the attack, Iran’s state media reported on Monday.

The strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus is “a breach of all international conventions,” Amirabdollahian added.

The White House said Monday night that it was “aware” of the reports, and would not comment if it views the strike as an escalation of tensions. The State Department said it will wait for more information to draw conclusions but that they are worried about anything that would cause the conflict to expand or widen in any way.

On Friday, Israel carried out its deadliest strikes in months on northern Syria’s Aleppo province and killed a senior Hezbollah fighter in Lebanon. It has also regularly struck the airports in Aleppo and Damascus in an attempt to halt Iran’s weapons transfers to its proxies.

The IDF said on Monday it had stopped advanced weapons, including shrapnel charges and anti-tank mines, from being smuggled into the West Bank from Iran.

It said the weapons were uncovered during an operation against a Lebanese-based operative of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who it said was recruiting agents to smuggle weapons and carry out attacks in the West Bank.

Hannah Sarisohn in New York contributed to this developing story.