An Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer was killed on Friday in an Israeli missile strike that targeted a southern district of the Syrian capital Damascus.
According to Iran’s state-run media, IRGC “advisor” Saeid Alidadi was killed in the airstrikes. Iranian news sites did not give his rank. Iranian and Syrian sources claim the attack was launched by Israel, but there is no official acknowledgement about who was behind the missile strike.
Earlier in the day, Syria’s state news agency SANA, citing a Syrian military source, said the country’s military had downed a number of Israeli missiles launched from the Golan Heights at southern Damascus.
Israel has for years carried out attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that started in 2011.
Since the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas from Gaza, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria and has also struck Syrian army air defenses and some Syrian forces.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have started scaling back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to concerns about Tehran being sucked into a wider regional conflict, sources have told Reuters.The Guards will instead rely more on allied Shiite militia to preserve their sway there, the sources said. Three of the sources said the Guards were once again recruiting Shiite fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan to deploy to Syria, echoing earlier phases of the war when Shiite militias played a part in turning the tide of the conflict.
Mohammad Ebadi, an international relations researcher, described the withdrawal of Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers from Syria as merely a “tactical move,” aimed at protecting the lives of its commanders. He claimed that Iran cannot afford to lose its ranking commanders.
Iran International reported last week that some in Tehran suspect an Israeli infiltration in tracking and pinpointing the whereabouts of senior IRGC officers in Syria.
In one of Israeli attacks, on January 20, five members of the Guards were killed, Iranian state media reported, including a general who ran intelligence for the Quds Force, which is responsible for the Guards’ overseas operations. Another, on December 25 outside Damascus, killed a senior Guards adviser responsible for coordinating between Syria and Iran.
Gregory Brew, an analyst with Eurasia group, a political risk consultancy, told Reuters the failure to protect Iranian commanders had “clearly undermined Iran’s position” but Tehran was unlikely to end its commitment to Syria to preserving its role in Syria.
Moreover, after a January drone attack by an Iranian-backed Iraqi group in Jordan that killed three US soldiers, Washington has vowed to retaliate against targets, that could include IRGC assets in Syria. CBS News, citing US officials, reported on Thursday that the United States had approved plans for multi-day strikes in Iraq and Syria against multiple targets, including Iranian personnel and facilities in those countries.
NBC also reported Thursday that The Biden administration hasn’t yet finalized targets, but it is preparing a “campaign” that could last “weeks.” Citing unnamed officials, NBC said the targets are expected to include Iranian targets outside Iran, and the campaign will involve both strikes and cyber operations.
Earlier in the week, an attack on the headquarters of the IRGC in the “Sayyidah Zainab” area in southern Damascus also killed “a number of Iranian advisers.” Al-Arabiya network has identified the targeted location in Syria as the command center of forces affiliated with the Islamic Republic. Reuters, citing a source close to Iran, reported that the attack targeted a base used by the IRGC. Later, Iran’s ambassador to Syria denied that the IRGC headquarters was hit, while Tasnim news agency in Tehran affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards did confirm the target.
(With reporting by Reuters)