What was behind Israel’s strike in Syria that killed an Iranian general?

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Report: Iranian general was killed in Israeli strike because he didn’t turn off his phone
By YASSER OKBI/ MAARIV HASHAVUA/01/24/2015
An Iranian general killed in an alleged Israeli air strike last Sunday in Syria may have died because he did not turn off his cellphone. The Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria reported on Saturday that a Hezbollah investigation into the strike found that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi kept his cellphone on in a sensitive area targeted by Israeli intelligence.  According to the report, Allahdadi was in the Quneitra area on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Sunday with Hezbollah personnel at outposts that the Syrians and the Iranian built in order to counter Syrian rebels along with Syrian army forces. A few days before Allahdadi’s visit a joint “operations room” was established with Hezbollah.  Allahdadi reportedly was killed along with his personal assistant, his driver and a more junior Iranian officer.
Eleven people total were killed in the airborne attack, including Jihad Mughniyeh the son of the late Hezbollah military leader and Imad Mughniyeh Mohammed Issa, the head of Hezbollah’s operation in war-torn Syria and Iraq. Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group which is backed by Iran and fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, said six of its members died in the strike.  Following the attack Tehran vowed to strike back. “These martyrdoms proved the need to stick with jihad. The Zionists must await ruinous thunderbolts,” Revolutionary Guards’ chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted on Tuesday as saying by Fars news agency. Israel has not officially confirmed it carried out the strike.

What was behind Israel’s strike in Syria that killed an Iranian general?
By REUTERS/01/24/2015

 Downplaying the attack would offer Tehran a way to avoid a spiral of escalation that neither country needs or wants.
On Sunday, an Israeli drone strike in southern Syria left six Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel dead — including an Iranian senior general and the son of the late external operations chief for Hezbollah. It also left a host of questions in its wake.

 Was the strike a brilliantly executed Israeli disruption of an imminent attack planned by Hezbollah and Iran? Or a routine interdiction of a Hezbollah convoy that inadvertently killed several Iranians and a member of a prominent Hezbollah family?

 Both versions, attributed to unnamed security sources within the Israeli defense establishment, were reported as details of the strike became known. While both are plausible, only one can be right. Though we cannot say which that is, we can point out the distinct purposes both narratives serve.
An Israeli narrative designed to downplay the drone strike and emphasize the inadvertent nature of the Iranian deaths would be an attempt to signal to Iran that the attack didn’t represent a deliberate escalation of the ongoing tensions between the two countries.

 The high toll on the Iranian side has drawn the televised promise of retaliation against Israel from a senior Iranian commander, who pledged the release of “ruinous thunderbolts.”
Downplaying the attack would offer Tehran a way to avoid a spiral of escalation that neither country needs or wants. If Iran acceded to this logic, Israel would have scored a major — if accidental — hit. And it would be spared a response from Iran, for now. The other narrative, that the strike deliberately targeted the Iranian contingent and Hezbollah, is governed by an alternative logic.

 Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, recently declared that Lebanon and Syria are now one unified and geographically contiguous front against Israel. Before the Syrian civil war, no statement along these lines would have been possible, since the Assad regime prevented agressive actions against Israel on its side of the border. But times have changed.
Amid the anarchy of an ongoing civil war, Assad can no longer exercise the sort of control he once did. This could let Iran play a very dangerous game on Israel’s north-eastern flank.
If Hezbollah launched rockets against Israel from inside Syria, Israel might find itself unsure of who to retaliate against. This would be especially the case if Hezbollah managed to obscure the origin of the rockets and the crews that launched them. Thus, from an Iranian perspective, the Syrian front against Israel would be a tremendous gift. From the vantage point of Jerusalem, Israel could ill afford to let this happen. The presence of such a senior Iranian officer in a highly strategic location would have been read by Israel as Iran staking out its territorial claim and preparing for a second front, thus requiring a strong response. This could explain Sunday’s strike.

 That leaves one last question: why attack the Iranians now?
Perhaps, according to the former commander of Israel’s southern front, Yoav Galant, timing was dictated by the Israeli election cycle. As the number two man in the rising Kulanu party, it might be prudent simply to chalk up this claim to his need to challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu’s motivations.

 And perhaps that is all it is. Although Galant has since retracted his accusation, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has examined the record of especially audacious military initiatives in Israel’s history with an eye on the political calendar. What the reporter discovered was that the June 1981 strike against the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak; the 1996 invasion of Lebanon; the 2009 invasion of Gaza; and the 2012 Gaza war were all launched when the incumbent prime minister faced a close election, or there was a political reputation at stake. There’s an organic link between domestic politics and foreign policy in virtually all countries, so this wouldn’t necessarily be a huge surprise. With less than two months to election day, polls now show a slightly leftward tilt away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Whether Galant is right about his motives for the attacks can’t be known. But against the historical background, it’s not impossible that Galant’s claim sheds light on the timing of the strike. One way or the other, tensions between Israel and Iran are certain to rise.