On April 2, 2023, Israel reportedly attacked several targets in Syria’s Homs province associated with the Syrian army and Iran-backed militias. Syrian state media reported that five military personnel were injured in the attack.
A Syrian opposition organization stated that one of the targets attacked was a military base housing Hezbollah operatives.
It was the third attack in four days attributed to Israel, and the ninth on Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria since the beginning of the year.
At the end of last week, Israeli missiles hit Syrian army and the Iranian militia bases west of Damascus. According to sources in the Syrian opposition, five Iranian Revolutionary Guards were killed in the attack.
In an unusual announcement, the Iranians stated officially that Milad Heydari, a military adviser to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed in the strike, which Tehran attributed to Israel. Also unusually, his photo was also published by Iranian media.
According to security sources in Israel, Heydari directed terrorist attacks against Israel. According to Western intelligence sources, he was a senior officer in the IRGC cyber force and was also involved in Hezbollah’s precision missile project. Sources in the Israeli security establishment said the target of the attack was a shipment of electronic components for the project from Iran.
Iran submitted an official protest to the United Nations over the killing of Milad Heydari, and warned of escalation.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed that the attack in Syria was an attempt to divert attention from the internal crisis in Israel.
The inordinate Iranian media coverage of Heydari’s death has led to speculation that he was related to Iranian Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari. Little Iranian media attention has been paid to a second Iranian military adviser, Meghdad Maghani, who was killed at the same time.
Gen. Heydari, commander of the Iranian army’s ground forces, said on April 1, 2023, that Iran will respond strongly to any attack in “a fraction of a second.”
Israel’s security establishment estimates that Iran is seeking ways to respond to Heydari’s death, and sooner rather than later. One estimate is that Iran will try to use drones to attack one of the Israeli-owned ships engaged in transferring goods in the Arabian Sea.
The Iranians may also respond by attacking American bases in Syria and Iraq, such as the base in Tanf, in the border triangle of Syria, Jordan and Iraq, or the Al-Omar base in the gas field east of the Euphrates River in Syria.
Iran is waging a war of attrition against the American military presence in Syria, trying to force the United States to withdraw the approximately 900 soldiers stationed there.
Israel is vigilant regarding Iranian weapons
Israel is greatly concerned about the advanced weapons Iran smuggles into Syria for Hezbollah, especially equipment intended for precision-guided missiles. In recent weeks, Iran has increased the smuggling of electronic components for this project.
Since the Feb. 6, 2023, earthquake in Turkey, Iranian planes have ostensibly delivered “humanitarian aid” to Syria destined for Turkish victims. However, Israel has accurate information about the arms shipments from Iran to Syria, and attacks them as soon as they land in Syrian territory and before the Syrians transfer them to Lebanon.
Israel has a clear operational and intelligence advantage over Syria and uses it to act against Iranian militias and Hezbollah in Syria. However, it refrains from attacking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon to prevent an escalation and deterioration of the security situation that could lead to a round of fighting in Lebanon or to an all-out war, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.