Who was the Iranian military commander killed in the Damascus strike?

Gen. Mohammed Zahedi. (X)
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Updated 03 April 2024
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Who was the Iranian military commander killed in the Damascus strike?

  • Mohammad Reza Zahedi is the highest-ranking Iranian military commander to be killed since Qassem Soleimani’s elimination in 2020
  • Fears grow of an open Israel-Iran confrontation, with Syria and Lebanon as the possible main battlegrounds

LONDON: Born on Nov. 2, 1960, in Isfahan, central Iran, Mohammad Reza Zahedi was a contemporary and close friend of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the 62-year-old commander of the Quds Force, who was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, on Jan. 3, 2020.

Soleimani had enrolled in what was then the newly formed Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, better known as the IRGC, in 1979, at the age of 22. Zahedi joined the IRGC the following year, when he was 20, at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War.

Both men rose to prominence in the ranks of the special-operations Quds Force over the ensuing eight years of the conflict.




Emergency and security personnel inspect the rubble at the site of strikes which hit a building next to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus. (AFP)

It was Soleimani who appointed Zahedi commander of the Quds Force Lebanon Corps in 1998, a position he held until 2002, and to which he was reappointed in 2008. He was responsible for organizing support for the regime of President Bashar Assad during the Syrian civil war, and overseeing shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah via Syria.

Like Soleimani before him, on Monday night Zahedi met his end in a sudden and devastating missile attack, with no warning of his imminent demise. He was 63.

According to the IRGC, seven of its personnel, including Zahedi and three other senior officers, died alongside six Syrians in the attack on Monday, which targeted a military building next to the Iranian embassy in Damascus.

The three officers were named as Saeed Izadi, head of the Palestinian Division of the Quds Force in Beirut, Abdolreza Shahlai, commander of IRGC operations in Yemen, and Abdolreza Mosjedzadeh, who oversaw Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Israel has refused to comment on the strike, even to confirm it was involved. The Iranian Embassy said that F-35 planes fired six missiles at the building. Later, The New York Times, citing unnamed Israeli officials who confirmed Israel carried out the attack, described the incident as “a major escalation of what has long been a simmering, undeclared war between Israel and Iran.”

In photographs distributed by the Reuters news agency shortly after the attack, the Iranian embassy — on the fence of which a large poster of Soleimani could be seen hanging — appears relatively undamaged. The building next door had been reduced to a smoking pile of rubble.

Reaction to the attack was rapid. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, who visited the site soon after, said: “We strongly condemn this atrocious terrorist attack that … killed a number of innocents.”

Iran’s mission to the UN condemned it as a “flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, international law, and the foundational principle of the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises,” and said Tehran reserved the right “to take a decisive response.”

Hossein Akbari, Iran’s ambassador to Syria, was unharmed in the attack. He told Iranian state TV that about seven people, including diplomats, had been killed and that Tehran’s response would be “harsh.”

Irani’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, also vowed to retaliate, saying “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

There is a long history of embassies being attacked by enemies, but usually such assaults involve mobs of people or terrorist groups. In 1983, for example, 64 people lost their lives in a suicide-bomb attack on the US Embassy in Beirut carried out by a pro-Iranian group, and in 1998, 223 people died in simultaneous Al-Qaeda truck-bomb attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

It is highly unusual, however, for one state to attack the diplomatic premises or personnel of another and so the strike, not surprisingly, was condemned by nations including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and Russia.

America did not condemn the attack outright but a State Department spokesperson said Washington was “concerned about anything that would be escalatory or cause an increase in conflict in the region.”




Iranians attend an anti-Israel protest at Palestine square in Tehran. (AFP)

It was also quick to issue a statement claiming that “the United States had no involvement in the strike and we did not know about it ahead of time,” while also stressing that the US “communicated this directly to Iran.”

The regime in Tehran appeared to be unconvinced by this, however. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said a Swiss diplomat representing US interests had been summoned by Tehran.

“An important message was sent to the American government, as a supporter of the Zionist regime,” Amir-Abdollahian said in a message posted on social media platform X. “America must give answers.”

The day after the attack, Israeli news media quoted Hezi Simantov, a well-connected Israeli correspondent and commentator on Arab affairs, who predicted that Iran was now “laying the groundwork to strike at Israeli diplomatic representations worldwide, in the Arab world, Europe or the United States or South America.”

The death of Zahedi, he added, “is a severe and painful blow to the Iranian regime, a matter in which the Iranians are more inclined to take revenge against Israel. We have already eliminated several of their senior officials since Oct. 7 on Syrian soil. This is the period when Iran wants to show that it is leading the Axis of Resistance.”




A Russian forces commander visits the governor of Damascus on Monday. Two expressive pictures. (X)

On Tuesday, Iranian state TV reported that the country’s Supreme National Security Council, chaired by the president, Ebrahim Raisi, had decided on a “required” response to the Israeli strike. No further details were given.

Zahedi was the third senior IRGC leader killed since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. His death is the most significant loss suffered by the Quds Force since the assassination of Soleimani four years ago and, before that, the death of Hossein Hamedani in October 2015.

At the time of his death, in an attack by Daesh in Aleppo, Hamedani was the most senior Iranian officer killed overseas since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In December, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, the IRGC logistics chief in Syria, who was responsible for coordinating the military alliance between Syria and Iran, died in a presumed Israeli missile strike on the outskirts of Damascus.

In January, Hujatollah Amidvar, an intelligence operative for the IRGC in Syria, was killed by an airstrike on a compound west of Damascus.

According to the Iranian Mehr News Agency, Zahedi held a series of significant roles within the IRGC. During the Iran-Iraq War, from 1983 to 1988 he commanded the 44th Qamar Bani Hashim Brigade, before going on to lead the 14th Imam Hussein Division between 1988 and 1991.

By 2005, he had become the IRGC’s head of ground forces, a post he held until 2008, and from 2007 until 2015 he was commander of the Syrian and Lebanese branch of the Quds Force, operating in Lebanon under aliases including Hassan Mahdavi and Reza Mahdavi.




Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of commander Ahmed Shehimi, who was killed in an Israeli raid in Syria early on March 29, during his funeral procession in southern Beirut. (AFP)

Zahedi became the target of US sanctions in 2010, when the Department of the Treasury included him on a list of four senior members of the IRGC and Quds Force sanctioned “for their roles in the IRGC-QF’s support of terrorism.”

Described in a Treasury statement on Aug. 3, 2010, as “the commander of the IRGC-QF in Lebanon,” Zahedi was accused of playing “a key role in Iran’s support to Hezbollah.” He “also acted as a liaison to Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence services and is reportedly charged with guaranteeing weapons shipments to Hezbollah.”

The Quds Force has been active in Syria since 2011, when officers were deployed in an advisory role to support the regime of Assad, an ally of Iran, in the wake of the Arab Spring protests and uprisings in the region.

But, as the Council on Foreign Relations later reported, “as the discontent turned to civil war, the Quds Force served not just as military advisers but also on the front lines, fighting alongside Syrian regime forces, Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and Afghan refugees serving in IRGC proxy militias.”




Emergency and security personnel clear damaged cars and rubble at the site of strikes which hit a building annexed to the Iranian embassy in Syria's capital Damascus. (AFP)

It remains to be established beyond doubt whether or not Iran or its Quds Force was involved in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel led by Hamas last year. IRGC officials “may have directly authorized Hamas’s assault and assisted in planning it, though Hamas and the IRGC have insisted that the Palestinian group acted independently,” the Council on Foreign Relations said.

It added that at the very least, Tehran “was likely aware of an impending attack that it had facilitated through decades of support for the Palestinian fighters.”

Either way, it added, “in the ensuing Israel-Hamas conflict, the IRGC has provided arms and other assistance to help its partners in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen to attack Israeli targets in solidarity with Hamas.”

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Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

Updated 21 April 2024
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Israel to summon ambassadors of countries that voted for Palestinian UN membership

  • Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain
  • Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

JERUSALEM: Israel will summon ambassadors of countries that voted for full Palestinian UN membership “for a protest talk” on Sunday, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
It came after the Palestinian Authority said it would “reconsider” its relationship with the United States after Washington vetoed the Palestinian membership bid earlier this week.
Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two — Britain and Switzerland — abstain.

A Palestinian doctor tends to a baby born prematurely after his mother was injured during Israeli bombardment, at the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Only the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.
On Saturday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein said the ministry “will summon for a protest talk the ambassadors of the countries that voted in the Security Council in favor of upgrading the status of the Palestinians in the UN.”
“The ambassadors of France, Japan, South Korea, Malta, the Slovak Republic and Ecuador will be summoned tomorrow for a demarche, and a strong protest will be presented to them,” he said in a post on X.

Blood stains are seen on a wall inside a house following an Israeli raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West bank on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“An identical protest will be presented to additional countries,” he said.
“The unambiguous message that will be delivered to the ambassadors: A political gesture to the Palestinians and a call to recognize a Palestinian state — six months after the October 7 massacre — is a prize for terrorism.”
The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012.
The majority of the UN’s 193 member states — 137, according to a Palestinian count — have recognized a Palestinian state.
 

 


Sudan’s horrific war is being fueled by weapons from foreign supporters of rival generals, UN says

Updated 21 April 2024
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Sudan’s horrific war is being fueled by weapons from foreign supporters of rival generals, UN says

  • The RSF was formed from Janjaweed fighters by former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades before being overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019
  • Mohamed Ibn Chambas, chair of the African Union panel on Sudan and high representative for its Silence the Guns in Africa initiative, called external interference “a major factor compounding both the efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and to stop the war”

UNITED NATIONS: The year-old war in Sudan between rival generals vying for power has sparked “a crisis of epic proportions” fueled by weapons from foreign supporters who continue to flout UN sanctions aimed at helping end the conflict, the UN political chief said Friday.
“This is illegal, it is immoral, and it must stop,” Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council.
Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April 2023, when long-simmering tensions between its military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum. Fighting has spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas and the western Darfur region.
DiCarlo painted a dire picture of the war’s impact — over 14,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, looming famine with 25 million people in need of life-saving assistance, and over 8.6 million forced to flee their homes.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, chair of the African Union panel on Sudan and high representative for its Silence the Guns in Africa initiative, called external interference “a major factor compounding both the efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and to stop the war.”
“As a matter of fact, external support in terms of supply of war materiel and other needs has been the main reason why this war has lasted so long,” Chambas said. “It is the elephant in the room.”
Neither DiCarlo nor Chambas named any of the foreign supporters.
But Burhan, who led a military takeover of Sudan in 2021, is a close ally of neighboring Egypt and its president, former army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. In February, Sudan’s foreign minister held talks in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart amid unconfirmed reports of drone purchases for government forces.
The Rapid Support Forces’ leader, Dagalo, has reportedly received support from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. UN experts said in a recent report that the RSF has also received support from Arab allied communities and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.
The Arab-dominated RSF has carried out brutal attacks in Darfur on ethnic African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit, and has taken control of most of the vast region.
Its newest target appears to be El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. Edem Wosornu, the UN humanitarian office’s director of operations, said RSF-affiliated militias attacked and burned villages west of El Fasher on April 13.
“Since then, there have been continuing reports of clashes in the eastern and northern parts of the city, resulting in more than 36,000 people displaced,” she told the council.
Wosornu warned that “the violence poses an extreme and immediate danger to the 800,000 civilians who reside in El Fasher, and it risks triggering further violence in other parts of Darfur — where more than 9 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.”
Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias, against populations that identify as Central or East African.
That legacy appears to have returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides may be committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.
The RSF was formed from Janjaweed fighters by former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades before being overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.
DiCarlo called for redoubled efforts to bring peace, saying UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, has proposed convening a meeting with African and Arab organizations and key countries “to develop a comprehensive mediation and peacemaking strategy.”
Chambas said the AU is appealing to countries in the region not to support either side.
It is also organizing “an all inclusive political dialogue for Sudanese that will prepare the civilians for post-war transition to democratic governance,” he said.
“The war has set the country back several decades and it will take more than a generation to rebuild Sudan to its pre-war state,” Chambas said.

 


‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

Updated 21 April 2024
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‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

  • Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel

ISTANBUL: The tension between Israel and Iran should not distract from the situation in Gaza, and the priority of the international community should be ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said.
Fidan was speaking in Istanbul on Saturday during Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit.
Shoukry urged Iran and Israel to exercise restraint.
Shoukry’s visit to Turkiye comes amid high tensions in the Middle East following the apparent Israeli attack on Iran. Israel has said nothing about the incident.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Fidan, Shoukry said the region was concerned about the ongoing escalation.
“We’ve warned of the expansion of the conflict from the very beginning,” he said.
“We’ve called on both parties (Iran and Israel) to exercise restraint.”
Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel.
“Any development that could distract us from this fact should be ignored,” he said. “Our priority should be ending Israel’s occupation in Palestine and a two-state solution.”
He said he and Shoukry discussed efforts to deliver more humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Separately, Shoukry said Egypt would host a Turkish delegation to prepare for a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Turkiye at a future date.
The ministers met as Gaza’s civil defense agency said an Israeli strike killed nine members of a Palestinian family, including six children, in the southern city of Rafah.
Five children aged one to seven and a 16-year-old girl were among the dead, along with two women and a man, according to the city’s Al-Najjar Hospital.
“Nine martyrs, including six children, were pulled out from the rubble after Israeli air forces struck a house of the Radwan family in Tal Al-Sultan in Rafah,” Gaza Civil Defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said in a statement.

 


Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?

Updated 21 April 2024
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Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?

  • Analyst says impossible to speculate if the chain of command has been disrupted by post-Oct. 7 killings ascribed to Israel
  • Another analyst believes Quds Force has suffered setbacks as a result of blows suffered by proxies Hamas and Hezbollah

LONDON: Iran brought its decades-long shadow war with Israel into the open on April 13 when it mounted a combined drone and missile attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy annex in Damascus, which killed two senior commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Conceived as the principal defenders of the 1979 revolution, the IRGC has evolved into an institution with vast political, economic, and military powers and its own elite clandestine responsible primarily for its foreign operations, the Quds Force.

However, the delayed response and limited scope of the Iranian retaliatory attack has raised questions about the capabilities and competence of the Quds Force following the elimination of a number of its commanders and senior officers in Syria and Lebanon since Oct. 7.

Mourners attend the funeral in Tehran on January 22, 2023, of three Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members killed in Damascus in a strike blamed on Israel on January 20. (AFP)

Although the April 13 attack was unprecedented, marking the first direct strike by Iran on Israeli territory, some experts think the culling of key officers, coordinators and financiers stationed in Arab countries in suspected Israel strikes has dealt the Quds Force a strategic setback.

The Quds Force helps Iran project influence through a string of regional militias known as the “Axis of Resistance,” made up of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Syrian regime, and various armed groups in Iraq, including several Hashd Al-Shaabi-affiliated groups embedded in Iraq’s formal security apparatus.

Eva J. Koulouriotis, a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, believes the Quds Force’s geopolitical setbacks since Oct. 7 “are significant on a number of fronts.”

She added: “From an intelligence standpoint, and through monitoring the Israeli strikes, whether in Syria or Lebanon, it is clear that we are in front of a major breakthrough that reaches the highest levels inside the Quds Force itself and the militias it runs in both countries.

FASTFACTS

Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7 • Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds Force personnel killed in Syria since Oct. 7

Dec. 2, 2023: 2 killed in airstrike in Damascus.Quds

Dec. 25: 1 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Jan. 20, 2024:  5 killed in airstrike in Damascus.

Feb. 2: 1 killed in airstrike south of Damascus.

March 1: 1 killed in airstrike in Baniyas.

• March 26: 1 killed in strike in Deir ez-Zor.

April 1: 7 killed in strike on Iranian embassy annex in Damascus.

“This prompted Iran to confirm on the morning of April 14 that its major attack on Israel was to build new ground rules of deterrence to protect its officers and Quds Force advisers in the region.”

Iran’s direct attack on Israel sought to “create a new equation,” IRGC chief Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami claimed in a statement on April 14.

Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP/File)

“From now on, if Israel attacks Iranian interests, figures and citizens anywhere, we will retaliate from Iran,” he said in an interview with a state-owned television channel.

But as of Friday night, Israel did not seem deterred. Injuries and “material losses” were reported after a large explosion at a military base in Iraq used by the Hashd and home to its chief of staff.

The blast, at the Kalsu facility in Babylon, killed one Hashd fighter and wounded six more, according to nearby hospital sources. Factions within the Hashd took part in rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq in the early months of Israel’s Gaza offensive.

The previous night, Iran’s Fars News Agency said the IRGC’s air defenses intercepted “suspicious objects” flying over Isfahan. Tehran played down the suspected Israeli attack on an air base, which it said involved small drones. Hossein Dalirian, a spokesman for Iran’s National Centre of Cyberspace, said there had been “no air attack from outside borders.”

The area is home to significant Iranian military infrastructure, including a large airbase, a major missile production complex and several nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed there has been no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites.

Map showing the location of Isfahan in Iran, the target of a supposed Israeli drone strike last week. (APF/File)

Explosions were also reported in Iraq and Syria — where armed groups backed by Iran operate — but it was unclear if they were directly linked to the Isfahan strike.

In the months since the Hamas-led attack on Israel of Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israeli military assault in Gaza, Iran has reported the loss of at least 18 IRGC personnel in suspected Israeli raids across the region.

The deadliest of these took place on April 1 in Damascus, resulting in the death of the highest-ranking Quds Force commander in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and his deputy.

All 18 Quds Force commanders were reportedly killed in Syria, according to the Financial Times, with 16 in Damascus, one in the coastal city of Baniyas, and one in Deir ez-Zor in Syria’s northeast.

A few days before the end of 2023, an Israeli air raid outside Damascus killed Razi Mousavi, a senior Quds Force adviser who was responsible for coordinating the military alliance between Syria and Iran, Reuters news agency reported.

In this photo taken on December 28, 2023, mourners attend the funeral of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander of Iran's Quds Force, who was killed on December 25 in an Israeli strike in Syria. (AFP/File)

Almost a month later, a suspected Israeli strike on a residential building in the Mezzeh Western Villas neighborhood of Damascus killed five Quds Force commanders, including the head of the force’s intelligence unit, Yousef Omidzadeh, and his deputy.

Iran’s retaliation of April 13 was a “symbolic” operation and “not meant to (cause) damage” but rather to “send a message to Israel,” Alam Saleh, an associate professor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Australian National University, told Arab News.

The 300 drones and missiles used in the attack were “insignificant,” said Saleh, explaining that “Iran could do the same with at least 3,000 missiles and drones, and it can do it for a month at least every day.”

The remains of a ballistic missile lies on the shore of the Dead Sea after it was shot down from the sky on April 14, 2024. It was one of the missiles launched by Iran during a missiles and drones attack against Israel. (Reuters)

Due to the nature of the Quds Force, Saleh believes it is impossible to tell whether it has been weakened as a result of its losses since Oct. 7. “We still have very little information about the Quds Force,” he said.

“The Quds Force is not a classic army or military organization. It’s an extraterritorial branch of the IRGC, which is in charge of its operations abroad, in the region particularly, and is in charge of Iran’s regional policies in general, especially when it comes to security studies.

“The Quds Force is accountable to the supreme leader in Iran (Ali Khamenei), so it’s not even part of the government, it is not accountable, it is not transparent.

“What we know is that the Quds Force is an organization that takes (leadership) actions — it is not an executing force — it doesn’t do things, it just leads. And that’s why it has been able to mobilize the non-Iranian armed groups across the region.”

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on December 28, 2023 leads a prayer next to the coffin of of Razi Moussavi, a senior commander in Iran's  Quds Force who was killed on December 25 in an Israeli strike in Syria. (KHAMENEI.IR via AFP)

Although the Quds Force is responsible for training and supporting its regional allies, including Hamas, Saleh said that this “doesn’t mean they are not physically present in the region.”

“They’ve been in Syria, they’ve been in Lebanon for decades, in Iraq, of course, even in Afghanistan, and in Yemen.”

Saleh stressed that even the size of the Quds Force remains unknown, with reports estimating the ranks of the IRGC’s overseas arm at anywhere “between 5,000 and 40,000.”

“What we know is that they are too powerful,” he said.

“Iran could have retaliated 10 or 20 years ago … (but IRGC leaders) have been waiting for this moment first to strengthen their military powers and, second, to enhance their influence and strengthen their allies in the region.”

Considerably less optimistic about the future of the “allies” is political analyst Koulouriotis. Examining the state of two key Axis of Resistance members, she told Arab News: “It is certain that Hamas, as an influential militia (in) the Israeli arena, has become extremely weak.

“Hamas was considered one of the most important pressure cards in the hands of the Quds Force.”

As for the Lebanese arena, she said: “Hezbollah is facing great pressure in the southern front in light of Israeli demands to implement Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters beyond the Litani River, and Israeli officials continue to confirm their push to implement this resolution diplomatically and militarily.

“In both cases, Hezbollah is facing a difficult test today, which will make it less effective, leading the Quds Force to lose an additional pressure card in the region.”

However, a report released last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said that “although Hezbollah has lost over 100 fighters since Oct. 7, this level of casualties is manageable for a large organization with many skilled personnel.”

Hezbollah, a key component of the ,” is considered one of the world’s most heavily armed non-state groups, according to Reuters, and has demonstrated the scale of its arsenal since Oct. 7.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired by Hezbollah fighters from south Lebanon over the Har Dove area on March 10, 2024, amid increasing cross-border tensions between the Iran-backed militia and Israel. (AFP)

The group is estimated to possess some 150,000 missiles and rockets, which, Hezbollah claims, can reach all areas of Israel.

According to Australian National University’s Saleh, if Israel has been killing Quds Force commanders “in order to change Iran’s behavior and (influence) in the region,” then it may not have achieved much.

“Hezbollah is strengthened,” he told Arab News. “Reportedly, it has over 150,000 rockets, and it has also been facilitated with drones. Of course, the Houthis are also strengthened and are more powerful than ever.

“Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq was able to attack an American military base in Jordan, which shows it has also been supplied with highly advanced drones.”

Since Oct. 7, Iran-backed militias have attacked US interests in Iraq and Syria more than 160 times, according to Pentagon figures. One attack on US forces in Jordan, carried out by Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, killed three Americans.

“If we look at (Israel’s) so-called success from Tehran’s point of view, these assassinations did not work,” said Saleh, referring to the killing of Quds Force commanders. Instead, “they had a negative impact on the region. It made Iran more aggressive and more determined to respond.”

Saleh believes that while the killings “look good in the media,” when it comes to the attack on the Iranian diplomatic premises in Damascus, “Israel has miscalculated.”

And although the suspected attacks “show that Israel is, in terms of intelligence, powerful,” said Saleh, “strategically, (they) didn’t change anything — none of these assassinations changed Iran’s behavior, nor did they reduce its power.”

The Israelis “thought they got away with other assassinations or with targeting Iran’s interests, so they thought they could get away with” the Damascus strike, he said.

Stressing that the US is the only power that can cause “real damage to Iran’s military,” Saleh said Israel, which “doesn’t have the technology or capabilities to invade Iran’s nuclear sites,” has failed to drag the US into a direct confrontation with Iran.

“Iran illustrated a good degree of rationality and responsibility in attacking Israel” by informing the regional powers and international powers about their intentions and resorting to a “very low-scale, symbolic” attack, he said. 

However, “definitely, (the response) won’t be the same next time. Next time, it will be different. It will (involve) elements of surprise, strength, and regional proxies … to make sure Israel is deterred.”
 

 


UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

Updated 20 April 2024
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UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

  • Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut”

GENEVA: The UN has decried the intentional destruction of complex and hard-to-obtain medical equipment in Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals and maternity wards, further deepening risks to women already giving birth in “inhumane, unimaginable conditions.”
Recent UN-led missions to 10 Gaza hospitals found many “in ruins” and just a couple capable of providing any level of maternal health services, said Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund or UNFPA representative for the state of Palestine.
He said that what the teams found at the Nasser Hospital complex, long besieged by Israeli forces during their operations in the southern city of Khan Younis, “breaks my heart.”

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing complex medical equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted in October.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut.”

Palestinian forensic experts inspect the body of a dead person uncovered in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on April 17, 2024 after the recent Israeli military operation there amid the ongoing fighting in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

“Screens of complex medical equipment, like ultrasounds and others with the screens smashed,” he added.
The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing such equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack inside Israel.
Allen warned that this “purposeful, wanton destruction in the maternity ward,” coupled with other damage and lacking water, sanitation, and electricity, was complicating efforts to get what was previously the second-most important hospital in the Palestinian territory up and running again “to provide a lifeline.”
Meanwhile, at Al-Khair, another specialized maternity hospital in Khan Younis, “it didn’t seem as if there was any piece of working medical equipment,” he said, lamenting that the birthing rooms “stand silent.”
“They should be places that give life, but they just have an eerie sense of death.”
Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are currently even partially functioning.
And Allen said that only three of those were now capable of assisting the estimated 180 women giving birth across Gaza every single day — around 15 percent of whom suffer complications requiring significant care.
The hospitals that can provide such care are thus facing significant capacity constraints.
The Emirati Hospital in the south, the main maternity hospital in Gaza currently, is, for instance, supporting up to 60 births every day, including as many as 12 Caesarian sections, he said.
Given the heavy pressure on the facility, women are discharged just hours after giving birth, “and after C-sections, it is less than a day,” Allen said, stressing “that increases risks.”
He said there was a risk in the number of complicated procedures linked to “malnutrition, dehydration, and fear, which impact the pregnant woman’s ability to give birth safely and carry their baby to full term safely.”
A doctor at the Emirati hospital had told Allen that “he no longer sees normal-size babies.”
Amid a “completely crippled” health system in Gaza, the UNFPA is “deeply concerned about the ability to provide postnatal care,” he said.
He said the agency was deploying midwives and midwifery kits to makeshift school centers to help fill the gap.
The current war started after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Oct. 7.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. according to the territory’s Health Ministry.