Who killed Iran’s IRGC operative Sayyed Reza Mousavi in Syria, and why?

Analysis Who killed Iran’s IRGC operative Sayyed Reza Mousavi in Syria, and why?
Sayyed Reza Mousavi died in an Israeli missile strike in Sayyida Zeinab, a town in southern Damascus. (Tasnim News/AFP file)
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Updated 27 December 2023
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Who killed Iran’s IRGC operative Sayyed Reza Mousavi in Syria, and why?

Who killed Iran’s IRGC operative Sayyed Reza Mousavi in Syria, and why?
  • Slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander oversaw Iran’s extensive network of militias in Syria and the wider Levant
  • Israel has refused to confirm or deny its role, as is common in the case of strikes against Iran-related targets attributed to it

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan/JEDDAH: A senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps paramilitary died in Syria on Monday in possibly the most consequential targeted killing the region has seen since the “shadow commander” Qassem Soleimani was eliminated by an American drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020.

Iran’s state-run media described Sayyed Reza Mousavi as “one of the oldest advisers of the IRGC in Syria” and close with Soleimani, who headed the IRGC’s Quds Force, which plots Tehran’s extraterritorial operations throughout the Middle East, arming and funding numerous proxy militias that do Iran’s bidding against its enemies.

“I would call Mousavi the second Qassem Soleimani. He knew everybody, had good contacts with people on the ground, militias and heads of groups,” Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) in Riyadh, told Arab News.

He said Mousavi had “more knowledge of the realities on the ground” in Syria than anyone else, including his boss and current Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani, who Al-Sulami said is more knowledgeable about other countries and regions such as Afghanistan and Central Asia than about Syria and the Middle East.




Sayyed Reza Mousavi, left, with Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in Baghdad in January 2020 by the US. (Tasnim News/AFP file)

“When it came to Middle East, it was Qassem Soleimani and Reza Mousavi, the second Qassem Soleimani,” he said. “Therefore, it is a very big loss for Iran and a big success for those who are trying to minimize the presence of militias in Syria.”

Iran’s ambassador to Syria said that Mousavi had been working in the Iranian embassy in an official capacity as a diplomat and died in an Israeli missile strike in Sayyida Zeinab, a town in southern Damascus.

IRGC media in Iran said Mousavi had the rank of brigadier general. He had reportedly lived in Syria for 30 years and had an office at the Syrian Ministry of Defense.

Israel has refused to either confirm or deny its role in the killing, as is common in the case of strikes against Iran-related targets in Syria attributed to it.

Al-Sulami is not surprised that a country or spy agency was able to get its hands on the intelligence it needed for the high-profile elimination.

“I think intelligence agencies in countries like the UK, the US and, more importantly, Israel know very well the significance of such people in Syria, even though these individuals try to be very quiet and keep a low profile,” he said.

“Most of the world’s intelligence services have their own sources on the ground. There is no secrecy in Syria, and Mousavi has been there for at least 30 years. He had been active there in coordination with the IRGC and militias like Fatemiyoun and Zainebiyoun, from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and groups coming from other countries.”




Israel has launched thousands of intermittent airstrikes against targets throughout Syria since 2013. (AFP/File)

Mousavi would undoubtedly have been a tempting target for Israel since he reportedly began organizing the transfer of arms and funds to Iran’s militia proxies in Syria along with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a large missile arsenal in the years since Israel fought its last large-scale war with it in 2006.

“It has been evident for some time that Israel has seriously compromised the IRGC’s international spy-terrorist apparatus — and, indeed, has very good access within Iran itself,” independent Middle East analyst Kyle Orton told Arab News.

“The error in the Israeli policy has been in racking up these tactical victories.”

While Israel focused on thwarting IRGC plots regionally and worldwide, the IRGC continued “its strategic advance, knitting together its regional empire, stretching contiguously across the northern Middle East.”

Israel has launched thousands of intermittent airstrikes against targets throughout Syria since 2013 as part of its “war between the wars” campaign with Iran, itself part of a larger shadow war between those two enemies.

WHO WAS SAYYED REZA MOUSAVI?

• Was a commander, senior adviser of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

• Coordinated military relations between Syria and Iran.

• Lived in Syria for 30 years, kept office in Syrian Defense Ministry.

• Responsible for transferring funds from Iran to Syria and for Hezbollah salaries.

• Killed on Dec. 25 in neighborhood frequented by pro-Iranian militias in Damascus.

That air campaign aimed to prevent Iran and its militias from transferring sophisticated air defenses and surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah via Syria, an effort in which Mousavi is widely reported to have played a key role.

“The elimination of Reza Mousavi, if carried out by Israel, would be an important departure for a country that has generally targeted the IRGC’s physical infrastructure in Syria and avoided targeting personnel,” Orton said.

He said the “flaw” in the previous Israeli strategy was the speed at which IRGC bases could be rebuilt after these strikes, leading to the need for repeated strikes against the very same targets.




Israel has conducted airstrikes in Syria as part of its “war between the wars” campaign with Iran. (AFP/File)

Meanwhile, the IRGC continued the “crucial work” of “embedding Iran’s influence” in the region through the tending and expansion of human networks with a combination of “military training and ideological indoctrination.”

Similar to the aftermath of Soleimani’s death, Al-Sulami of Rasanah believes the loss of Mousavi will result in greater fragmentation of the Iran-backed groups in Syria in the near future. However, he is doubtful there will be a major escalation between Iran and Israel anytime soon.

“I think both Iran and Israel are following the same strategy, which is indirect confrontations,” he said.

“Israel is attacking Iran in Syria and other places but they avoid conducting direct military operations inside Iran to avoid any escalations. For Iran, it’s the same. They try to attack Israelis in Cyprus, Greece, and other countries. That will continue for maybe years to come.”




Mousavi died in an Israeli missile strike in Sayyida Zeinab, a town in southern Damascus. (AFP/File)

Orton is doubtful that Mousavi’s elimination will singlehandedly “have much impact” on Iran’s control in Syria.

“The Iranians have been applying the Islamic Revolution’s model to Syria at a very high-intensity for more than a decade and, as Mousavi’s personal history attests, the program has been ongoing for much longer than that,” he said.

“If Mousavi’s killing is not a one-off, however, and Israel has switched to a policy of targeting senior IRGC personnel in Syria, over time this can have a cumulative impact in destabilizing the Iranian project in that country.”

Such a policy change could result in the IRGC deciding to fire missiles from Yemen and possibly Lebanon.

The Iran-backed Houthis have already escalated attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and fired at US warships there. The US has also directly accused Iran of responsibility for an attack on Saturday on a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean, which saw a one-way attack drone hit the vessel 200 nautical miles from the Indian coast, far from the Red Sea.




That air campaign aims to prevent the transfer of sophisticated air defenses and surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah via Syria. (AFP/File)

Orton, too, is skeptical of a major escalation that goes beyond these tit-for-tat incidents, noting that Israeli intelligence has “badly infiltrated” the IRGC networks, making it unlikely the powerful paramilitary could “manage a ‘spectacular’ response.”

He recalled how Iran had “very publicly committed itself” to avenging the 2020 killing of Soleimani in such a fashion. Iran initially responded to his death by firing ballistic missiles at an Iraqi airbase hosting American troops, leaving several American soldiers with traumatic brain injuries.

Incidentally, US forces in Iraqi Kurdistan came under attack on Monday by an explosive-laden militia drone shortly after Mousavi’s killing. The attack injured three soldiers, leaving one reportedly in critical condition.

The US launched retaliatory airstrikes against militias in Iraq in a move that inevitably increased the risk of escalation in that volatile country — and possibly beyond.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state
Updated 14 sec ago
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state
JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Updated 20 min 11 sec ago
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
  • Algerian president said he would seek a second term

ALGIERS: The leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party on Thursday kicked off the official candidate submissions for the upcoming presidential election in which the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 78, is the frontrunner.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent saw, hours before Tebboune was expected to do the same.
Tebboune, who was elected in 2019 following months of pro-democracy protests and the ousting of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said on July 11 he would seek a second term.
In March, he announced that the election would be held on September 7, three months ahead of schedule, but gave no reason for the decision.
Algeria, home to some 45 million people, is Africa’s largest country.
The hydrocarbon-rich nation is the continent’s main natural gas supplier, with neighboring Tunisia, Spain, and Italy heavily reliant on Algerian gas.
The final list of hopefuls for the election will be published on July 27.
To qualify to appear on the ballot, candidates are required to present a list of at least 50,000 individual signatures from registered voters or from 600 members from at least 29 of Algeria’s various provincial assemblies.
Ahmed Sadok, an MSP representative, told AFP that his party had already gathered “more than 90,000 petition signatures” in support of Hassani as well as the backing of “2,200 other elected representatives.”
With the Algerian Workers Party’s leader Louisa Hanoune dropping out of the race last week, only two female candidates — businesswoman Saida Nezgha and lawyer Zoubida Assoul — remain in contention.
But Tebboune is still the favorite, with endorsements from several political parties.
“Given the desire of many parties, political and non-political organizations and the youth, I announce my intention to run for a second term,” he said when announcing his candidacy.


Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
Updated 18 July 2024
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Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
  • Elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country
  • The voting was repeated in several districts after election officials said there had been irregularities

DAMASCUS: The results of Syria’s parliamentary elections, announced Thursday, showed that President Bashar Assad’s Baath Party has won a majority of seats, as expected.
The elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country, but the voting was repeated in several districts — including Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Daraa — after election officials said there had been irregularities, including voters casting ballots twice.
The heads of some electoral centers were referred to the judiciary for alleged electoral violations.
Altogether, 1,516 candidates were competing for the 250 seats. However, only 65 of those seats were seen as truly up for competition, as the Baath Party and allied parties presented a list of 185 candidates. Typically, all candidates who make it through the Baath Party primaries and appear on the final list win seats.
The results announced Thursday showed that all 185 candidates from the Baath Party and its allies won seats as expected, an increase from the 177 seats won by the coalition in 2020.
Turnout was 38 percent of the 19.3 million eligible voters, election officials said.
Unlike presidential elections, Syrians in the diaspora are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections.
The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Jihad Murad, who announced the results, said they “reflected the broadest representation of the Syrian people in their various groups and sectors.”
The vote is the fourth since the country’s civil war began in March 2011.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.
An amendment requires a three-quarters majority, or 188 votes, just over the number of seats held by the Bath Party and its allies. However, nominally independent candidates are also generally seen as loyal to the government.


Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
  • One Israeli airstrike kills six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza
  • An Israeli airstrike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah

CAIRO: Israeli forces bombarded the Gaza Strip’s historic refugee camps in the center of the enclave and struck Gaza City in the north on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, and tanks pushed deeper into Rafah in the south, health officials and residents said.
One Israeli airstrike killed six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza and two other people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij camp. An Israeli air strike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah, a city packed with people displaced from elsewhere in Gaza, health officials said.
In Gaza City in the north, medics said two Palestinians were killed in another airstrike.
The Israeli military said in a statement its forces killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in two airstrikes in Gaza City, including one whom it said had taken part in the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that triggered the Gaza war.
In Rafah, residents said Israeli tanks advanced deeper in the western side of the city and took position on a hilltop there. The Israeli military said forces located several tunnels and killed several gunmen.
The armed wing of militant group Hamas and its allies said they fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces in southwest Rafah on Thursday.
More than a million people had sought shelter in Rafah from fighting further north, but most have scattered again since Israel launched an offensive in and around the city in May.
The fighting has pushed the 60-bed Red Cross field hospital in Rafah to the brink of capacity, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement on Thursday.
“The repeated mass casualty events resulting from the unrelenting hostilities have stretched to breaking point the response capacity of our hospital – and all health facilities in southern Gaza – to care for those with life-threatening injuries,” said William Schomburg, head of the ICRC’s subdelegation in Gaza.
CEASEFIRE EFFORTS STALLED
More than nine months into the war, Palestinian fighters led by Hamas are still able to attack Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, occasionally firing rocket barrages into Israel.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after its militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
On Tuesday, Israel said it had eliminated half of the leadership of Hamas’ military wing and killed or captured about 14,000 fighters since the start of the war. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
Hamas doesn’t release figures of casualties among its ranks and said Israel was exaggerating to portray a “fake victory.”
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to halt the hostilities, backed by the United States, appear on hold, though all sides say they are open to more talks, including Israel and Hamas.
A deal would aim to end the war and release Israeli hostages in Gaza in return for many Palestinians jailed by Israel.
Hamas was awaiting an Israeli response to a ceasefire offer drafted by the United States based on ideas announced by President Joe Biden, a Palestinian official close to the mediation effort said.
“The feeling in Hamas is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is stalling and that he might not say anything before he goes to the United States next week,” said the official, who asked not to be named.


Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
Updated 18 July 2024
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Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
  • The brothers were killed in a shoot-out with security officers

MUSCAT: Perpetrators in the shooting that targeted a Shi’ite mosque in Oman’s Wadi al-Kabir area near the capital Muscat were all Omani citizens, state news agency ONA said on Thursday.

The perpetrators were brothers and were killed in a shoot-out with security officers, according to a statement released by the Omani police.

Monday’s shooting killed at least six people -- four Pakistanis, an Indian and an Omani police officer -- and wounded 28, authorities have said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in a rare operation in one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, the group said in a statement on Telegram on Tuesday.

The police said in their statement on Thursday that the perpetrators “were influenced by misguided ideas.”