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.


UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king

UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king
Updated 10 sec ago
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UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king

UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king
  • Sunak told the king that the UK’s ultimate goal is to achieve a workable two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday made a phone call to Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss developments in the Gaza Strip, 10 Downing Street announced.
During the call, Sunak renewed the UK’s support for Jordan’s security and that of the region, saying a significant escalation is “not in anyone’s interests.”
He added that the UK’s focus remains on finding a solution to the conflict in Gaza.
The UK continues to work toward an immediate humanitarian truce to bring in much larger amounts of aid and return the Israeli hostages held by Hamas safely to their families, “leading to a longer-term sustainable ceasefire,” Sunak said.
The two leaders “discussed joint efforts to significantly step up aid to Gaza, with the UK taking part in Jordanian-led aid drops and a humanitarian land corridor to Gaza, as well as the maritime aid corridor from Cyprus,” Downing Street said.
Sunak told the king that the UK’s ultimate goal is to achieve a workable two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. 
The two leaders “agreed on the importance of supporting a reformed Palestinian authority to deliver stability and prosperity across the Palestinian territories,” Downing Street said.
King Abdullah warned of the danger of regional escalation, which he said threatens international peace and security, Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported.
He renewed his call for the international community to intensify efforts to reach an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza to alleviate the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged Palestinian territory, and warned of the dangerous consequences of an Israeli assault on Rafah.
The king stressed the need to protect civilians in Gaza and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. 
He pointed to the importance of continuing to support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to enable it to provide its humanitarian services in accordance with its UN mandate.


Five rockets fired from Mosul toward US military base inside Syria: security sources

Five rockets fired from Mosul toward US military base inside Syria: security sources
Updated 57 min 7 sec ago
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Five rockets fired from Mosul toward US military base inside Syria: security sources

Five rockets fired from Mosul toward US military base inside Syria: security sources
  • Attack comes on same day Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani returned from visit to US

MOSUL: At least five rockets were launched from Iraq’s town of Zummar toward a US military base in northeastern Syria on Sunday, two Iraqi security sources told Reuters.
The attack against US forces is the first since early February when Iranian-backed groups in Iraq stopped their attacks against US troops.
The attack comes on the same day Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani returned from a visit to the US and met with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Two security sources and a senior army officer said a rocket launcher fixed on the back of a small truck had been parked in Zummar border town with Syria.
The military official said the truck caught fire with an explosion from unfired rockets at the same time as warplanes were in the sky.
“We can’t confirm that the truck was bombed by US warplanes unless we investigate it,” said a military official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident.
The attacks came one day after a huge blast at a military base in Iraq early on Saturday killed a member of an Iraqi security force that includes Iran-backed groups. The force commander said it was an attack while the army said it was investigating and there were no warplanes in the sky at the time.


Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis
Updated 21 April 2024
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Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

JERUSALEM: The Gaza war is speeding up Israel’s “annexation” of the Palestinian economy, say analysts, who argue it has been hobbled for decades by agreements that followed the Oslo peace accords.

While the Israel-Hamas war raging since Oct. 7 has devastated swaths of Gaza, it has also hit the public finances and wider economy of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel is tightening the noose on the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the West Bank, by withholding tax revenues it collects on its behalf, said economist Adel Samara.

Palestinian livelihoods have also been hurt by bans on laborers crossing into Israel and by a sharp downturn in tourism in the violence-plagued territory, including a quiet Christmas season in Bethlehem.

Samara said that “technically speaking, there is no Palestinian economy under Israeli occupation — Israel has effectively annexed our economy.”

The Palestinian economy is largely governed by the 1994 Paris Protocol, which granted sole control over the territories’ borders to Israel and, with it, the right to collect import duties and value-added tax for the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has repeatedly leveraged this power to deprive the authority of much-needed revenues.

But the Gaza war has further tightened Israel’s grip, Samara said, with the bulk of customs duties withheld since Hamas sparked the war with the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“Without these funds, the Palestinian Authority struggles to pay the salaries of its civil servants and its running costs,” said Taher Al-Labadi, a researcher at the French Institute for the Near East.


UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza

 UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza
Updated 21 April 2024
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UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza

 UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza
  • Shoukry pointed out that the increase in Israeli assaults and illegal settlement practices in the West Bank raises the risk of the conflict erupting in the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territories

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese discussed the condition of human rights and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories on Sunday.

Shoukry received Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, in Cairo, where they called for an immediate end to Israeli attacks on Gaza in compliance with international laws and demanded the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

They also called for a stop to mounting settler violence in the West Bank, demanding accountability of the perpetrators.

Shoukry pointed out that the increase in Israeli assaults and illegal settlement practices in the West Bank raises the risk of the conflict erupting in the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territories.

He warned of the security repercussions of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which undermines the stability of the broader region.

The foreign minister expressed regret over the reluctance of several countries so far to describe Israeli practices as a flagrant violation of international law.

Shoukry and Albanese discussed the status of human rights and the humanitarian condition of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Shoukry reiterated the need to stop Israel from implementing policies of collective punishment, indiscriminately targeting civilians, and displacing Palestinians from their lands.

The UN rapporteur denounced Israel’s refusal to allow her to conduct a field visit to the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Albanese expressed her deep concern for the catastrophic humanitarian situation Palestinians are experiencing and called on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law as the occupying power.

She also stressed her keenness to continue discussions with Egypt regarding ways to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

 


Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 

Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 
Updated 21 April 2024
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Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 

Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 
  • Agreement will develop the Arab Women’s Strategy for Security and Peace

RIYADH: The Arab League and United Nations Women Regional Office for Arab States signed a cooperation agreement, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It was signed by Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Haifa Abu Ghazaleh and Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, regional director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

Abu Ghazaleh highlighted the significance of cooperation in the “Women, Security and Peace” program. It will develop the Arab Women’s Strategy for Security and Peace as well as various national strategies across Arab countries, she added.

Eldhagen highlighted the challenges faced by women in conflict zones, including in Gaza. She hailed progress in women’s rights through cooperation between the UN and Arab League.