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

Special Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?
1 / 2
At least 18 IRGC personnel and over 100 of their Hezbollah allies are believed to have been killed in Israeli raids across the region since Oct. 7, prompting Iranian retaliation. (AFP/Getty Images)
Special Have deaths of Quds Force commanders in Iran-Israel shadow war dented IRGC’s public image and confidence?
2 / 2
At least 18 IRGC personnel and over 100 of their Hezbollah allies are believed to have been killed in Israeli raids across the region since Oct. 7, prompting Iranian retaliation. (AFP/Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

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

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 dealt to 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, 2023

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

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.”
 

 


EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
Updated 4 sec ago
Follow

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza

BRUSSELS: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Saturday called for a probe into deadly shelling that damaged an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza.
“The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza and led to dozens of casualties. An independent investigation is needed and those responsible must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on X.

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
Updated 23 min 55 sec ago
Follow

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
  • “A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” the source said
  • The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon

BEIRUT: A security source said a leader of the Lebanese Islamist group Jamaa Islamiya, an ally of Hamas, was killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a vehicle in eastern Lebanon.
Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and other groups allied with the Palestinian militants have traded near-daily fire with Israel across the southern border.
“A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” 10 kilometers (six miles) from the border with Syria, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon. It is estimated to number around 500 men.
Lebanon’s state-run ANI news agency reported one person killed when a car was targeted in Khiara, and that the victim was from the nearby village of Lala, without giving further details.
Israel’s military said an aircraft carried out a “precise strike in the Beqaa area in Lebanon in order to eliminate the terrorist” Ayman Ghotmeh, who they said supplied weapons to Hamas and Jamaa Islamiya in Lebanon.
He was targeted for his “involvement in the promotion and execution of terrorist activities against Israel,” the Israeli statement added.
Jamaa Islamiya, which has had seven fighters killed in Lebanon since October 7, did not immediately announce any deaths.
On April 26, the group said two of their leaders were killed in an Israeli strike in eastern Lebanon.
More than eight months of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border has left at least 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including at least 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.
Heightened tensions in recent days on the Israel-Lebanon border have raised fears of an expanded regional conflict.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
  • According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
  • More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“


Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine with outside aid severely restricted.
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from aid agencies that they are unable to deliver aid including vegetables.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also known as OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of white and black containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
With civil order breaking down in the territory, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.
A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area.”
Israel’s coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday “the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies,” saying a lack of distribution was responsible.
Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN “to collect and distribute more aid” alongside an Israeli military presence.
He said most of the aid had not moved because “organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity.”
Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel’s offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.
The United States also sanctioned an extremist Israeli group last week, accusing it of blocking convoys and looting and burning trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
And the UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.
“We don’t see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it’s all very expensive,” said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.
“Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us,” she added.
“We hope this war ends and we return to our homes and that we don’t need aid from anyone.”
NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that six trucks with 37 tons of supplies, mostly essentially medical items, have been held up at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14.
“This is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s like asking a fireman to watch a house filled with people burn down, and preventing him putting out the fire.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551
Updated 22 June 2024
Follow

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551
  • The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 37,551 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours, a ministry statement said, adding 85,911 had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.