For the first time since the popular revolution in Syria started nearly two years ago, a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has been killed in an attack by the Free Syrian Army fighters (FSA), Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Thursday.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV confirmed the death, adding that the individual killed had been the head of an Iranian agency responsible for rebuilding projects in Lebanon. The incident occurred on Syrian territory as the Iranian official traveled from Damascus to Lebanon, the TV station said.
Though the name of the person killed has not yet been confirmed and there is still no explanation as to why he was visiting Syria, a report by the independent Iranian news site mashreghnews.ir and quoted by the Associated Press claims that "mercenaries of the Zionist regime" in Lebanon killed Gen. Hassan Shateri, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s reconstruction projects there in the last few days.
"Commander Hassan Shateri was martyred en route from Damascus to Beirut at the hands of Zionist regime mercenaries and backers," the Iranian Revolutionary Guards's spokesman said in the statement.
His funeral was held in Tehran Thursday morning, and was attended by Revolutionary Guards chief Ali Jaafari, head of the foreign operations Quds Force unit Qassem Soleimani and Ali Saidi, representative of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Shateri was shot dead by FSA fighters while he was en route from the Syrian capital to Lebanon.
Thursday's reports come following a Washington Post story on Sunday -- citing US and Middle East officials -- that Iran is attempting to preserve its influence in Syria in the event that its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, should be removed from power. Their goal is to build a network of militias in the country along with , the report said.
According to the officials, militias already are fighting alongside Assad's forces to keep the embattled leader in power. The Washington Post also quoted a senior official in US President Barack Obama’s administration as saying that Iran is supporting up to 50,000 militiamen.
In related news, despite the intense military aid received by the Syrian regime from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, the regime is still losing more air bases. One day after the FSA captured the strategic al-Jarrah air base and it's military airport, the rebels captured another military complex, known as "Base 80," near Aleppo.
SOHR said that most of Base 80 has come under the FSA control, adding that that dozens of their fighters, as well as forces loyal to Assad, were killed.
Military analysts say the strategy of the Syrian military opposition is focused on targeting the regime’s air bases, because they are a source of ammunition and weaponry, and to put warplanes used to bomb civic buildings out of action.
It seems clear that al-Manar television and the AP are talking about the same person, who seems to have had an important role in the events unfolding in Syria. I do not rule out that his role was transferring arms to Hezbollah.
Iran is seeking, with maximum effort, to ensure Assad’s survival because Syria has become the only outlet for the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah.
I think if Assad's regime falls, Iran stands to lose a lot because its alliances with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria ensures its influence in the Arab world. Another reason for Iran’s support of Assad is the fear that the Arab Spring will arrive on its territory, which might encourage the internal opponents of the Iranian regime to ignite the fire of the Green Revolution once again.
Iran must know well that the higher the number of victims and losses are in the Syrian arena, the bigger the price Iran will have to pay after the collapse of Assad regime.