Assassination of Iranian General in Syria

Vol. 13, No. 4    21 February 2013

  • Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressed sorrow over the death of Gen. Hassan Shateri, 58, of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and a senior Iranian representative in Lebanon, though he was not the IRGC commander in Lebanon. Nasrallah noted that Shateri was not the first Iranian to be killed on a mission with Hizbullah, thereby confirming that Iranian military forces are involved in Hizbullah’s activity.
  • The funeral rites for Shateri in Tehran became part of the memorial day for former Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh, and pictures of the two appeared on the same posters.
  • In a ceremony in Hizbullah’s honor in Tehran, Ali Shirazi, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in the Quds Force, threatened Israel that Iran would soon respond to Shateri’s death.
  • Shateri oversaw the rehabilitation program for southern Lebanon and the Dahiya quarter of Beirut, along with projects that enabled Hizbullah to create the independent infrastructure for a state within a state. These included establishing an independent fiber-optic network that gives Iran and Hizbullah a telephone, television, and satellite communication network throughout Lebanon.
  • Shateri also set up a real estate company whose task was to purchase land, sometimes quite sizable tracts, in Christian and Druze villages and thereby extend Hizbullah’s control. He ran a business empire in Lebanon that includes banks, shopping centers, hotels, transportation companies, travel agencies, and radio, television, and press networks.

Amid growing distress in both its domestic and foreign spheres, in mid-February 2003, Hizbullah marked the fifth anniversary of the death of its former military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, as part of “Martyrs Day,” which is devoted to memory of the movement’s fighters who were killed in battle with Israel. This year the event was crowned with the slogan: “On the way to Palestine.” The emphasis was on Hizbullah’s, and particularly Mughniyeh’s, contribution to boosting the military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance, and on Palestinian achievements in the struggle against Israel. This year, too, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered the main address from his hiding place, which was broadcast on television.

Nasrallah Threatens to Hit Strategic Facilities in Israel

Nasrallah warned that Hizbullah would not tolerate any attack on Lebanon, that the organization is equipped for all contingencies, that it has all the capabilities it requires within Lebanon itself, and therefore has no need for arms transfers from Syria or Iran – an allusion to the arms convoy that was attacked on its way from Syria to Lebanon on January 30, 2013. Nasrallah threatened that in response to an Israeli operation, Hizbullah would strike strategic facilities in Israel and particularly its electric power stations, which are within range of Hizbullah’s missiles.

As for Bulgaria’s report on its investigation of last summer’s terror attack in Burgas, Nasrallah said he did not want to respond to the allegations against Hizbullah because the issue is still under review and Hizbullah’s response would await the findings. In any case, he stressed that the revenge account for Mughniyeh’s death is still open.1

Gen. Hassan Shateri

Nasrallah expressed sorrow over the death of Gen. Hassan Shateri, 58, a senior Iranian representative in Lebanon, and noted that he was not the first Iranian to be killed on a mission with Hizbullah. Nasrallah thereby provided confirmation that Iranian military forces are involved in Hizbullah’s activity. Significantly, Shateri’s real identity was kept secret and in Lebanon he was presented as Houssam Khosh Nweis, the engineer responsible for the rehabilitation of southern Lebanon. Heading the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, he would appear at public events in civilian attire. Only after his death was it made public in Iran that he was Gen. Hassan Shateri of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF).2

Shateri’s importance is indicated by the seniority of the Iranian figures who took part in his funeral ceremony in Tehran before his coffin was brought for burial to his hometown of Semnan. He was given final honors by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, IRGC commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, and Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani (who broke out in tears), along with representatives of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in these two organizations. The aim was to demonstrate the honor and importance that the Islamic Republic attributes to its fighters in Lebanon. The rites for Shateri in Tehran became part of the memorial day for Mughniyeh, and pictures of the two appeared on the same posters.3 Ali Riza Pamahiyan, an associate of Khamenei who had met with the Iranian general a few years earlier at the Iranian embassy in Beirut, linked Shateri and Mughniyeh together: “We are near the days of martyrdom of Imad Moughniya. Our Shateri was no less than Moughniya. He had a special place in the way that he will be missed and his purity. That’s all that can be said, as his secret contribution cannot be mentioned.”4

In a ceremony in Hizbullah’s honor in Tehran, Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative in the Quds Force, threatened Israel that Iran would soon respond to Shateri’s death.5

Despite the mystery surrounding Gen. Shateri and a report that he sat on Hizbullah’s leadership council and was an adviser to Nasrallah, he was not the IRGC commander in Lebanon; that person’s identity is kept secret by Iran and Hizbullah. According to information published in Lebanon, the position is held by Hassan Mehadavi or, in his Persian name, Mohammad Riza Zahadi. The career path of Shateri was in the realm of engineering, of construction, rehabilitation, and fortifications. He spent most of his years in that field – first in the war with Iraq, then in Afghanistan, while after the Second Lebanon War he was sent to oversee the rehabilitation program for southern Lebanon and the Dahiya quarter of Beirut,6 along with projects that enabled Hizbullah to create the independent infrastructure for a state within a state. These included establishing an independent fiber-optic network that gives Iran and Hizbullah a telephone, television, and satellite communication network throughout Lebanon. Shateri also set up a real estate company whose task was to purchase land, sometimes quite sizable tracts, in Christian and Druze villages and thereby extend Hizbullah’s control from its strongholds in the Beqaa Valley to Mount Lebanon on the way to Beirut. He ran a business empire in Lebanon that includes banks, shopping centers, hotels, transportation companies, travel agencies, and radio, television, and press networks.7

Hizbullah and Syria

According to the Iranian version of events, Shateri was killed on his way from Syria to Lebanon, apparently near the border town of Zabedeni. What he was doing in Syria was not made clear. One report claimed he was in Aleppo for rehabilitation works necessitated by the war with the rebels. If so, this is further testimony to Iran’s growing involvement in Syria, where Hizbullah has been fighting the rebels along with President Bashar Assad’s forces. The rebels claim that in recent days they have killed 43 Hizbullah fighters and that over a thousand Hizbullah men are active in the fighting in the Homs area, particularly near the Shiite villages.8 The aim is to create a territorial salient that, when the time comes, can join that area with a future Alawite state in Syria.

Indeed, in the context of the debate within Hizbullah on what approach to take to the Syrian revolt (because of which the movement’s general conference was deferred), reliable sources reported in January that Hizbullah offered asylum in Lebanon to Alawite officers in the Syrian army who fear for their future.9 On the one hand, the offer was intended to placate these officers, whose trepidation over the regime’s demise is intensifying; they anticipate being put on trial as war criminals or, worse, being killed by the rebels in a bloodbath. On the other hand, the offer was aimed at boosting the ranks of Hizbullah with officers who have combat knowledge and experience. This idea was broached behind the scenes by one of Nasrallah’s security aides, who is supported by elements in the movement who think Hizbullah should align itself with the Assad regime in fighting the rebels. The same report stated that a month ago Nasrallah told this security aide to convey the offer to the Alawite officers via Hizbullah men who work with these officers in the different units, including the elite forces of the Republican Guard.

The offer speaks of granting a haven in Lebanon to the Alawite officers and their families in return for their providing advisory services to Hizbullah units in the areas of engineering, ground warfare, missiles, and aerial defense. They would also assist with training in the use of weapons that over the past year have been transferred to Hizbullah from Syria. In recent weeks, a number of Syrian officers came to Beirut to discuss the offer and coordinate their joint actions. Hizbullah told its Alawite guests that it would give them spacious living quarters in Beirut at its own expense, and pay them salaries commensurate with their rank. Hizbullah is particularly interested in officers who are highly experienced in the use of Russian-made weapons systems such as long-range rockets and surface-to-air missiles. Hizbullah’s initiative has been coordinated with the Quds Force, which is responsible for the training of Hizbullah’s forces in Lebanon and Iran.10

* * *
Notes

1. Moqwama.org, February 17, 2013.
2. Aftabnewes.ir, February 14, 2013.
3. Al-Ahed website, February 17, 2013.
4. Meir Javedanfar, “Assassination Will Not Weaken Iran’s Support for Assad,” Al-Monitor, February 14, 2013; rasekhoom.net, February 17, 2013.
5. Mehrnews.com, February 16, 2013.
6. asssafir.com, February 16, 2013.
7. “Shateri: Iran’s Regional Point Man,” asharq-e.com, February 14, 2013.
8. “Syria Rebels under Hezbollah’s Attack,” Now Lebanon, February 18, 2013; “Rebels Claim Death of Dozens of Hezbollah Fighters,” Now Lebanon, February 19, 2013.
9. Huda al Husseini, “Hezbollah’s Asylum Offer,” asharq-e.com, February 17, 2013.
10. Ibid.

About Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira

Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.