Lessons For Washington In Airstrike Targeting Senior IRGC Leader

(New York, NY) – The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force’s Levant operations, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, was killed in an airstrike on Monday in Damascus. Zahedi, a former commander of the IRGC’s Air Force, was known to have close contacts with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as well as Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the father of Iran's missile program. The Wall Street Journal described Zahedi on Monday as “the boss of Hezbollah,” the Iranian terrorist proxy which has attacked Israel’s northern communities on a near daily basis since October 7, 2023, prompting the displacement of tens of thousands and risking a full blown military conflict in southern Lebanon.

Israeli officials have confirmed responsibility for the attack to reporters and on Tuesday, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant warned that “the price for acting against Israel will be a heavy price.” Hezbollah has since declared “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

UANI Analysis:

Jason Brodsky, UANI Policy Director

“The targeted killing of Mohammad Reza Zahedi is a study in contrasts between how Israel and the United States are confronting Iranian terrorism. The attack that killed Zahedi and his deputies, like the U.S. attack that killed Quds Force Commander Major General Qasem Soleimani in 2020, did not and will not spark a full blown war – but it will save innocent lives and setback Quds Force operations. The Biden administration should apply this same approach to countering Iranian-backed terror in the Red Sea. The Houthis, which continue to disrupt lawful maritime trade, hold mariners hostage, and attack U.S. Navy vessels have been targeted by the U.S. but in a manner insufficient to render them incapable of further attacks. The solution is to go after the source. Washington should target IRGC assets and officials stationed in Yemen and the Islamic Republic militarily to restore security and deterrence.”

Kasra Aarabi, UANI Director of IRGC Research

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) neither has the military doctrine, nor the capabilities for direct conflict with Israel, not least when domestic instability in Iran is as high as it currently is with the IRGC operating as the main guarantor for the clerical regime. Therefore, despite all the propaganda noise coming from Tehran, a direct IRGC strike against Israel is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Instead, if the IRGC is to directly respond, we can expect Tehran to fabricate false claims about “Mossad operation centers” in third party nations – such as Iraqi Kurdistan or even Azerbaijan – to provide the IRGC with space to conduct symbolic strikes for propaganda purposes, but without fear of any direct Israeli retaliation.   

The Iranian regime’s retaliation is more likely to come via the IRGC’s proxy network geared towards targeting Israel’s allies, including the US in the region. The IRGC knows not to directly mess around with Israel – with the Israeli security apparatus making it absolutely clear it will strike positions in Iran as a consequence – but same cannot be said about the US. If anything, since October 7, the Biden administration has gone out of its way to make it clear to Tehran that it has no appetite to directly target the IRGC. This gap in deterrence increases the chances of an IRGC strike against US positions in the Middle East, not least as Tehran has yet to feel any meaningful repercussions for the killing 3 US soldiers in January via IRGC proxies. The Biden administration should make it absolutely clear that it will retaliate militarily against the IRGC should US forces come under attack either directly by the IRGC or indirectly via its proxies.   

We can also expect the IRGC to continue to escalate its campaign of terrorism against Israeli citizens and people of the Jewish faith abroad as a retaliatory move. In the past couple of years, the IRGC has sought to use terrorism against Jewish and Israeli individuals abroad, not least in Europe, as a means to target Israel – what it continues to call a “cancerous tumor”. The IRGC has also doubled down on its efforts to nurture homegrown Islamist radicalization in Europe using ISIS-like methods as a means to encourage localized, but coordinated terror attacks and assassinations against members of the Jewish community as well as Iranians who are critical of the regime. Against this backdrop of rising IRGC terrorism the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) must immediately proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organization to impose maximum limitations on its ability to operate and nurture Islamist extremism on European soil– a loophole in the current EU and UK sanctions regimes on the IRGC.”

Background Information:

To read UANI’s resource, Iran’s Proxy Wars: Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories/Gaza, Syria, Yemen, please click here.

To read UANI’s resource, IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), please click here.