January 21, 2015
Iran Tracker Blog: Killing of Another Senior Iranian General in Syria May Generate New Conflict with Israel
IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allah Dadi’s death, along with that of several Lebanese Hezbollah officers, following an alleged Israeli gunship strike on January 18 in Syria will test Iran and Lebanon’s willingness to escalate their current confrontation with Tel Aviv. The IRGC will want to respond to Allah Dadi’s death, though Iran normally takes a slow and deliberate approach in its retaliations for high-profile attacks. Hezbollah is overstretched in the Syrian conflict and is focused on dissuading more aggressive Israeli actions. Israel will also seek to limit escalation if any response occurs. This mutual deterrence among the parties will mitigate the scope of any retaliation, but the risk of spiraling violence in northern Israel or the Golan Heights will remain. The lack of significant progress at the nuclear talks in Geneva last week show that the Iranian leadership has yet to embrace Rouhani’s proposed shifts in its negotiation posture. Tehran will seek to balance its support for their al Houthi partners as the rebel group continues to increase its leverage against the Yemeni government without provoking more direct Saudi or US intervention. Despite Iran’s creative budgeting solutions and diplomatic threats, the continued drop in the price of oil will necessitate serious internal debate about the regime’s domestic and foreign policy priorities.
Senior IRGC Commander killed
IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allah Dadi was killed during an alleged Israeli helicopter gunship strike on January 18 in Syria near the Golan Heights. The attack also killed several Lebanese Hezbollah officers, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the late Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. Allah Dadi was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War and a long-time commander in the Corps. The operational impact of Allah Dadi’s loss to the IRGC’s campaign in Syria is unclear, but given the esteem in which IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani reportedly held him, he may not be easily replaced. Soleimani reportedly invited Allah Dadi to Syria to defend the Assad regime and the holy Shia Sayyida Zainab shrine in Damascus. Soleimani was also every close to Jihad Mughniyeh, having reportedly adopted him as his son after the death of his father. IRGC Commander Ali Jafari said on January 20 that “the Zionists must await ruinous thunderbolts” following the attack. The strike comes in the midst of heightening tensions between Israel and Hezbollah over the past several months. Israeli security sources told Reuters on January 20 that Allah Dadi and Mughniyeh were not the intended objectives of the attack and claimed they were only targeting low-level guerrillas.
Not much to show on the nuclear front
This month’s P5+1 talks in Geneva ended with little progress towards finalizing the political framework for a deal by March, according to Western diplomats. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave a more upbeat assessment saying both parties agreed on and specified the generalities of a nuclear agreement.
Iranian allies up the pressure on Yemeni government
Iranian-aligned al Houthi rebel fighters entered the Yemeni Presidential palace on January 20, protesting President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s attempted implementation of a power-sharing accord that could severely handicap their political position. Al Houthi rebels became the dominant players in Yemen’s civil conflict when they invaded and took strategic positions in the capital of Sana’a in September. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian defended the al Houthi’s actions but also stressed Iran’s relationship with the Yemeni government and support for stability in the country.
Iran tries to cope with ever-dropping oil prices
Iranian Finance Minister Ali Tayeb Nia announced the latest proposed national budget will now be based on $40 per barrel instead of $70 per barrel. Tehran also continues its unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to force a change in Saudi Arabia’s oil production policies.