An Iranian general killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria was not its intended target and Israel believed it was attacking only low-ranking guerrilla members, a senior security source said on Tuesday.
The remarks by the Israeli source, who declined to be identified because Israel has not officially confirmed it carried out the strike, appeared aimed at containing any escalation with Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi was killed, along with a Hezbollah commander, the son of the movement’s late leader, Imad Mughniyeh, and four other Hezbollah members on Sunday's attack near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
"We did not expect the outcome in terms of the stature of those killed — certainly not the Iranian general," the source told Reuters. "We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence."
"We got the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it was an enemy vehicle and took the shot. We saw this as a limited tactical operation."
Asked if Israel expected Iranian or Hezbollah retaliation for the airstrike, the source said: "They are almost certain to respond. We are anticipating that, but I think it's a fair assumption that a major escalation is not in the interest of either side."
Tehran has vowed to strike back. "These martyrdoms proved the need to stick with jihad. The Zionists must await ruinous thunderbolts," Revolutionary Guards' chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted on Tuesday as saying by Fars news agency.
"The Revolutionary Guards will fight to the end of the Zionist regime... We will not rest easy until this epitome of vice is totally deleted from the region's geopolitics."
Troops and civilians in northern Occupied Palestine are on heightened alert and Israel has deployed an Iron Dome rocket interceptor unit near the Syrian border.
Possibility of drone strike
Meanwhile, on Monday UN peacekeepers serving in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights stressed that they had seen drones flying before the airstrike.
An Israeli security source told AFP that an Israeli helicopter carried out the strike, but the UN account raised the possibility that drones may have been used.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the UN observer force in the Golan on Sunday "observed two unmanned aerial vehicles flying from the Alpha (Israeli) side and crossing the ceasefire line."
"An hour later, smoke was observed coming from the general direction of position 30," Haq told reporters.
UN peacekeepers then saw the drones flying over the area of "position 30" and again crossing the ceasefire line, he added.
"The incident is a violation of the 1974 agreement on disengagement" between Israel and Syria, he added.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Quneitra is located in the “demilitarized” zone of the Golan Heights. The zone is supposedly monitored by UN peacekeepers since 1974, but has been a site of heavy clashes between the Syrian army and jihadist groups.
Damascus has repeatedly accused so-called “rebel groups” such Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, al-Nusra Front, who are active in the southern Quneitra countryside, of working hand in glove with Israel, from which they receive logistic support.
Observers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) confirmed in a report published in December documenting cooperation and coordination between the Israeli army and militant groups in Syria.
The report revealed ongoing communication between armed groups’ leaders and Israeli army officers, saying that “59 meetings took place from March 2013 to May, and that during this same period 89 injured militants were transported to Israeli hospitals, and 19 of them were returned to Syria along with two bodies.”
The UNDOF report also said that observers witnessed several meetings between rebel leaders and Israeli army forces between December 2013 and March 2014, in addition to witnessing the transportation of injured militants to Israeli hospitals following confrontations between the militants and the Syrian army near the occupied Golan border.
© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved