IDF chief of staff candidate suggests ramping up assassinations of Iranian officials

Eyal Zamir, one of the leading candidates to take over as the next chief of the Israeli military, warned in a lengthy report that Iran has managed to establish a significant foothold in Syria and called for more assassinations of Iranian military officials to curb such efforts.

In a 74-page document published as part of his current position as a research fellow at the Washington Institute, Zamir said Iran has managed to establish a comprehensive military infrastructure within Syria and has deployed missiles and UAVs that are a direct threat to neighboring Israel.

The report, titled “Countering Iran’s regional strategy” and dated May 8, was released Tuesday.

“Some of the Iranian militias base themselves in special camps in Syria, and in the case of an Israeli campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, they could conceivably fire missiles from deep within Syria at Israeli targets,” Zamir wrote.

Last month, the IDF held a major military exercise in Cyprus, simulating a ground offensive deep inside Lebanon in a potential war against the Iran-backed Hezbollah. The exercise was part of the military’s largest drill in decades, simulating all-out war with an emphasis on Israel’s northern frontier.

Hezbollah alone has long been a significant adversary for the IDF, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.

Israeli troops hold a major drill in Cyprus, in an image published by the military on June 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Zamir and other recent military assessments, other Iranian militias based in Syria would join in a potential battle alongside Hezbollah, not just with missile fire.

“It would take relatively little time to move them to the Syria-Israel border to fight in the Golan Heights and pin down Israel Defense Forces, or to transfer them to Lebanon to fight alongside Hezbollah against the IDF,” Zamir said.

Zamir said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “is the backbone of the regime and the main means by which it seeks to dominate the region,” and listed several ways Israel and its allies could curb the IRGC’s efforts to strengthen Iranian proxies.

“Target the organization’s leadership, commanders, and key operatives who are behind the planning and execution of terrorist attacks and subversion; issue international arrest warrants of designated individuals; and conduct targeted killings against individuals plotting attacks (the Soleimani model),” he said in the report, referring to the 2020 US assassination of the head of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)

He said more action should be taken to carry out attacks against Iranian facilities, including missile silos and manufacturing plants, as well as Iran’s air defenses and its supply lines to its proxies.

“Damage the IRGC’s operational center of gravity — its long-range strike capabilities such as rockets, missiles, and drones — by covert action against manufacturing plants and missile and UAV main operating and forward bases, while preparing a plan of action to damage Iran’s defensive system,” Zamir wrote in the report.

“Interdict and disrupt supply lines — on land, in the air, and at sea — that the IRGC uses to support its proxies and militias,” he said, detailing Tehran’s use of Syria as a transportation hub for weapons sent to its proxies in the region, primarily Hezbollah.

“Iran is constantly working to strengthen its borders on land, in the air, and at sea, and to secure its strategic assets,” he said.

Zamir said that while the aerial route was “disrupted to a significant degree,” the maritime route was still “active” and Iran was regularly using tankers to smuggle weapons and oil to Syria, mostly through the Latakia port.

Illustrative: The Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docked at the El Palito refinery after arriving at Puerto Cabello in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela, on May 25, 2020. (AFP)

He said Iran is attempting to establish “territorial contiguity” in the region, “connecting Iran with Lebanon via Iraq and Syria, all the way to the ports of the Mediterranean and Israel’s borders” as part of its regional hegemony goals and superpower ambitions.

“The territorial swath is a crucial logistical axis on land, in the air, and at sea, making it possible to move masses of troops, weapons, and provisions with relative ease and speed,” Zamir wrote.

“Therefore, one of the major functions of the Revolutionary Guards is to secure this corridor at any cost, manifested in the battles of the past decade for the control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.”

On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed satellite images he said showed the “most significant” Iranian military maritime activity in the Red Sea in a decade.

Four Iranian military vessels seen in the Red Sea in satellite images revealed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, July 5, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war — including at sea — but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents Tehran has blamed on Jerusalem.

A number of members of the IRGC and scientists have been killed in recent months, with Iran often pointing the finger at Israel.

Iran reportedly suspects Israel killed two Iranian scientists several weeks ago by poisoning their food. The details of the men’s work, the circumstances of their deaths and their ties to the government remain unclear.

According to a report published last week by The New York Times, Israel’s alleged operations have deeply infiltrated and drastically shaken Iranian intelligence and have even led to the removal of the intelligence chief of the IRGC, Hossein Taeb, who had held the position for more than 12 years.

Hossein Taeb, former head of the intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), looks on during a meeting in Tehran on June 24, 2018. (Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News/AFP)

Gantz has recently said that appointing a new military chief of staff ahead of Israel’s upcoming November election is a “strategic necessity.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Tuesday there was “no absolute ban” on an appointment in the heat of election season and that her final decision on the matter would be made “without any outside interferences,” hinting that she may approve the unorthodox move.

Other candidates to replace IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi named by Gantz last month included Herzi Halevi, the current deputy chief of staff, and Yoel Strick, a former commander of the military’s Ground Forces, also serving as a research fellow at another think tank in Washington.

Halevi is thought to be the frontrunner, with Zamir a rumored dark horse candidate after being named as a candidate in 2018 but ultimately not being nominated to replace then-chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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