TEL AVIV – The IDF on Monday identified two of the people killed in Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Saturday as Lebanese nationals who underwent training in Iran and Syria to operate explosive drones.
The IDF released photos of the men, Hassem Yussuf Zabib, 23, from Nabatieh in southern Lebanon; and Yasser Ahmed Tzahr, 22, from Beleide village, on a flight to Iran to take part in one of the training sessions.
“The men who were killed spent time in Iran on a number of occasions in recent years. As part of their time in Iran, they went through specific training programs in the Quds Force on operating unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive drones,” the army said in a statement.
On Saturday night, the IAF struck Iranian targets in the Syrian town of Aqraba, south of Damascus, thwarting an “imminent” attack on Israel by kamikaze-style UAV’s led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and overseen by Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
According to war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, five personnel were killed in the strikes, two of whom were operatives for the Iranian proxy terror group Hezbollah and one a member of an Iranian militia. The other two have not been identified.
Zabib and Tzahr were working for Soleimani under the Quds Force, the IDF said.
“The operatives were working in recent weeks in Shiite militias under the command of the Quds Force to carry out drone attacks against targets in Israel,” the IDF said.
On Sunday night, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that the two men were members of his terror group.
“The place that was bombarded only had Lebanese youth from Hezbollah. In that place, two martyrs fell,” Nasrallah said in a speech.
The IDF spokesperson’s unit on Sunday released a video of IRGC forces preparing to launch an explosives-laden drone into northern Israel from Syria last Thursday.
The video, captured by an Israeli field intelligence unit along the border, shows four fighters from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds force carrying the UAV through a field to its planned launch point located in the southern Syrian village of Arneh.
IDF intelligence can now release the surveillance footage of Iranian Quds Force operatives in Syria carrying a killer drone that they intended to use for an attack on Israel.
How do you foil an attack of killer drones?
Killer intel. pic.twitter.com/5bgMvW61nr
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) August 25, 2019
Iran attempted to carry out the attack a second time on Saturday night, the army said, prompting the air strikes.
The IDF had monitored the Iranian plot for “a number of weeks,” IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.
A senior official in Tehran denied that Iran’s facilities had been targeted, saying Israel didn’t have the “power” to do so.
“This is a lie and not true,” Mohsen Rezaei, who is also secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, told the semi-official ILNA news agency on Sunday, according to Reuters.
“Israel and the United States do not have the power to attack Iran’s various centers, and our [military] advisory centers have not been harmed,” Rezaei added.
According to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Soleimani was the mastermind behind the attacks.
“The person who led this attack and commanded it was Qassem Soleimani personally. He funded, coached and trained Shiite operatives, who were supposed to carry it out,” he said.
Kochavi warned that Iran may carry out retaliatory strikes, but that Israel would be ready for them “in the best way possible.”
The IDF has carried out scores of strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, but rarely confirms specific attacks.