Iranian state media reported on Tuesday that Gen. Abolfazl Alijani, a commander within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—the branch of the military responsible for protecting the theocratic character of the Iranian government, but also operating as its primary tool for foreign military interventions—had been killed in Syria over the weekend.
“General Alijani was martyred on Monday while serving as a military adviser in the country,” Iran’s state-run Mehr news agency wrote on Tuesday. “His body is to be transferred to Iran in the coming days for his funeral.” Other reports from Iranian media outlets linked to Tehran noted that Alijani had served within the IRGC’s ground forces and claimed that he had been killed while on a mission. Details surrounding the alleged mission, as well as the party responsible for Alijani’s death, have not been made public.
Iranian state media described the general after his death as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a term widely used to describe Iranian soldiers deployed to protect Iran’s interests in Syria and Iraq. Iran has justified its military intervention in Syria by noting that its forces were invited as advisers by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
However, within Syria, Iranian forces have come under repeated attack by the Israeli Air Force, which opposes Assad and is engaged in a low-level geopolitical conflict with Iran. The IRGC claimed in March that an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian base had killed two of the group’s officers and vowed that Israel would “pay for the crime,” although it has not yet claimed retribution for the incident. Earlier in the month, a mass funeral was held for five members of the IRGC who had been killed in Syria several years ago, following the return and identification of their remains.
Israel has not commented on its airstrikes as a general policy, but it has admitted to conducting hundreds within Syria since the onset of that country’s civil war in 2011. Israeli forces have particularly targeted the Hezbollah Shia militia-turned-political party and Iranian forces, which Tel Aviv has accused of attempting to prepare positions near the Syrian-Israeli border for future strikes against Israel.
Iranian officials have also accused Israel of a campaign of sabotage and assassination within Iran, implicating the Israeli government in the killings of several nuclear scientists and IRGC officers and a series of mysterious explosions targeting Iranian nuclear facilities.
Trevor FIlseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.