Hezbollah Fighter Killed Under Unclear Circumstances

On Feb. 24, Hezbollah’s media outfit published a statement mourning the death of its fighter Ali Yahya al-Zayin.

“The Islamic Resistance [Hezbollah] grieves the loss of the martyr fighter Ali Yahya al-Zayin, also known as ‘Karbala,’ from the town of Shuhour in Southern Lebanon. He carried out his jihadi duty with increasing pride and commitment,” the statement said.

Hezbollah did not specify the manner or location of where Zayin died, but it likely occurred in Syria as the organization has entrenched itself in the country to support Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Iran’s interests.

The timing of the announcement is notable as it comes five days after a major Israeli military operation in Syria on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 22, Reuters reported the target of the attack was a meeting of Iranian officials that were there to “advance programmes to develop drone or missile capabilities of Tehran’s allies in Syria.”

While it is possible that al-Zayin was at the meeting in the Damascus when it was attacked, he could have been on another front, specifically in Aleppo fighting against Syrian rebels. On Dec. 22, 2022, a TOW strike in West Aleppo by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham claimed the life of Hezbollah member Faisal Qataya.

Over the last decade, Iran has sought to improve Hezbollah’s missile and drone capability by transferring advanced weapons technology to Lebanon. After the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel began to strike weapons shipments in Syria intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon. While the Israeli military generally does not comment on these strikes, former IDF Chief of Staff Lt- Gen. Aviv Kohavi detailed in Dec. 2022, how the Israeli military attacked a convoy of trucks carrying Iranian weapons inside Syria.

Former acting Israeli National Security Advisor Jacob Nagel highlighted three red lines that would elicit an Israeli response if they were crossed: the transfer of what’s often referred to as game changing weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, building permanent Iranian bases in Syria, and the establishment of a militant infrastructure loyal to Iranian forces on Israel’s northern border.

If the Reuters report is true, a meeting of Iranian officials in Damascus to advance the drone and missile capabilities of its proxies would have crossed a red line for Israel.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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