Initial reports indicated that helicopters had carried out the attack, and this claim has been repeated by all sides; Lebanese, Israeli and even Iranian. It would be strange for the Israelis to risk helicopters and the pilots/gunners/whoever else when they possess a large number of drones, not to mention their advanced fighter jets, and artillery capabilities. A drone strike makes a lot more sense, especially when the target was a group of individuals and it appears as though there were no Israelis on the ground inside Syria (the other possible reason why helicopters could have been used).
The Syrian media claimed that the strike was located within the Quneitra Governorate. This area is mostly located inside the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and bordered by the Rif Dimashq Governorate (Damascus countryside) on the other side, so the remaining areas where the strike could have occurred are extremely limited. Additionally, a portion of the governorate controlled by Syria is the UNDOF DMZ.
|Quneitra Governorate (Wikipedia)|
The UNDOF stated that they had observed Israeli drones flying over their base at position 30 (Jabata al Khashab) which is slightly north of the mostly abandoned town of Quneitra, and is located closer to the Mount Hermon mountain range.
|UNDOF Deployment (Wikipedia)|
|Jabata al Khashab is the town just to the left (West) of the quarries. Hermon is in the background|
As of yet, the precise location of the strike has yet to be determined, but it appears as though the strike would have occurred on the Syrian side of the DMZ, leaving a tiny sliver of terrain where the strike would have had to happened if it truly was inside Quneitra Governorate.
This leads to the next question, which is why the Israelis chose to attack this particular convoy. Initially it was claimed that the reason for the strike was that the targeted individuals had been planning an attack on Northern Israel. Later however, an Israeli official leaked that they did not intend to kill the Iranian general, and that 'it believed it was attacking only low-level guerillas'. So why would they attack this particular group, and why would they bother with 'low-level guerillas'? An article in the Jerusalem Post stated that this attack was intended to 'thwart an attack on Israel', but this seems disingenuous.
Israel has struck Syria several times over the last few years, most times it was thought that the strikes were intended to prevent Hezbollah and/or Syria from crossing a 'red-line' (usually transferring advanced weapons to the terror group). There have been a few instances where the IDF has returned fire after facing fire from the Syrian side, but this is not something that happens every time munitions land in Israel. Dozens, if not hundreds of mortars have landed beyond the DMZ, inside the Israeli-controlled Golan, without an Israeli armed response. Mortars are of limited range, and to miss a target by miles is hardly 'accidental'. There have also been instances of "stray" gunfire hitting IDF troops, as well as purposeful attacks.
What made this convoy such an important target to attack? Recent Israeli actions in Syria have been limited and selective, despite the ongoing hostilities in and around Quneitra. Would they risk an attack on a convoy without knowing who was in it? I would imagine that they must have had some ideas who was there, and they'd determined that the targets were high-value. Otherwise, why would they attack a small convoy? Was the strike a response to the bombastic speech from Hassan Nasrallah three days prior?
A few weeks ago Hezbollah admitted that the head of their Unit 910 (tasked with 'external operations') was in fact an Israeli asset. He and his accomplices had given information to Israel on a variety of subjects, most notably, the identities of the Burgas Bombing suspects. Given the timing of this, I wonder if the Israelis felt pressure to act on whatever remaining intel they had from the burned asset. The actions by the Israelis seem rash, was there a limited amount of time to act on the information? Why else would they risk aggravating the Iranians and Hezbollah so soon after the last summer's war in Gaza?
Yesterday a Lebanese paper claimed that according to Hezbollah, the strike took place because the Iranian general had not turned off his cell phone, which allowed the Israelis to locate him. Does this statement mean anything or is Hezbollah trying to distract from a massive intelligence and logistical failure? Hezbollah implied that the normal procedure is for cell phones to be turned off, and because the phone was on, the Israelis were able to realize who it was.
Why is a cell phone able to identify the place as a target or was it this particular cell phone which was incriminating? Did the Iranian general have a standard mobile phone with an Iranian SIM card inside? How else could this information be of any use to Israeli intelligence? Do Syrians (military, civilians or rebels) normally travel with their cell phones turned off in this part of the country? If it was the actual phone, would this indicate that the Israelis have managed to infiltrate either the Syrian or Iranian or Lebanese mobile networks and identified the phones used by military officials?
This entire affair is chock full of misinformation, illogical claims and subterfuge. Other analysts like Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv have similarly questioned the Israeli claims. There are so many problems with the narrative from both sides, and the actions and reactions of the parties involved seem atypical. I expect a further set of leaks in the near future.