Mystery of a death on the Beirut road

Last week, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was killed on his way out of Damascus. The key question is what he was doing there

A senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – with two names - dies mysteriously on the Damascus-Beirut highway earlier this month.

Three Shia Muslim Hezbollah fighters are killed and 20 wounded inside the Syrian frontier in a battle with rebels.

The Lebanese army surrounds a Sunni Muslim Lebanese village of 40,000 which supports the Syrian opposition. And Lebanon’s former Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, accuses Hezbollah and its weapons of being at the root of his country’s problems. Being Lebanese these days is like taking part in a crime drama.

First, the Iranian. Hessam Khoshnevis – or Hasan Shateri, if you prefer his other identity – was an engineer who officially led Iran’s “Committee for Reconstruction in Lebanon” based at Iran’s embassy in Beirut. He was apparently shot dead inside Syria as he was returning from Damascus. But why was a man helping to rebuild southern Lebanon’s infrastructure after years of war in Damascus in the first place? Iran’s Revolutionary Guard called him “Commander Hasan Shateri” and said he was “martyred en route from Damascus to Beirut at the hands of Zionist regime mercenaries and backers”.

To millions of Lebanese, this was just a case of “ho-hum”. And the rumours began to spread; Khoshnevis/Shateri had been shot trying to drive from Damascus airport to the Syrian capital, or he was on the Damascus highway to Aleppo. Or was he returning from Damascus towards the Syrian-Lebanese border after a “fraternal” visit to Iranian intelligence men in Syria? After all, the capital of a country in the midst of a near-civil war is not the obvious place to go to help the south Lebanese repair their homes near the Israeli border.

Iran’s genial Ambassador to Beirut, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, opened a book of condolences at his embassy and said the dead Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) officer – he called him “Engineer Hessam Khoshnevis” – “was assassinated because he played a major role in Lebanon’s reconstruction following the Israeli aggression against the country in 2006”.

This, too, raised more questions than it answered. Why would Israel kill the man in Syria if he was working in southern Lebanon? A Hezbollah MP, other officials from the pro-Iranian party, the former pro-Syrian security General Jamil Sayyed and Palestinian and Lebanese religious officials, dutifully trooped across to the embassy to shake Mr Roknabadi’s hand.

As if this was not enough, Hezbollah – Iran’s loyal allies in Lebanon – announced the death of three of their members and the wounding of 14 others during fighting with Syrian rebels inside Syria. Only one, it seems, has so far been buried in Lebanon.

Since 12 Syrian fighters were killed in the same battles, it seems certain that these Hezbollah men were among those “defending” Lebanese Shia villages just over the Lebanese border but inside Syria. What were they doing fighting the Syrian opposition? Or were they trying to prevent further rebel arms smuggling across the frontier?

This would not be surprising, since the border village of Ersal – which lies just inside Lebanon – has now been surrounded, along with its 40,000 residents, by the Lebanese army. This follows the killing of two Lebanese officers two weeks ago in an apparent ambush. Ersal, it should be pointed out, has long been an arms trafficking point to Syria and is fiercely loyal to Syrian opposition fighters.

Lebanese troops insist they are not besieging the villagers – merely searching all those with cars when they go and come to their homes. Just how many weapons are passing across Lebanese territory to Syria is not known, although Sunni Muslims in the southern city of Sidon have been demonstrating against the passage of fuel trucks from Lebanon to Syria. Is this benzine destined for Assad’s army?

The Lebanese government, which insists it must remain neutral in the Syrian struggle – for powerfully obvious reasons – replies that UN sanctions don’t apply to petrol being shipped from Lebanon to Syria.

To cap all this, Lebanon is supposed to hold elections in June – don’t hold your breath that they will take place, since politicians cannot agree on a new election law.

The campaign looks like it is darkly shaping up to be a battle by Saad Hariri (who blames Damascus for the assassination of his father Rafiq eight years ago) against Hezbollah.

Hariri and the Druze leader Walid Junblatt have been suggesting that the Shia Hezbollah, which claims to be a “resistance movement” – against Israel – should support the Syrian resistance against the Assad government. Add to this a rash of armed robberies across Lebanon and a few macabre murders, and you get an idea of how the Lebanese are feeling right now.

Syria: Shateri’s Role

The importance of the man known as Hassan Shateri – or Hessam Khoshnevis – to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was evident at his funeral in Tehran earlier this month.

Among those attending the high-profile event included several high-ranking Iranian figures, including Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Revolutionary Guard chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari and the head of the Guard’s Quds Force, General Ghasem Soleimani.

General Shateri was a veteran of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, and had served in Afghanistan before heading off to Lebanon.

Officials said that for the past seven years he had been engaged in civilian reconstruction in Lebanon – repairing the infrastructure that was destroyed during Israel’s invasion and the war with Hezbollah in 2006.

Given the close relationship between the two, some have concluded that General Shateri was involved in facilitating military support from Iran to Hezbollah.

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, both Hezbollah and Iran have admitted to providing support to Bashar al-Assad.

That General Shateri was killed in-between Damascus and Lebanon suggests he played a role in that support.

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit