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.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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 apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little