Meet the Hezbollah militants behind Iran's air defense project in Syria

The two Hezbollah members reportedly worked alongside IRGC officers on building Iran's air defenses in Syria.

 Abbas Muhammad Al Dabs (left) and Muhammad Mahmoud Zalzli (right), two Hezbollah members operating in Iran's air defense project in Syria (photo credit: Intelli Times)
Abbas Muhammad Al Dabs (left) and Muhammad Mahmoud Zalzli (right), two Hezbollah members operating in Iran's air defense project in Syria
(photo credit: Intelli Times)

The identities of two Hezbollah militants helping build Iran's air defenses in Syria were revealed for the first time in a report by independent Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon, who runs the Intelli Times blog, on Wednesday evening.

The two were identified as Abbas Muhammad Al Dabs, 43, and Muhammad Mahmoud Zalzli, 55, said Solomon, citing an unnamed intelligence official. The official also provided Solomon with two sketches of the individuals' faces.

The two Hezbollah members are Lebanese citizens from Nabatieh and Tyre. The two worked alongside the two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike near Damascus in March, according to Intelli Times.

In July, Intelli Times identified Brig.-Gen. Fereydoun Mohammadi Saghaei as the IRGC official in charge of deploying advanced Iranian air-defense systems in Syria and Lebanon.

 IRGC air-defense system (credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY) IRGC air-defense system (credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)

Saghaei serves as the deputy coordinator of the IRGC's Aerospace Force. His identification as the IRGC official in charge of deploying Iran's air defenses in Syria was first hinted at in a report by al-Arabiya on Friday, although Solomon clarified that the name they reported at the time (Faird Muhammad Thaqa'i) was slightly incorrect.

Solomon said at the time that he was able to confirm the report and the correct name of the IRGC official with Western intelligence sources.

Iran's efforts to build up air defenses in Syria

In 2020, Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Bagheri signed a military cooperation agreement, including a commitment by Iran to strengthen Syrian air defense systems.

Last year, Israeli media reported that an Iranian anti-aircraft battery had been activated during an Israeli airstrike in Syria, although the IDF Spokesperson's Unit later stressed that the battery was not activated by Iranian forces.

In March, The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran has used advanced air-defense batteries against Israeli planes carrying out war-between-war operations in Syria in an attempt to challenge IAF pilots.

Tehran first deployed the batteries to Syria last year as Israeli strikes against Iranian weapons and military infrastructure intensified.

Iran also separates the radars of their SAMs from the missile launchers, leading the IAF to change its operational procedures by sending up larger formations to hit more targets at once rather than having jets return to the same target and risk being downed.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.